What We Learned About Design in Canada, Eh

12 Apr 2017 Canada IA Summit Feature Image

Last month, we sent Cristóbal Almanza (one of our Information Architects) to Vancouver, Canada, to speak at the IA Summit—the world's most prestigious gathering of digital architects, designers, and strategists.

He returned to Austin brimming with exciting ideas. Here are a few of them. 

Humanity is the center of design.

"Design for humans" sounds like an obvious statement, but there’s plenty to unpack there. Because design is only as "good" as it is functional. Otherwise, it's not design; it's art. 

When it comes to designing products—e.g., websites—for an increasingly digitized world, designers often lose sight of the end purpose. Many designs are aesthetically pleasing but don't consider how they are going to be used by actual humans. Design is most successful when it serves humanity. 

Taxonomy is important.

Taxonomy is the process of categorizing data and content—of structuring stuff in a way that makes sense, is helpful, and which serves the overall goals of the organization providing the content. 

And I admit, information architects are sometimes guilty of underestimating the importance of taxonomy.

Taxonomy is the foundation that guides the architecture, which, in turn, guides the rest of the design. Taxonomy is definitely not glamorous. Done well, it's barely even noticed. But it’s critical to the success of the user experience. Taxonomy provides the invisible links that make or break a website.

UX goes beyond pixels.

As you know, UX stands for "user experience." 

But user experience isn’t just the content and designs on the screen. It’s the overall experience with a product or brand. The biases that, intentionally or unintentionally, influence the decisions of an information architect need to be kept in check. We have to look outside ourselves and the organization to truly understand the users we serve.

When we empathize with users, we can truly achieve user-centered design. This is how we can be successful and achieve a holistic user experience that genuinely delights.

It may not be our fault but it’s our responsibility.

When we inherit a project, in work as in life, we often inherit the project's shortcomings and challenges. The easiest reaction is to blame others, which removes the fault from our plate, but once it’s in our purview, the project and all of its attendant thorns become our responsibility.

We designers have to be willing to tackle our work head-on and do what we designers do best: find creative solutions to bring about positive change to our clients and their users.

Spending four days in gorgeous Vancouver with a bunch of likeminded designers wasn't about finding more efficient ways to push pixels around. It was about understanding our role in a larger world. Design has consequences. And when we appreciate the impact of our work, we can better harness the power of our skills to make a true change in the world.