In IA Practice, Information Architecture

logo for world ia day 2012When asked to head up World Information Architecture Day 2012 by Dan Klyn & Abby Covert, I hesitated briefly. The order they placed in front of me was a tall one – organize and host a unified event in February 2012 that would be simultaneously celebrated by 14 cities across the globe. As a new IA with little leadership experience, a small professional network, and even less involvement with the global IA community, the challenge was large. I’m never one to avoid a challenge though, so after a bit of thinking and a double-dare from Dan, I accepted, and I learned a lot.

A year ago this week, I assembling the team that would direct the inaugural World Information Architecture Day (WIAD). Over the following six months, WIAD came together due to the large commitment of the 14 host cities, their leaders, and the dedicated volunteers involved. The slogan was “Local Connections. Global Impact.” And it was incredibly invigorating to see everyone get together around this idea:

“Imagine if everybody, everywhere understood why Information Architecture is such a valuable and powerful way of approaching complex information challenges. And that everybody, everywhere had a once-a-year opportunity to participate in a local event dedicated to connecting the global IA community, exploring the practice of Information Architecture. That’s World IA Day.”  – from

World IA Day taught me many things – information architecture history, theory, & skills, the challenges of wrangling a huge international project, and the need for balance between diplomacy and a demanding demeanor to get things done.

However, the most important lessons (especially as a relatively green IA) were less about traditional IA topics or project management and more about growing as an IA:

1. Be Aware of and Responsive to Cultural Differences

The global community IS your community.

WIAD Japan

Image by Atsushi Hasegawa at WIAD Japan

While local connections are valuable, the world is getting smaller, especially in connected fields such as IA. WIAD illustrated the importance of adopting a global perspective—from culturally sensitive design patterns to legal restrictions to international shipping issues to colloquial language barriers, a global perspective is imperative. My IA toolkit and approaches have improved from being exposed to the complexities of an international field of practice. I’m fully aware of my existing ignorance, and I’m actively seeking more learning opportunities on this topic.

2. Get Involved

Have agency and take responsibility for your own success. Do it!

WIAD Sardegna

Image by Gabriela Lussu and WIAD Sardegna

Be aware. Keep learning. Take leadership positions. Create leadership positions. Create community. If there is something you might be interested in doing—do it! It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the field for two weeks or 20 years—get out there. You don’t need an invitation to participate—some of the best WIAD events in 2012 were initially independent events and were put together by passionate local communities. I’d encourage you to find opportunities to get involved, or even better, create your own reasons to get involved.

3. Seek Relationships

Be mentored and mentor others.

WIAD Belgium talking

Image by rc foto (Flickr) at WIAD Belgium

Our field is largely based on empathy—mentoring opportunities are abundant and instrumental to professional and personal growth. The IAI offers mentoring. Most IA veterans will offer advice and support if asked. Don’t be afraid of famous people –they are just people, talk to them. Pick your jobs, volunteer opportunities & internships wisely to include people who will sponsor your growth—then thank them and mean it. Mentor your mentor—don’t be afraid push their limits and challenge their perspectives. Mentor those who seek advice and support from you.

Today, I work full-time with a company I love (The Understanding Group), have conversations with the great minds in our field daily, and feel comfortable and confident reaching out to practitioners across the world. Many of the coordinators and volunteers I met while planning are still part of my life: I had dinner with one coordinator this week (Thanks Lynn!) and another is now a co-worker at TUG (Hi Joe!). Is my confidence and happiness exclusively because of lessons learned from WIAD 2012? Not entirely, but being involved with it certainly was a major bridge from for me, professionally and personally. I’m thankful I took on Dan & Abby’s challenge (and mentoring) 12 months ago.

I’m happy to connect with folks interested in WIAD, anything I covered here, or general inquiries – email me, I’ll respond. I’ll see you around—hopefully volunteering at a WIAD event in 2013. Thanks for reading.

If you’d like to learn more about WIAD, please check out the website, follow the IAI Newsletter, and check out the wrap up discussion I had on Boxes & Arrows.


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