The Future of Information Architecture: A Retreat

I just got back from the Future of Information Architecture retreat in Asilomar (near Monterey, CA), and I’m still in a daze! Between 12pm on October 1 and 6pm on October 3 I participated in more intelligent and stimulating conversations than I had in the first nine months of 2004. Here are some photos of the event.

I’m struck over the amazing level of intelligence, professionalism, and thoughtfulness of my colleagues. Everyone was extremely friendly and open. As a side perk, I now have faces for names that I’ve known for a long time from email and the Web: Chistina Wodtke, Peter Merholz, Victor Lombardi, Gene Smith and—especially—my Latin American colleagues Javier Velasco and Livia Labate, whom I had interacted with extensively but had never met. Of course, there were many other people, all fascinating, all very open and willing to share.

The format of the retreat was structured, yet casual. Because we were a small group (40+?), discussion was encouraged. The objective of the retreat was to explore possibilites for the future of the profession, and we did this through scenario planning sessions, trendspotting, debates, and more conventional presentations.

One theme that became clear to me is that how we define and present problems—both to ourselves and to others—makes a huge difference in how we think about those problems and the solutions we explore. The traditional tools of the information architect—wireframes, sitemaps, “wireflows”, prototypes, etc.—are starting to buckle under the demands placed on them by technological changes and the growing (or diminishing?) scope of our profession. On this line, Gene Smith gave a fascinating presentation on tools for thinking about and defining rich internet applications (such as Flash UIs), and Bill Derouchey gave a presentation on adapting IA techniques to the field of industrial design. A lot of the conversations I participated in during the weekend addressed meta issues about the semiotics of IA, the tools we use (or don’t), and what we can borrow/steal from other fields to help think about these problems more effectively.

One of the things I like best about IA is that it is a young field which is constantly evolving. It is a great privilege to have been able to question fundamental principles and practices of IA with some of the folks that have been practicing and writing about this stuff the longest. I hope there is another of these retreats in the future; I will do all I can to participate.