In Information Architecture, News
Summary: Take a behind-the-scenes look at the new, free World IA Day archive, sponsored in part by The Understanding Group. Coming in April 2018!

Did you see that World IA Day talk, the one where the woman talked about sustainability and building green systems? Oh, you didn’t? Well, let me find it for you—it was really good. I saw it on YouTube…or maybe I saw it in a tweet…or maybe TUG mentioned it in their newsletter? Hmmm, I can’t find it. Shoot. Well, it was really good…

Every year information architects from around the world get together and put on free, volunteer-run events. On February 24, 2018, World IA Day celebrations are being held for the sixth year in a row—56 celebrations across 25 countries on 5 continents. In the past 6 years, we’ve celebrated World IA Day 206 times in different cities around the globe. That’s a lot of events. Now, if each of these 206 celebrations (to date) hosted an average of 3 talks, that means there have been 618 “World IA Day talks”—and in few days that number will go up 25%.

You’re all smart, you can see what is happening here. We have too much. We can’t make sense of it. We need…an information architecture to make sense of it. So we made one!

Last summer, The Understanding Group worked with the World IA Day Global Coordinators as a sponsor and architect of a new, free World IA Day archive. This archive will provide a central access point and way to discover content from celebrations around the world. As I write, at least one developer is furiously writing code to bring this architecture to life this April.

In the meantime, here is a sneak-peek of what’s in store and how we came up with it.

What if cobblers actually made their kids good shoes?

As with all of our projects, we began by setting out to understand the kind of place the World IA Day Global Coordinators wanted the archive to be—how do they define good? We identified priorities and tensions through interviews with attendees, non-attendees, insiders and outsiders. We placed pairs of competing ideas on opposite ends of a continuum (what we call our (In)tension Modeling tool). Then the coordinators positioned a vote on each continuum to show where they wanted the emphasis to be between the two values. Using this model, we struck a balance between critical, competing priorities to bring balance to the kind of place we wanted to build.

Often, the coordinators aligned around what they wanted; other times it took some back and forth. In the end, we settled on a “point” along the continuum representing how the archive should balance these fundamental tensions. This would serve as the rubric for our definition of good.

Intension model used for World IA Day archive

The green bars represent the votes of the stakeholders; the circles roughly mark the average of their votes.

We use this modeling exercise with nearly every client engagement: you can see how the high-level strategy emerges and takes shape, providing a basis for making decisions about what the new place will be like, and who it will serve. With this settled, we start to create structures that make good on this intent.

In with the new—and yet keep the old

This project provided us with a couple structural “nuts-to-crack”:

  • Where does an archive (that is supposed to endure year-after-year) live amongst an ecosystem of disposable websites?
  • How do we do both local and global?
  • How do we do both now and always?

Armed with paper and markers, we began to sketch out some structural models. After some quick back and forth with the aces on the World IA Day team, we settled on a firmed-up version to document the targeted, high-level structural design.

Ratcheting down a level

With a solid structure to lean on and a clear model for understanding what a good archive for World IA Day needs to look like, we made some interface sketches and then wireframes to get the global team started on the road to coding and designing.

Wireframes for World IA Day archive

The archive will be coupled with a newly architected WorldIADay.org that will focus on more than just a particular year’s celebration. The archive will be a key part of not only chronicling what happened in different cities during celebration, but also will be a place to discover content by topic, regardless of year, location, or global theme.

This is something that we’ve been dreaming about for years and we’re really excited to be a part of bringing it to life. Our company’s president, Bob Royce, sums it up like this: “We are part of a growing, vibrant community, all over the world, focused on making good digital places. The World IA Day archive preserves the wisdom of the community for all to use. Ultimately our goal is to help more people learn what we already know: information architecture has the power to improve the way we organize, share, and understand our world.”

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