I recently spent 5 days in New Orleans, volunteering as the Conference Experience Director for this year’s Information Architecture Conference (IAC), where the theme was Change & Resilience. After 3 years of virtual conferences, it’s safe to say that this was an apt theme and the speakers, presenters, volunteers and attendees had no shortage of things to say on the topic. Because if there is one thing that defines the information architecture community, it’s exactly that - community. So much so that in their opening plenary, our conference co-chairs emphasized the importance of seeking consent before going in for the hugs that we had all been missing so dearly. From the moment I touched down in New Orleans, I felt an energy and a sense of connection that has come to be synonymous with the conference and the practitioners I am fortunate to call not only my colleagues but also my friends.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past week reflecting on my experience, not only as an attendee, but also as a key volunteer. And as I’ve reflected, I’ve recognized the shared values that exist between the TELUS and information architecture communities, which make me immensely proud to be a member of both. Let me tell you more.
We passionately put our customers and communities first.
Over the course of five days, over 80 individuals shared their knowledge and experiences with our community. The underlying focus of what was shared through workshops, talks, and poster presentations was about improving either customer or practitioner experiences (and sometimes both). Over 200 people gave up their time and paid to travel to and stay in New Orleans and attend a conference in order to learn how to put their customers and communities first. In listening to the questions that were asked of the presenters in each of the sessions as well as the conversations that were sparked and carried forward to lunch tables, post-conference cocktails and hallway conversations by conference attendees, it is abundantly clear that this group of design practitioners is passionate about designing for their customers and communities.
We embrace change and innovate courageously.
By now, we are all familiar with the events of March 2020. A dedicated team of volunteers had been planning IAC2020 in New Orleans for months and suddenly had just 2 weeks to pivot to a fully remote conference - something that none of them had ever done before. And they pulled it off with grace and elegance. If that doesn’t scream changing and innovating courageously, I don’t know what does! This same courage was demonstrated again as volunteers signed up and worked tirelessly to organize two more fully remote conferences in 2021 and 2022. While 2023 finally allowed for a return to an in-person conference, the courage and dedication required of the volunteer team was no less palpable. We innovated and adapted our approach to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our community would remain protected from COVID-19; we consciously curated a program that focused on gender and racial equity and encouraged new voices to be heard alongside those of community veterans; we worked tirelessly to secure sponsorships and corporate funding during a challenging economic period and we found ways to do more with less so that our community could experience a long overdue reunion. One such example of changing and innovating courageously was the continuation of our annual karaoke night. Due to limited funding, we were unable to hire a karaoke company, but between a few of our dedicated community members, we were able to find a host, an a/v support team, and a video/photographer who were willing to give up their Friday evening to host a bunch of singers of varying talent levels for an evening of fun and laughter using a free online karaoke platform in our speaker studio space.
We grow together through spirited teamwork.
Further evidence of this group’s dedication to their communities and their commitment to growing together through spirited teamwork is in the team of 24 volunteers that worked tirelessly to plan and deliver the conference. In addition to 3 conference co-chairs who were responsible for establishing the theme and overarching vision for the conference, 21 members of the information architecture community donated countless hours to execute on the vision and deliver the conference. These volunteers brought their experience in the areas of program curation, sponsorship, marketing & communications, and conference experience to work collectively for the benefit of our community, while teaching these skills to others along the way. And their work didn’t stop there - they continued to donate their time and expertise as on-site volunteers, working to ensure that the conference went off without a hitch and that all of the attendees had a wonderful experience. These individuals are so passionate about their professional community that they are willing to sacrifice their own enjoyment of the conference to ensure that others enjoy it to the fullest.
I’m proud to be on these teams.
Remember way back in high school when we got assigned group projects and we moaned and groaned, saying “When am I ever going to need these skills as a grown up?” Well, it turns out we use those interpersonal and teamwork skills each and every day, in fulfilling our professional and personal endeavours. And when you work on teams that consistently and authentically demonstrate values like the ones I talked about, work can actually be fun, inspiring and something to be proud of. I’m proud to have been part of the team that delivered IAC23 and I’m proud to work alongside my TELUS colleagues in delivering on our mission: to enable our customers and team members to do what they want to do, easily.