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The Information Architecture Conference 2023

April 18, 2023

Heather Hedden

Heather Hedden

Product Communication Rep. & Knowledge Manager

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Those who use PoolParty software for the creation and management of taxonomies and ontologies have varied job roles and titles. Besides the obvious roles of taxonomist or ontologist, other frequent users of PoolParty include information architects. Thus, I sought to exchange ideas with information architects and to expand my understanding of the field by attending and presenting at the annual Information Architecture Conference (IAC), which was held this year in New Orleans, March 30 – April 1. This was my first time attending this conference in person, after participating virtually the prior two years..

What I learned about information architecture

Information architects seem to be passionate about their profession, which is considered at the intersection of technology and design. They are concerned with content organization, navigation menu structure, and user experience design.

Creating taxonomies and metadata to support searching and browsing for information is also considered part of information architecture work, and many, although not all, information architects have some taxonomy creation experience, although the taxonomies may be small. Information architects focus on the user by conducting user research as a central part of their work. Many information architects are creative and like to sketch designs, whether wireframes for user interface designs or even to summarize the conference presentations that they attended. 

The IAC website said that the conference is for “professionals in information architecture, user experience design, and content strategy.” Professions relating to “information” do not have strict boundaries but overlap with other fields and disciplines. There was even a “lightning talk” on “exploring the edges of our discipline,” which listed backgrounds of information architects as including user experience strategy/design, product design, information science, user experience research, content strategy, and taxonomy. It also mentioned that the disciplines of psychology and sociology are relevant to information architecture.

Information architecture is also a discipline and not just a job title.

In addition to information architects in organizations in various industries and consultants, IAC attendees included professors and students in the field. The conference even offered scholarships for students to attend, and held a student presentation panel. Yet IAC was not an academic conference; rather it sought to welcome new, young people into the profession. This was also evident with its first-timer orientation and first-timer dinners – there was even a presentation titled “The Great Debate: Should IA be a Job Title or a Skill Set?,” as IA can stand for either information architect or information architecture.

What I taught the information architects

There were several presentations about taxonomies, so of my two proposals – one on taxonomies and one on knowledge graphs – it was the latter that was accepted. One of the conference co-chairs encouraged me to present on knowledge graphs, since they had not had a presentation on it, and he was curious to learn.

By a show of hands from my audience of about 40 people, nearly 80% already had experience with taxonomies, so I was pleased to build on that and share some new information.

My presentation, “An Introduction to Knowledge Graphs,” explained why knowledge graphs were of relevance to information architects, what problems knowledge graphs address, and the definitions of knowledge graphs. Then I explained the components of knowledge graphs: data stored in a graph database, taxonomies, and ontologies. Finally, I explained briefly the steps to build a knowledge graph and what applications can be built based on a knowledge graph.

In conclusion, I stated that information architects who work on taxonomies should be aware of knowledge graph use of taxonomies, might work on taxonomies for knowledge graphs, and might consider working on ontologies. Furthermore, information architects who work  on search/browse/faceted navigation interface design may also contribute to the user interfaces of knowledge graph-based applications. 

Heather Hedden presenting at the Information Architecture conference

Conference summary

IAC comprised two days of 10 pre-conference workshops and then three days of the main conference with keynotes/plenary sessions each day and breakout sessions. Pre-conference workshops, some half-day and some full-day, included Information Architecture Essentials, “Domain Modeling for Digital Information Designers,” and Designing and Modeling Taxonomies for the Enterprise,” among others. During the main conference there were three simultaneous breakout sessions, but these were not in tracks by any particular topic.

The scope of presentation topics was broad, from specific case studies with lots of screenshots, to reflections of the profession of information architects. Presentations were 45 minutes with 15 minutes for Q&A, and the audiences were very engaged, asking questions for the full 15 minutes in every session. The theme of the conference this year was “Change and Resilience,” and many presentations at least alluded to the theme. There was an evening poster presentation session to informally discuss poster presentations with their creators.

IAC 2023, with attendance of just over 200, was the first conference of this series that was back in person since 2019. Virtual conferences in the interim had been successful. While the conference was in-person only and not hybrid streaming, all sessions were recorded on Zoom (which also enabled captioning for those with hearing difficulties).

Another legacy of virtual conferences was the inclusion of discussion forums hosted on the Discord platform. This also fostered a sense of community with channels for different topics, and the ability to arrange last-minute get-togethers for dinners out or at bars with other conference attendees. It also provided another method for general conference networking, in addition to activities such as the opening reception, a morning jog/walk, and a karaoke night.

If categorizing conferences by type as industry, academic, or community, IAC would definitely be a community conference. It aims to bring together information architects and other who work in information architecture or related fields to exchange knowledge, ideas, and provide professional support and networking.

The annual U.S.-based conference started in 2010 under a different name, the IA Summit, until 2018. A sister conference in Europe, Euro IA, has been having conferences in different European cities since 2005. IAC is largely run by volunteers, and the co-chairs change every year, so the nature of the presentations may also change from year to year. Planning is thus not long term, so next year’s venue has not been set. Although my busy schedule may not afford time to attend every year, I do hope to attend again sometime. 

In addition to having the opportunity to explain knowledge graphs to a wider audience and raise some awareness about PoolParty software and to learn something about information architecture, I was pleased to meet professional colleagues, taxonomists and information architects, some whom I already knew, some whom I knew only virtually, and some who were completely new. I also met a few PoolParty customers, a partner, and hopefully some future customers.

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