This blog post introduces another of the co-chairs for IAC21. When not planning the conference, Grace Lau is also the co-president for World IA Day, the nonprofit entity behind World IA Day (the annual event), and co-founder of DIA Design Guild, LLC, a design consultancy uplifting aspiring and transitioning UX designers and researchers.
Why did you get into Information Architecture?
15 years ago I learned about information architecture (IA) and felt there was finally a concept for making sense of the world. Initially, I saw it in terms of navigating the web and over time have come to know IA as a construct to understand the associations and perspectives that biases create. The way concepts are identified, related, and defined (information architecture) has a direct influence on not just wayfinding and navigation, but also one’s understanding and treatment of the world. For instance, how people work and collaborate, how misunderstanding begins, and how mental models are created are all based on a society’s, a culture’s, or even a person’s prescription of order.
One might ask: how do you make sense of the world, if you can’t make sense of your self? Establishing labels, defining them, and creating meaning and understanding from these concepts – those who create the labels and the space for others to understand them – set the tone and the power dynamics. This is the vested power in information architecture.
Information architecture is about identifying concepts. The journey of understanding my identity has wavered throughout the years as the labels expanded from personal to pan- identities, from Chinese, Chinese American, American-born Chinese (ABC) to Asian, Asian American, and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI), from hyphens to acronyms.
Information architecture is about understanding how concepts are related. From Massachusetts where I was born to California where I have established myself as an adult, I am constantly reminded to define myself, to affirm my relationship and association to places and people. Grace isA, isPartof, <instance: place, community, organization>.
Information architecture empowers me to ideate, iterate, and innovate my own identity. Instead of the one being labelled, I as an information architect create understanding and determine labels through building bridges. There’s so much power that comes in having an identity, an identity that is given and taken away based on a label or a name. It’s interesting yet ironic how much society is built around titles and roles, how a denial or perpetuation of a label can spell the difference between an oppressed or liberated sense of identity and being.
How did you become a co-chair of the IA conference?
As an introvert, I have been pulled into great “hallway conversations” about the information architecture and ontologies of pants, sandwiches, and television dramas at prior conferences, and these have been inspiring discussions about our craft and its practice. But it is this wider view of labels, who creates them, who lives within them, who lives under them, and what they do with, to, and for us as individuals and to our greater community that drives me to engage more deeply in the IA community that I call home. I trust that Teresa, Cassini, and Claire and I working together could ignite these conversations at this preeminent conference to this level.
What do you do as a co-chair?
Short answer: Lots of coworking sessions and late nights over Discord.
Long answer: I wasn’t sure what was expected of a co-chair. The IAC advisory board said, design the conference you want to see. And with this wider lens of the power of IA, that is what we have set out to do.
Planning a conference is hard enough any other year. Since the close of IAC20 in April, we have been organizing the logistics of this virtual conference in the midst of a global pandemic, taking into account time zones, social movements, and civil unrest in an election year.
“We’re in this together” is probably one of the most tired phrases of the pandemic. Each of us as co-chairs, and each of our 20+ volunteers have experienced this year differently, with different stressors, successes, and sorrows. We have worked together to ensure that each other has felt supported and had the resources necessary to create the conference we desired.
I focused on marketing communications and supported my co-chairs with curation, sponsorships, and conference experience. We identified systems and untangled how information was gathered and reused upstream and downstream.
Above all, we created a safe space for volunteers to share and connect. I intend for this sense of unity to transcend to the speaker and attendee experiences. We feel we have opened the aperture of the power and responsibility of IA with this year’s line-up of speakers and workshops. We expect IAC21 will carry forward the momentum of prior years’ discussions about the responsibility we carry as practitioners to do no harm, and further our introspection as a professional community into the harm that has been done and amplify our work to right the wrongs.
What’s next for you?
After the conference, and a long nap, I’ll continue to be involved in the community through World IA Day. Together with a global board of directors, I will be researching and working on ways that we as a global community can build up a greater awareness and understanding around information architecture’s power to provide a stronger societal impact. Abby Covert, Dan Klyn, and others founded World IA Day. I’m standing on their shoulders to move it forward.
I’ll also be focusing on developing DIA Design Guild, a design consultancy I co-founded to provide mentoring and apprenticeships for aspiring and transitioning user experience designers and researchers. I’m working with 8 apprentices now on a variety of open-source and nonprofit projects. These early-career practitioners will be well positioned to carry forth this good work, because they are being mentored and guided by the thought leaders of this community of practice, many of whom I have come to know through IAC.
The future is what we make of it and who we inspire to continue to create it.
Where can people find you?
Grace wishes to acknowledge the many individuals who contributed to the writing of this article with advice, feedback, and encouragement (in no particular order): Teresa Nguyen, John Khuu, Jennifer Du, Alesha Arp, MaShana Davis, Christine Lau, Mingxuan Ren, and Jessica Shakarian. The first draft of this article was written on February 12, weeks after the death of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee who was assaulted in San Francisco, California. This post is published 5 days after the deaths of the 8 people, 6 of Asian descent, in Atlanta, Georgia. Their names were: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng.