World IA Day was created to celebrate Information Architecture (IA)—the art and science of structuring information in web design. On February 22, events took place across the world that engaged and empowered the global UX design community. But what does it actually take to plan and stage a local World IA Day event?
We caught up with four women who helped to orchestrate World IA Day LA: Stella Lee, Danica Barnes, Katherine Lu, and Sera Lee. Speaking candidly about the experience, they talk us through the highs and lows of organizing something so highly anticipated—and what they learned in the process.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you got into UX design.
Danica: I’m a former corporate video editor who brought customer stories to life for some of Silicon Valley’s largest tech companies. Through my work, I had the opportunity to film many usability testing sessions—and fell in love with the UX process. I completed CareerFoundry’s UX Design Program in 2019, and I now work as a freelance UX designer, working most recently with Incite Research Consultancy.
Katherine: Since completing CareerFoundry’s UX Design Program, I both freelanced and worked at a web design agency in LA before landing my current role at Taco Bell as a UX/UI Designer. Surprisingly, I wasn’t aware of “design” as a career path. Through the magic of Google search and the Facebook algorithm, I discovered UX design, which is the perfect combination of the topics I’m interested in: visual design, processes, and understanding people. Before starting the program, I worked in people-focused roles, from teaching English in Brazil to working as a corporate trainer.
Sera: I started in film production, then became a brand strategist in a design agency. When I thought about career plans for the future, I always struggled to balance both my analytical and creative sides, without being extremely creative or extremely analytical. I discovered UX design while researching different career paths, and thought it was a perfect way for me to incorporate both sets of skills. I enrolled in CareerFoundry’s UX Design Program, and the rest was history!
Stella: Upon graduating, I was immediately promoted at my retail job, which I accepted. I never planned to stay at that job for long, and after a year, I finally decided enough was enough. After researching certification programs and bootcamps that would relate to my education, I stumbled upon UX design—and CareerFoundry. I finished the UX immersion part of the course on February 20, 2020 and am currently working on the specialization course, job preparation course, and my portfolio.
How did you come across World IA Day?
Danica: Last year, I went to the north-east LA UX meetup, and I met Jesse—the World IA Day event organizer. That was back in August when she was just starting to plan it all. I told her I wanted to get involved, and we got the ball rolling. We then shared it on the west coast channel in slack, and Stella responded.
Stella: I came across World IA Day through a post on CareerFoundry’s Slack community after Danica called for volunteers. I reached out and was directed to Jesse.
Sera: Stella is my study buddy in the CareerFoundry slack community. She introduced me to the event, and the rest was history!
Katherine: I also discovered the event through the CareerFoundry slack. I attended the event last year, but I didn’t even consider if I could volunteer this year. It just happened to be perfect timing!
Walk us through each of your roles.
Danica: I was the audiovisual (AV) coordinator. I chose that role based on my background in video editing. My role involved making sure that all of the audio and visuals were taken care of at the event—from making sure speakers could access their presentations to sorting out the music between presentations. Alongside another volunteer, I also did some videography throughout the day.
Sera: My role was production coordinator. I have a background in film production, but as this was an event, I was more of an event coordinator. On the day, I made sure everything went smoothly and at the proper times. I also organized the day-of volunteers and delegated tasks among them. Like everyone else, I had to step up when it came to other miscellaneous tasks, like helping out with security and arranging transport for the speakers.
Katherine: I was a speaker coordinator, which basically meant I was in charge of sourcing speakers and organizing the event’s line up. I worked pretty closely with Danica and Sera leading up to the event—we all had to be in sync. Some speakers were brought to me via Jesse, but others I sourced myself. Some of our speakers, like Terri and Geremy, were mentors I met when I was networking at the tail end of my CareerFoundry course. Terri was actually the person who introduced me to CareerFoundry. The month I signed up to be a volunteer, she called me out of the blue and asked what I was up to. I told her about World IA Day and asked her if she’d be interested in speaking. In the end, it felt great to give back to the people who helped me in my career change into UX design.
Stella: I was in charge of maintaining all of our social media accounts, namely Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I also updated the speaker cards and planned and scheduled posts through Buffer, making sure to stay engaged with other World IA Day teams and other organizations located in LA.
How did you coordinate your planning with the whole team?
