Planning the conference experience of IAC21

In which I was one of 4 co-chairs planning the online edition of a industry recognized professional conference for the information architecture community

The Information Architecture conference is THE information architecture event based in North America. Every year, it takes place in a different city, rotating around the various corners of the United States and Canada.

  • My experience of the conference over the years
  • Taking lessons from the pivotal IAC20
  • Planning challenges of IAC21

My experience of the conference over the years

There is a lot of pride; almost a badge of honor and prestige amongst return visitors to the conference. Every year, the organizers celebrate the first-timers, second-timers, third-timers, etc., all the way to the 20-plus return attendees. It's quite an overwhelming emotion to be part of a community like this where first-timers and elders of the community are applauded at the same time.

The community around this conference has been around at least since 1999 when it was known as the IA Summit, hosted by the Association for Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T). My first experience with the conference was in 2007 when it took place in Las Vegas and I attended as a student volunteer. I did not attend the conference again until 2015 Minneapolis, 2016 Atlanta, and 2017 Vancouver. The last IA Summit took place 2018 in Chicago where I was the experience director.

Taking lessons from the pivotal IAC20

Last year's IAC20 was the first time the conference was completely online, due to the national lockdown and response to the pandemic. The conference went from 3 days to 3 weeks of talks and workshops taking place after the main conference to give workshop presenters time to change their workshop for an online format. While online conferences and events aren't new in general, they were new to us.

I was brought in to help at the last moment as the stand-in experience director. Through a maze of Airtables, Zoom, Mural, Slack, Vimeo, and Otter, the conference planning team had a thousand arms wrangling with 60+ talks, 3 tracks, over 3 weeks in April last year.

Mindmap showing IAC20 at the center with Discord, Slack, Zoom, Vimeo, Otter, and Mural as main topic branches
Instead of critiques about elevators and public transit, IAC20 started the conference with navigating tech space.

Planning of IAC21

When I was asked to co-chair the 2021 conference, I leapt to the opportunity. I wanted to work with Teresa Nguyen, learn from Cassini Nazir, and collaborate with Claire Morville. The planning of IAC21 began as early as May 2020 and its afterparty barely started winding down May 2021.

Conference challenges

  • Team members falling sick to COVID-19
  • Anxiety and mental wellness
  • Civic and social unrest due to Black Lives Matter, anti-Asian hate, 2020 elections
  • Ambiguity of conference format

Learning interviews

Started with interviews with the IAC20 co-chairs, the incoming IAC21 co-chairs; the social leads; team structures and workflows for curation, marketing, and finance/sponsorships.

Understanding what teams do and mapping their workflow and information needs

Example of the experience for workshop presenters
Example of the speaker experience for main conference sessions
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At some point, I'll come back and add more detail. 

has been an amazing year working behind the scenes with the MarComms team, the Finance team

Vision

Objective

Testimonials

journey maps

organizational structure

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