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Collaboration & Community: the story behind World IA Day’s new website

In March 2015, I was asked to be the Global Executive Producer of World IA Day, a one-day, annual celebration of information architecture hosted all over the globe.

We had a challenging time with websites in the past and I was concerned about our ability to get something out to my community in a short timeframe, and making it something "good" seemed an even taller order. For the past 4 years, I've worked as an experience designer on software engineering teams working to short deadlines in places ranging from Kampala to Paris. I know that making a solid website takes time and costs money - and in our case, both of these were in short supply!

With all this in mind, the challenge of the website kept me up late at night, some nights quite literally. Given that World IA Day is run by a distributed global volunteer team in multiple timezones, catching up about our development and its progress often meant I was on calls anywhere from 9PM to 2AM.

It's no surprise then that finding a partner who could alleviate some of our concerns and build us a robust website was a top priority for me this year. I can't gush enough about how lucky I feel that we were able to partner with Agile Collective. In this post, I want to share that story. I take a look at the nature of our arrangement, expand on the ways that we collaboratively managed this development project, discuss the use of Drupal 8 and why we chose it, and evaluate what it's been like to work together on with such a diverse stakeholder in our community.

But before that, I should say a bit on World IA Day...

A (brief) history of World Information Architecture Day and how it operates

World IA Day was started by Abby Covert and Dan Klyn, two information architects associated with the Information Architecture Institute back in 2012. Long story short: Abby and Dan had a vision to create a one-day celebration focused on advancing the practice and education of information architecture. The key here was to create something that was for the community. Their hope was to empower emerging leaders and further the discourse of a growing and, at the time, contentious discipline.

Fast forward to today and World IA Day is celebrating its fifth year.

For World IA Day, local organizers pitch a global team spearheaded by an Executive Producer (that's me!) to host their own celebration. We provide the infrastructure, knowledge, assets, and curation to coordinate the day as a unit. You can think of World IA Day as a sort of tape that binds all separate locations together into a neat (or what we hope is neat) package to be sent around the world.

The first World IA Day was in 2012 and it had 14 locations in 13 countries. The 2016 World IA Day will take place in 71 locations in 35 countries. The rapid increase in our community base has made us rethink our operations and changed the way we manage the wider celebration, which has become more devolved. We believe in empowering community leaders and in not dictating the way that they run their day.

What's left for us to do is to create the tools that empower local organizers to run their day as they see fit. One of the key aspects of this is providing them with a space on our global website so that they might contact sponsors and provide information to possible attendees. It is also one of the only places that World IA Day has a united “public” front as an entity. As such, it's essential. Of course, given the overlap between the information architecture and user experience communities, it's also important to adhere to current aesthetic design trends and align with contemporary user interface development practices when we present ourselves to the public.

Finding a partner to help us realize this — given our economic constraints as a not-for-profit — is difficult if not seemingly impossible. I'm certain it was good karma for the IAI that brought Agile Collective and World IA Day together.

Building the site

World IA Day and Agile Collective came together by happenstance. After a few initial scoping discussions, we were able to identify a novel payment plan whereby we would trade IA trainings to Agile in exchange for design and development. We wanted to exchange knowledge and collaboratively build something we were all proud of.

One of the important considerations from the Agile Collective side was that we would use Drupal 8, the newest release of the open source content management system. This platform was at a pre-release stage and Agile were keen to start working with it -- to contribute testing and enhancements to its development.

Using and building Drupal 8 has been a fascinating experience. I've previously worked on Drupal projects and I'll admit it, it wasn't my favorite technology before joining this project. However, Drupal 8 has been a delight to work with (even at this early stage) and has provided us the flexibility to deliver different types of information for different devices in a clear and reusable pattern. A clear example of this has been with the organizer profiles, which we’re currently developing. We can now reuse these profile nodes and place them on specific location pages so that they are future-proofed as organizers change hands.

Designing and developing the World IA Day global site

One of the best things about working with Agile Collective has been our flexible design and development approach. We use Taiga (an open source Kanban tool) to manage user stories. Everything is quite simple and straightforward from a management perspective. We write just-in-time user stories, bulleting out key acceptance criteria and using stories as conversations rather than bullet-proof requirements. 

That said, Agile Collective’s talents extend beyond development, as the creative direction has helped redefine, repurpose, and remix our brand in a new exciting light this year.

We did provide Agile Collective some loose wireframes. From there, they helped nudge us in the right direction, iterating with sketches, mock-ups and in-browser prototypes, to find practical solutions within the tight timeframe necessary to deliver the project.

As mentioned above, the World IA Day global team philosophy embraces community-centred design and non-hierarchical management. It was key for us to solicit feedback and include input from our wider stakeholder set into the development approach. This obviously presents a challenge, given we have nearly 80+ different stakeholders with their own experience in designing and developing websites.

Avigail, Aaron and Richard have been incredibly flexible in helping me to include and prioritize issues based off feasibility and user priority. These issues range from design feedback to bugs and new site ideas. Flexibility is of the utmost importance when working with clients and Agile’s understanding approach to managing the feedback I share has been refreshing given my previous experience with development teams that can be somewhat closed and guarded

In sum

There's a saying from Paul Holdengruber that I like to steal. He quipped, "Mother always said: Two ears, one mouth." That’s no truer than working in a client-based relationship.

Building anything collaboratively is tricky and challenging. It takes empathetic and understanding teams to help clients manage their own stakeholder set and deliver work on time. I've appreciated Agile Collective's ability to listen to our community's needs, their innovative and practical solutions, their kindness, and their genuine interest in our work. It's simply refreshing in today's self-protective design and development market.

I can't underline enough how integral Agile Collective (and Drupal 8) have been to the production of World IA Day this year. I hope that we can reflect on this blog post in ten years and look at how far Drupal and World IA Day have moved into the future in a few short months.

Meet our Guest Author
  • David Peter Simon

    David Peter Simon
    David Peter Simon was the Global Executive Producer of World IA Day in 2015. He is now a consultant and blogger.
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