Katherine: Slack—which was a little overwhelming at times because there are so many messages that pile up. Jesse was amazing at managing it all, though—I think she just went into autopilot. We had loads of different channels; a volunteers channel, an event channel, a sponsorship channel, and so on. We also had an all hands that took place remotely on Zoom every week, which helped us all to stay on the same page.
Danica: Jesse even held “Zoom office hours” where people could sign in to ask questions during specific time frames. I thought that was really cool!
Talk us through the planning process of the event
Katherine: A lot of it started off as individual check-ins with Jesse, which worked out really well. It was hard to secure sponsorship or get volunteers in place until the venue was secured, so a lot of things couldn’t be planned in advance. It left us with a lot of uncertainties, which made things a little difficult.
Danica: We had a super casual and very introductory call with a few volunteers around the beginning of September to discuss where the event would be held. We needed to decide if we wanted it to be World IA Day LA, which would bring in more sponsors but also amount to more work, or something smaller and more regional. In the end, we went with LA for the name recognition.
Sera: LA was also the location that all of these global tech events started, so it definitely held some deeper meaning to have the event take place there.
Stella: I made sure to plan weekly posts and base them around holidays and events. I had a master document on Google with all of the social media handles and hashtags for our speakers and sponsors, as well as the speaker talk titles and blurbs.
What was it like to work with the global organization of world IA Day?
Katherine: For global, it was all about the marketing materials, such as graphics and icons. For example, AIGA-Orange County wanted to help promote the event, but needed specific graphics and other assets—so I had to look for that. The global team also had set templates for the presentation slides that we needed to adhere to, but we didn’t get those until a few days prior to the event.
Danica: We put together a welcome video to send out, which was really cool. Our initial idea was to all gather at ADP to film it, but it has pretty intense security and a lot of hoops to jump through. It was also difficult to coordinate everyone’s schedules, so in the end, we opted for a “Brady bunch” style of video with people waving in little squares!
How did you adapt the global theme of “The IA Element Past Present Future” to your local conference?
Katherine: I talked to Jesse a lot about the planning with the theme back in December. Jesse was trying to get people’s input on what “The IA Element Past Present Future” meant to them, as we needed to have a unified understanding of what the theme actually was. We worried that the theme might even be perceived somewhat negatively because it seemed quite academic and historical rather than modern and relevant for new designers, or applicable for everyday work. In the end, I thought it came together really well! Speakers would even reference each other’s speeches, interpreting the theme in different ways.
The Acronym LATCH also came up a lot on the day. It stands for Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, Hierarchy. It’s a way to think about organizing information. Our first speaker Lynn Boyden started as an information architect back in the day, and she set the tone by introducing LATCH. Everyone then started referencing it throughout the day.
What was the format for the day?
Katherine: We kicked off with breakfast and an introduction, and then launched into the talks before lunch. We then had a few more talks and then rounded off with a workshop. We conducted a raffle in between the talks, which kept everyone super engaged. It ended up being a really great way to break up the day. To keep things eco-friendly, we opted for a digital raffle, which included a tablet, a sketch license, and a consultation with a UX firm.
What was the most challenging part of planning the event?
Sera: As Katherine mentioned earlier, the fact that the venue wasn’t secured until January turned things into a bit of a catch-22 situation. Some venues simply weren’t interested because they didn’t understand the field of UX design, or didn’t like working with nonprofits.
Danica: I agree; it was a lot of waiting for elements to come together. Even from an AV standpoint, without being able to visit the venue until a week before, I had no real sense of what we needed or what equipment was already there until the last minute. We wanted speakers to submit presentations ahead of time, and not everyone did—so that had to be navigated. Some things literally didn’t get to me until the morning of!
Katherine: For me, the amount of coordination with speakers was a lot to deal with. I thought finding them would be the hard part—but that was the easy part! The hard part was getting an agreement, setting expectations, getting the presentations, giving feedback on the content and layout, and so on. Everyone stepped up though, and if I couldn’t do it, Sera helped out with contacting them too. This was a volunteering gig, but at the end of the day, we all treated it like it was a paid job.
Stella: The biggest setback for me was having to wait for all of the speaker information in order to create the speaker cards. Two speakers finally submitted their talk titles the week of the event. The planning definitely felt rushed at times—even finalizing our venue took a while, and we only started ticket sales two weeks before the event.
