I got back last week from the 2007 IA Summit, which was held at the famous Flamingo Hotel in the Las Vegas strip. As always, it was great to catch up with “the tribe”; meeting up with folks I only see once or twice a year was a real treat, and as always it was the highlight of my Summit experience.

IMG_2847.JPGAlas, I wasn’t able to participate in as many sessions this year as I had in the past two Summits; I was very busy with various projects with folks from the IA community that I’ll be posting more about in the future. However, the sessions I did catch were quite good. Highlights for me:

  • Margaret Hanley’s pre-conference seminar on managing a UX team. Spot-on, although more relevant to folks in corporate UX teams than to my own situation.

  • Joshua Prince-Ramus’ keynote speech—although frankly I expected more exploration of the relationship between “brick and mortar” architecture and information architecture. See Prince-Ramus’ TED talk for a 15 minute version of the keynote.

  • Alex Wright’s “The Web That Wasn’t”, a look to the history of hypertext going back more than 100 years. Main takeaway for me: the people who create truly new paradigms (e.g. Paul Otlet) are visionary outcasts, shamen, mad men and women with a burning vision that leads them to invest massive amounts of time (and in some cases, capital) years before the rest of the world is ready for their ideas. True innovation does not come from the market, it comes from these crazy artists.

  • “Rich Mapping and Soft Systems”, by Gene Smith and Matthew Milan. Systems thinking in a nutshell. Takeaway: CATWOE.

  • A panel, “Where Does IA Fit in the Design Process?”, with Peter Boersma, Larisa Warnke, Peter Merholz, Livia Labate, Leisa Reichelt, and Josh Seiden. It’s always fascinating to see other firms’ processes (or lack thereof). The highlight was Leisa’s slide “waterfall bad, washing machine good!” (referring, obviously, to development methodologies.)

  • Jason Hobbs’ dual presentations on the research he’s been undertaking in his native South Africa, with sponsorship from the IA Institute. This is fascinating stuff, essential for those of us working in the developing world. I’d like to get Jason to present this material to folks here in Panama.

  • Chris Fahey’s presentation on style and interaction design: a fantastic review of style through history, and it’s relevance to interaction design. Not only was the material rock solid: Chris is also a tremendously engaging presenter who clearly loves this material, and brings much humor to the mix. Truly great stuff.

The venue

IMG_2828.JPGOn Saturday I met up with a (non-IA) friend who was in town for a bachelor party. He was clearly having a better time in Las Vegas than I was. Vegas is a party town, not a place to hold a professional conference where some intimacy is key. The previous two IA Summits were held in small(er) hotels, with one or two bars where folks could meet up after the day’s sessions were over, in cities where the outside temperature (in the teens in both cases) encouraged folks to mingle. This was not the case in Vegas. There are distractions everywhere, and everything and everyone is competing for your attention and your cash. The Flamingo does not have one central bar where people can just hang out; there are many bars, with thousands of patrons who are there for other reasons and who couldn’t care less about IA or anything web-related (perhaps with the exception of online poker).

IMG_2835.JPGThe city itself is an abomination. It is like Disneyland, but on a city-wide scale, with pirate ships, pyramids, roller coasters, the Eiffel Tower, showgirls, a monorail (very similar to the one in Walt Disney World), St. Mark’s square, a roman coliseum, the Statue of Liberty, all piled up next to each other in a continuous pastiche with no reason or overarching design principle. It lacks the charm and scale of the Disney parks, but has all the hokeyness associated with them.

There is nothing but simulation in Las Vegas; there are even some shows whose “stars” are imitators of the “real” famous stars in other venues (e.g. the real Prince performs in town, but there are also Prince impersonators, along with Elvis and Beatles impersonators). Thomas Vander Wal captured it best when he wrote that Las Vegas is First Life’s answer to Second Life.

IMG_2838.JPGI’d been reading up on postmodern critical theory prior to the trip, and was expecting to enjoy myself more (in a snarky, sarcastic sort of way), but found that after the first 8 hours or so of candyland all I wanted to do was to rent a motorbike and head out to the amazing desert surrounding the city which I had seen from the airplane.

Lots more pictures at Flickr.

Next year’s Summit

Folks, I’m really excited about this: next year’s Summit will be in Miami! This is fantastic news; it means that it will be much easier for designers from Latin America to come up.

I expect the 2008 Summit could be a milestone in the development of the profession in our region. I had a few words with the organizing committee to make preparations for this possibility, and I’ll spend the next 11 months encouraging folks to make the haul up for it. Mark your calendars: April 10-14, 2008. I hope to see you then!