Stuart Maxwell, Experience Director for IA Summit 2017, interviews Adam Lewis, UX Designer at Microsoft, about his experience as a first-timer at IAS16 in Atlanta. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
STUART MAXWELL (SM): Hi, Adam. Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, what do you do, and what made you interested in coming to Atlanta for your first IA Summit?
ADAM LEWIS (AL): Hey Stuart, I feel like I should have an answer to these questions ready to go, but the existential implications always trip me up. Who AM I? What DO I do? …
I recently graduated with an M.S. in Info Management from the University of Washington, and I’m currently working as a UX Designer at Microsoft. I’m part of a design team working on tools to enhance Microsoft’s cloud services experience.
When I was in school and looking to take full advantage of all discounts and freebies, I asked my professors and people I met in the industry–like you–what conference they most recommend. Over and over, people recommended the IA Summit. I applied for a student volunteer spot and made it in. I was pretty excited, like that time I won a free Michael Jordan basketball from a box of Wheaties. It was also a great excuse to visit Atlanta for the first time and see an old high school friend.
SM: I can honestly say that’s the first time I’ve heard going to the IA Summit compared to winning a Michael Jordan basketball from a box of Wheaties. But I bet it won’t be the last. How did actually attending the Summit compare to your expectations?
AL: I was so excited to go, and a little nervous. Mingling is not my thing. Luckily, I got to ease into things. The day before things kicked off I met a handful of people at the volunteer orientation, and that night I went to the first timer’s dinner with about a dozen people. That dinner was one of my favorite experiences – sitting and talking over food and drinks for two hours is way better than two minutes of small talk you might get between speakers. Wish I could’ve done that with a different group every night. Also, the hotel was way nicer than I expected…but maybe that’s more a reflection of my life as a broke student at the time!
SM: I thought the Omni was great, too. So, you volunteered at the conference; what was that experience like? What were you assigned to do?
AL: It was cool. I stopped by a day early and met the other volunteers and organizers. We went over our schedules and duties. It was cool to meet the organizers and then later see them on Twitter, or in Axure forums, like, “Hey! I know that guy!” Things were really well run so we didn’t have to do much. I was dreading some kind of tech glitch, but it never happened. At my very first session, I was unexpectedly asked to introduce the speaker. I did a terrible, terrible job! Her talk was amazing and my intro did her no justice. Luckily, it was edited out of the Summit videos. I was like, man, I should join Toastmasters or something.
SM: I’m sure you did great. Good for you for jumping in to help! Did you have any a-ha! moments at the Summit? Any realizations about the practice of Information Architecture, or any takeaways from the talks or from hallway chats?
AL: I was impressed by how approachable and welcoming people were. You could sit anywhere and become part of the conversation, and that conversation would be interesting – even conversations about the government! It makes things a lot easier for introverts (the work isn’t done for you, though). It’s cool, too, to meet a lot of the authors of your favorite books and, say, casually pass them the salt at lunch. Seeing some really amazing presentations live makes you think, what was it about that presentation that made it so good? I picked up a few useful tools, like MindMeister, and witnessed tons of Twittering and sketch-noting. I made a big ‘ole list of books to buy, and wish I had just bought a bunch at the Summit. Two takeaways for me were to start learning more about environmental design and architecture, and to remember to engage the scientific process. To have a hypothesis and test it, instead of the usual collect-analyze-synthesize-report type process. At the end of the conference, I saw a growing community with an established core of good people who are very welcoming to newbies.
SM: To wrap up, then, is there anything you’d say to someone who is going to IA Summit for the first time, or considering it? Any words of advice? Do’s and Don’ts?
AL: I would highly recommend the first timer’s dinner. It’s great to meet people in a smaller setting with more time to talk. It gives you a little group of allies to bump into while wandering around between speakers. If you’re a student try to get in as a volunteer–it’s a good deal and also a good way to meet people, and there’s lots of food included! If you can swing it, stay an extra day or two to explore the city. Don’ts…I stayed up until 3am drinking with an old friend from high school. I wouldn’t say don’t do that, but I would say: do be prepared to suffer for it a little bit.