Three things we learned at EURO IA Conference

During a recent research trip, two of our designers attended the European Information Architecture conference (EURO IA).

The conference was held in Stockholm, after spending time with our colleagues at The Lab for Living in Sheffield.


What follows are our top three key learnings—in no specific order.

1. The role of a discovery phase in a design process:

Discovery is a set of activities that yield shared knowledge to structure and inform design decisions about a particular project.

If we think design or discovery is just problem solving—we can’t understand a problem until we try and solve it through a design process. Therefore a discovery phase is not just about ‘research.’ It includes any activities you need to build up the shared pool of knowledge amongst a design team. Discovery is chaotic and messy—because it reflects creative process. In one sense it's a compromise—in that we are trying to recreate an organic, explorative process in a corporate or consulting context.

Discovery is not a phase.
Discovery is a mindset.

2. How designers deal with Interactions and workspace.

The keynote of the conference was Stephanie A. Hughes speaking on how contexts can be designed to foster human interactions. She has a specific interest in how workplaces foster human interactions including collaboration, learning, creativity and innovation.


Context is what gives meaning to our interaction. As designers we don't design interactions—rather we design the context in which interactions take place. The role of physical space is three fold:
1: Backdrop to the activities of the people/interactions in the environment.
2: Communicator of values/strategy of the group.
3: Enabler of the type of activities that take place there.

Hughes advocates for people treating their works space as team member, and holding it accountable. We cannot design or force interactions; we can only design a context to foster interactions. 

Stephanie's talk resonated with the way in which we have viewed our Lab studio at Auckland City Hospital. We have built an environment that reflects the work we do and how we do it—experimental, optimistic and inspiring (we hope!) for both workers and visitors. Our space is responsible for communicating our values, signalling that it's safe for people to think and work differently.

Stephanie's design practise can be found here.

3. Working on mixed discipline design projects.

The speakers discussed an urban development for a new city centre to remedy an air quality problem. Their epiphany came when they were able to translate design patterns from the digital space (as Information Architects) to the physical space (urban development).

For example, their use of VR technology allowed them to engage the public and gather feedback on specific aspects of the design. They prototyped physical solutions as well, by blocking one of the streets that would no longer be available for cars. Working alongside city government and urban designers, they emphasised the end to end experience of engaging the public before, during, and after the design phase. 

The work we do to bridge design disciplines at the DHW Lab enables us to consider a problem before we decide exactly how it might be solved. This does not discount the need for specific design skill, instead it should encourage a collaborative approach across  design disciplines to create effective solutions.


We are incredibly thankful for the opportunity to have been part of such an engaging international design conference in a beautiful city.