IA Summit 2010 in review

“Graduation is only a few days away and the recruits of Platoon 3092 are salty. They are ready to eat their own guts and ask for seconds. The drill instructors are proud to see that we are growing beyond their control.” – Joker, Full Metal Jacket

“Show me your kill face!” Dan Willis‘s UX Deathmatch encouraged us to unleash the beast within, taking sides in the battle between agency and in-house design. The sparring was sharp but good-spirited, with claws largely sheathed after the scars of 2009.

The eleventh IA Summit found strength in reconciliation, but the spirit of free speech still ran strong. Whitney Hess was the recruit unexpectedly promoted to squad leader, to the muttered chagrin of a few veterans. She accepted the role with surprising vulnerability and humility. Extrapolating Jesse James Garrett’s dream of a UX designer-turned-CEO, Whitney proposed that it’s time to graduate and take on the world. Keynote compatriot Richard Saul Wurman, meanwhile, headed straight for a Section 8. Meandering and rude, he demonstrated why hypertext is best delivered on screen, not in speech. The audience killed its idol through backchannel sarcasm and planned for a better world.

This hunger to improve led, unsurprisingly, into continued debates about the format of the Summit. There’s no doubt that it’s grown beyond its original constraints and that it suffers from a lack of vision compared to more recent events. I expect that 2011 will see a notably different Summit – indeed, Lou Rosenfeld has fired the first salvo in the battle for reformation. But the conference’s strength is still its outstanding content. Of particular note this year were Kevin Hoffman‘s detailed thoughts on kickoff meetings (sending many agencies scurrying back to their drawing boards), Karl Fast’s tour of the semantic richness of a messy desk and Cindy Blue revealing the face of the supposed enemy in Adventures of an IA in business school. My session The future of wayfinding appeared to be well received, and I’m delighted to have been able to contribute.

It’s a pity that more didn’t share these excellent three days with us, but slipping attendance is understandable in the face of alternatives and the maturation of our field. Although we revel in the company of our passionate yet introverted peers, the field is increasingly eager to take the fight to the outside world. It’s natural therefore that practitioners will look outside the industry for maximum impact – but with some rejuvenation, I’m confident the IA Summit will find a niche of reflection and ‘going deep’. I for one can’t wait for next year’s boot camp in Denver.

Cennydd Bowles