Communities of practice – IAC2020

15 September, 2019    

Bayeux Tapestry - Scenes 55 & 56 - Duke William lifts his helmet to be recognized on the battlefield of Hastings. Eustace II, Count of Boulogne points to him with his finger. In the bottom margin, a row of archers

Communities of practice live or die by what they share. I suspect the world might be a bit too complicated to improve it only via Twitter – or even via blog posts. Some conversations are more complicated. Sometimes it takes more time and space to make sense of things.

We have invented new mediums to communicate, channels to contain and transmit information. From endless echoing streams of “likes” to “facts” packed tight on printed paper, information pervades our lives. The design decisions which shape it affect how we think, understand, communicate and act in the world.

Design is the management of ideas. Through design we create and compare – will this idea have the impact I imagine? Will this action make the world be a better place? What’s the cost of my action or inaction? What should I do next?

Design trains us to think of problems and solutions. And while it also trains us in non-reductive thinking, perhaps we too often fall into the trap of oppositional thinking. Maybe we too readily reduce things to simple binary categories. I don’t have answers. I rarely find answers without the help of others – teams I am a part of, collaborating with people I respect. But I do think that sometimes a ‘Thread’ is not enough. I don’t think a tapestry of threads woven from 1s and 0s will ever be enough on its own. I don’t want to dismiss the value of digital communication. But there’s no substitute for gathering together and sharing and shaping dialogues face to face.

At the IA Conference, UX professionals come together to share and shape how we do design. Meaning matters. And making sense of the world is complicated stuff. During the IA Conference there are two days of workshops. There are three days of conference sessions – each with multiple tracks. There are conversations with nuance, which nurture new practitioners and emerging ideas. These are the ideas and people that will shape the future.

When I volunteered to be a co-chair of IAC I didn’t really think about it. It was an emotional decision rather than a rational one. The argument above is pure fake design – all posturing and post-rationalisation. But I know for sure that the IA Conference relies on the generosity of practitioners. It has existed for 21 years because of that generosity – and the symbiotic relationship it enables. It isn’t a one-way street… By sharing your ideas you improve them. By speaking out loud, inviting questions, engaging in dialogue you develop.

The call for proposals is currently open. I hope beyond hope that the program we’re able to assemble for IAC20 will be the best ever. We live in serious times – both for the world at large and the practice of information architecture. This year our theme is making sense – it’s broad enough that if you’ve ever struggled within the confines of 280 characters, you can bring the debate to a generous, engaged and insightful audience.

We should never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and dedicated people can change the world. But I guess the point of this post is that the first step to making the change you want to see in the world is being in the room. I’m also hoping that the group isn’t that small in the end.

The call for submissions to IAC20 is currently open.

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