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EuroIA 2011 – Day 0: Pervasive Information Architecture Workshop

I had only one workshop on my schedule and that was “Pervasive Information Architecture” by Andrea Resmini (@resmini). He has written a book about the topic (http://pervasiveia.com/) and this workshop uses some of the concepts in the book to help us make a cross channel experience.

The theories behind the workshop

The workshop was about the fact that information architecture is pervasive and when you try to solve a problem you should always consider which channels your problem will touch upon and how.

The workshop was devided into two parts, first we got a short intro to the central heuristics behind pervasive information architecture (from p. 55, chapter 3  in the Pervasive Information Architecture book):

  1. Place-making —the capability of a pervasive information architecture model to help users reduce disorientation, build a sense of place, and increase legibility and way-finding across digital, physical, and crosschannel environments.
  2. Consistency —the capability of a pervasive information architecture model to suit the purposes, the contexts, and the people it is designed for (internal consistency) and to maintain the same logic along different media, environments, and times in which it acts (external consistency).
  3. Resilience —the capability of a pervasive information architecture model to shape and adapt itself to specific users, needs, and seeking strategies.
  4. Reduction —the capability of a pervasive information architecture model to manage large information sets and minimize the stress and frustration associated with choosing from an ever-growing set of information sources,services, and goods.
  5. Correlation —the capability of a pervasive information architecture model to suggest relevant connections among pieces of information, services, and goods to help users achieve explicit goals or stimulate latent needs.

Resmini also brought attention to the concept of sacrificing local precision to achieve a better global experience. What exactly this means I probably have to buy his book and read it too…

I also see from my handout that there are another central concept of “The Chu Cube”. Now… I’m not sure, but I think he didn’t have time to explain this… you can read more about it here: http://pervasiveia.com/blog/pervasive-ia-workshop. This is basically the framework that ties together the Channels, Heuristics and Usertasks. (CHU).

As you can see – this is some heavy learning to do in a “hands-on” workshop :)

The task

We were divided into 3 groups of 3-4 participants and got the task to imagine that you were hired to make tourist experiences for a city with monsters at its edge of town. These seamonsters were dangerous and sometimes killed people, but the townspeople have learned to live with them and now want to use this as their main tourist attraction.

The task was to design cross-channel experiences in this setting. We also got a map over the city and were shown some pictures of typical monsters we would likely to encounter.

I think this way to use an imaginary setting works great. It is a lot harder to try to solve “real” problems with real clients in any workshop where the groupmembers come from different companies and experiences. It also made the workshop a lot more creative and fun.

Working in groups, solving the task

So our group ended up to focus on how to set up several informationkiosks across the city and to use the mobilephone to document “monsterspotting” across the city for points and sightseeing event. There would also be a website for information, booking tickets for tours, keeping scores and pictures of monsterspotting etc. We also made a system to mark which locations that got lots of monsters right now and the system would also make sure that only kiosks with not too many monsters or people would pop up on the mobile phone (app). That way creating a virtual map to send the right amount of tourists into safe and not too crowdy spots. I also wanted to include a concept where the more thrillseeking audience could hunt and kill monsters, setting up their personal “gladiatorprofile” online and maybe betting on who would score most monsterkilling points. This was however voted down by my less bloodthirsty groupmembers and Andrea suggested we focus on only once concept – they were probably both right about that :)

I felt that we got very little time to focus on the task and considering we didn’t get 100% grasp on the concepts we got introduced to in the start of the workshop, it was a challenging task to agree upon any concept. So when Andrea informed us that the time was up and time to show and tell to the rest of the workshop-members, we felt a little on the thin side. Luckily I had good members on my group that could summarize the somewhat chaotic story we ended up with :)

One of the other groups focused mainly on setting up physical stores and museums and attractions, much like an amusement park and also with website for sales etc.

The third group came up with a concept that focused on the calendar and how a year in this monstertown would be divided into different festivals. One celebrating love (the monsters were friendly minded certain parts of the year) and other seasonal events with other themes.

What was good?

When I look at this framework I see a lot of similarities with Service Design with the cross channel thinking, customer/user journey and touchpoints so the concepts are very in line with what the community are talking about these days.

The workshop demonstrated that the three groups managed to design something that was both cross-channel services and also across time, both physical and virtual.

It was a lot of fun imagining the monsters and how the city would try to make money on something potentially dangerous – what would happen if a lot of the tourists got killed? And as I said earlier, doing a fantasy project like this removes obstacles you would meet if the project was more realistic.

Andrea did a good job coaching the groups underway. He also presented some “wildcards” with stakeholders that wanted you to focus on one aspect or the other. Our group got a wildcard of a stragegist that wanted things to be “more emptier” – well, I can relate to that, but it also made a hard workshop even harder…

What was not so good?

This workshop was usally done in a full day workshop, but now he had to do it in 4 hours. I think this had a negative impact on how much we could manage to learn in such a short time.

This is complex stuff to do in one session. I might have had better chance to grasp the concept if I had read the book before I came to the workshop or only a quick summary of the main points of the framework.

I also think that it would be an huge advantage to have read the book beforehand.

The fact that the participants did not know eachother and had never worked together are also a reason to give more time for this excercise. Maybe even try some easy get-to-know-eachother exercises for warmup?

Andrea tried to help us think about cross channel experiences througout the workshop. On one hand this was very helpful, on the other hand this halted our creative processes every time. We had an idea and was trying to work out some detail and then Andrea would bring in a new concept and suggest we use that in our project. This always felt like a setback and a feeling of starting over several times during the workshop. In hindsight I also suspect that Andrea wanted the three groups to get a different focus to demonstrate the point that you should design across channels, across time, across touchpoints etc. In that respect the coaching worked as intended ;).

Conclusions

Did I learn anything? Yes, I think so :D But I also felt a lot of confusion underway. It was not easy to use the concepts 2 minutes after you have heard a brief description and got a handout to read. But at the same time it made me want to learn a bit more about the central concepts of Pervasive Information Architecture and to try to fit this into the framework of design thinking & service design at Making Waves.

After the conference

When I got back from the conference one of my collegues had read @resminis book and recommended it to me. After beeing to this workshop I got curious enough to learn more to buy a copy.

Recommended reading

Pervasive Information Architecture: Designing Cross-Channel User Experiences

Your opinions

If you have attended to this workshop earlier, or was at this workshop, I’d like to hear your opinion on this. Which takeaways did you have and do you agree about my points outlined above?

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