Thoughts on EuroIA 2014

In late September I attended the EuroIA (as in, European Information Architecture) conference in Brussels. I’m a little late in documenting this but I feel like it’s taken me this long to recover from the jetlag – I’m not sure if it’s just an old(er)-age thing or what, but this time it was a killer.

Anyway, the conference was great and I’m really glad I decided to go. Here are some of my general observations…

1.

2. European conference attendees are really friendly! I was genuinely surprised at how many people were happy to chat, asked me about myself and showed an interest in what I had to say. Sadly, this has not always been my experience at Australian conferences, where I’ve noticed a tendency towards cliquey-ness. I came away feeling like I do have something to say and contribute to the community.

3. Everyone is a UX Designer. I only met one other person who wasn’t working specifically in UX. Either this is just the current fashionable job title, or maybe specific IA jobs aren’t around these days? This did give me pause to think about my own career and whether I should be expanding my skill set to include more user experience stuff.

4. I discovered that I actually know what I’m talking about. Working in little old Adelaide, I often feel like I lack a broader perspective on where I fit in the information professions and I don’t know many other IA/UX specialists to be able to gauge my own experience and expertise against them. I was pleased that I actually understood what the speakers were talking about, and I had a good grasp on the concepts and techniques presented in the workshops. If anything, the workshops were too basic for me. #brag

Workshop: Organising and describing content with Mags Hanley

While this workshop was aimed at an introductory level, I still found it useful – plus Mags is a great presenter. Her workshop hit home to me that I really love the pure IA stuff (at least that’s what I think it is). I enjoy exploring words, terminology, language and the ways people use them. I love creating controlled vocabularies and taxonomies, researching and testing labels, and categorising and organising information!

Mags gave a neat little example of a navigation labelling issue that she encountered when working on an e-commerce site. All the mens’ shaving and hair products had been placed within the Beauty category, and given the heading ‘Male grooming’. Not surprisingly, men were complaining that they were unable to find these products. With a little bit of user research and testing, Mags was able to demonstrate that men weren’t thinking to look under the Beauty category, as they assumed it was a category for females only. Not only that, but ‘grooming’ was also not a word they used or associated with, due to it’s feminine connotations.

Sadly, she didn’t mention her solution, and I completely forgot to ask her about it afterwards. But the key message was: understanding our audiences is vital, and small words can make a big difference to content findability.

Also, this:

Workshop: Introduction to content modelling with Mike Atherton

Mike Atherton’s workshop was designed to compliment and build on the content from Mags’ workshop. He looked at taking the categorisation of content even further, by ‘chunking’ it into logical parts and adding metadata around it, to enable it to be used and recombined in different ways.

Definition of structured content - slide from EuroIA workshop

What is structured content? Slide taken from Mike Atherton’s full presentation.

 

I really liked the simple principle of ‘one page per thing, one thing per page’, which provides a clear scope for dividing up information and content and helps to ensure that pages don’t become long and unwieldy.

Of course, the structured content model doesn’t suit all content. I’m yet to work on a website where it would be useful to break down content in this way – there hasn’t been a large enough amount of content to justify the effort. Although now that I think about it, I have done some small-scale content structuring with events calendars and the like.

And, there are certainly some parallels with my current work in research data management. While I primarily work on creating metadata to describe datasets at a collection level, I have begun some work to determine the best way to break-down and describe the individual parts of some datasets. The challenge is to determine the best way to ‘chunk’ the data (by date, format, instrument, or other?), that will make the most sense to users, and provide the most flexibility for publishing and dissemination.

Other bits

There were, of course, the usual array of presentations. I quite liked the way that EuroIA was structured, with workshops in the morning and presentations in the afternoon. I did hear a few people complaining about it, but I liked the variety this structure provided. I tend to find whole days of presentations to be a bit mind-numbing and workshops provide more of an opportunity to interact and meet others.

One of my favourite talks came from Ida Aalen, who spoke about using the Core Model to create the Norwegian Cancer Society’s website. I love how the Core Model focuses on core pages, rather than the homepage. With Google keyword searches, it’s completely normal for a visitor to never see the homepage of a site, as they’re taken directly into deeper content. Prioritising core pages helps the visitor to find exactly what they need and provides a way to influence their pathways into and away from a particular page.

Her tip for getting people to prioritise content in the planning stage is something I’ll definitely be using, too:

Overall…

The main takeaway for me, from EuroIA, is that I need to broaden my horizons – to read and learn more, and grow my experience in UX. I’d also like to interact more with the IA/UX community. From what I can tell (and please correct me if I’m wrong) Adelaide doesn’t have much happening in this field. I was chatting to Donna Spencer at the welcoming drinks – the organiser of the UX Australia conference – and she mentioned that there were only 2 or 3 South Australians at the last conference. That stat made me feel a little sad, but maybe it’s up to me to start something here, to find out if there’s anyone else around who is just as interested.

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