Were there any last-minute crises that you had to deal with at the last minute?
Danica: It’s kind of embarrassing, but I was borrowing a DSLR camera for filming. It’s a type of camera I’m very familiar with, so I got an external mic. The night before the event, when doing equipment tests, I realized that the camera doesn’t accept external mic inputs. I was completely freaking out—I mean, World IA Day bought a mic for me, and now we couldn’t hook it up! I ended up using my phone to record the mic and then recording the video on the camera. I literally velcroed my phone to the tripod. Thank god my phone battery lasted!
Stella: The day-of volunteers were moved to a different task last-minute, so I ended up helping out at the registration table, which I wasn’t quite prepared for. Also, two speakers hadn’t shared their slides with the team, so I hadn’t been able to get an idea of their talks beforehand to plan my social media posts. Luckily it all worked out in the end!
How did the event go, and what did you learn from coordinating it?
Danica: It ended up being a really great event! A lot of my responsibility was on the day, and so everything was just a blur. I wasn’t aware of any of the crises they just mentioned! Overall, the speakers each gave really interesting and unique talks, and we had a good variety of things in addition to the talks, like workshops.
Katherine: It all came together really well. I was able to just relax during the event and take a breather—a lot of volunteers were pitching in, so there was no shortage of hands on deck.
Sera: It was great. Everyone I met said they really enjoyed it. Even after the event, people were saying they wanted a full two-day event. Right from the start, every volunteer was really doing their best. Even though a lot of the team was remote, we fostered a lot of trust between each other. We were planning to recruit 10 day-of volunteers, but we only got four, so I had to delegate really specific roles and responsibilities. They all did a fantastic job of making things happen!
Stella: There were a few minor issues regarding the flow, but overall, the event went really well! It’s been a while since I helped coordinate an event, and I learned a lot. I gave a lot of feedback to Jesse about setting expectations and goals for each role. Communication is definitely key.
Do you plan to help with World IA Day again next year?
Danica: I’d definitely take on an AV role again. In some cities, like New York, people do the same roles each year—so it becomes less work and more of a well-oiled machine because everyone knows what to expect.
Katherine: I also had a great time working with everyone. I was able to be openly communicative and transparent about my capacity, and generally what I could and couldn’t take on in that specific moment. It also helped that everyone was clear about their own expectations and availability. We had a large group of volunteers, and everyone showed up to the weekly all hands, which kept us all on track. We even had an update in Airtable to clarify what we’d talk about in case people couldn’t make it.
Sera: It was great, and it would be cool to do it again. A few challenges arose due to the fact that there was no structure or process that was handed down from the year before, but if I did it again, I think it would be a lot less overwhelming.
Stella: Yes—I really want to stay involved with the community. I’ll admit, as a highly introverted person, I’m always intimidated by attending events where I know no one. But working with such an amazing team helped me feel connected with people before actually attending the event. I was able to relate to their stories, and I realized that everyone is either in the same boat as me or has been here before. It made me excited to attend more UX meetups and events in the future!
Would you coordinate other UX design events in the future?
Katherine: Back in college, I was a resident advisor, and I then worked as an office manager—so community building is my jam. A lot of community engagement is about meeting people, bringing them together, and building community. I’d be interested in doing more of that in the future.
Any extra thoughts you’d like to share?
Danica: When I first got involved with World IA Day, I wondered if it was the best use of my time as it wasn’t anything that could go into my portfolio. As time went on, my opinion completely changed. I worked alongside members of the UX community who I’m now a lot more connected to than if I’d met them at a networking event. CareerFoundry students should definitely volunteer for events like this. While it doesn’t necessarily give you a deliverable, it’s deeply beneficial for your career.
Sera: At the end, Jesse saw my value as a production coordinator, and pointed out the transferable skills that are useful in UX design. It’s all connected!
Katherine: Following the event, Jesse wrote thank you letters that were unique and specific to our roles.
To find out more about World IA Day, and how you can get involved, head here!
To find out more about other collaborative projects that CareerFoundry graduates have taken part in, check out this article: How I Got a Tech Apprenticeship With Tech Fleet: Life After CareerFoundry
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