Wednesday, March 28, 2012

IA Summit New Orleans 5 - The Festival, the City, & the Way Home

Home. And exhausted. Exhilarated and changed for good. I'm determined to write the final three days of my journey before I collapse into bed for the next week ten hours to be up at 6 for the return to normal life.

Read about awesome ideas below, or, skip to the adventures, pics, and video.

A couple sessions stand out to me from Saturday at the IA summit. No actually, I guess one was on Saturday and one was on Sunday. They are starting to blend together in my mind. One was two Australian dudes who I'd been noticing the entire weekend because of their awesome hats. They were like Indiana Jones hats, fedoras with broad brims, and these two guys were the only people at the conference wearing hats. Until Crawford came, but that's a later story. Their names were Paris Buttfield-Addison and Jon Manning, and their workshop was called "Clutter is King." It was all about how people do not live in these pristine environments we tend to design for, nor do they particularly want the "paperless office" the so-called tech visionaries have been heralding for years. They researched hundreds of people about their office organization habits and came to some realizations. We like our clutter, our mess. It works for us. It reminds us of things we need to do and sparks innovation as "unrelated" things are juxtaposed in our field of vision. With few exceptions, those who take great pains to organize their working office documents into highly-structured systems are more stressed and less productive. Often we try to force ourselves to organize in a way that is unnatural to us and really all it does is create more work for ourselves.
Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, in his natural habitat - Diana Walker

They then applied these observations to how we design digital spaces.

One principle was being responsive to their use patterns instead of asking them for preferences, such as when Safari remembers the top sites you visit. Contrast this with bookmarking and making folders for bookmarks. One is just quietly useful, while the other involves a lot of additional work which doesn't necessarily lead to revisiting those pages. More thoughts were, don't be afraid of the mess, don't hide everything, especially the things important to them or frequently used, let them customize their workspaces, and, make things attractive no matter what the user does. Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter are perfect example of the last thing. They are basically unorganized piles of snippets, sometimes not related in any way besides sharing an author/collector. Yet they work for people, people feel comfortable using them. And one of the reasons why is that the visual clutter has been removed, and everything is just happily juxtaposed together without expecting deeper sense from it. Make the piles pretty. Visual clutter is bad, because it adds distraction and stress to something that may already be very complex. But clutter in content that utilizes spacial memory more than labels may well map better to the way people actually think than stiff, heirarchical organization schemes. Quite eye-opening for a library student in the middle of studying classification, taxonomies, and "classical" IA.
Stress-free organization: Pinterest makes piles pretty.

But I definitely relate to things being over-organized. Sometimes I create file structures for my personal computer documents that are so deep I never remember where anything is and I look in four different places to find something. I feel the Converse website has this problem too. There is a fine balance to be struck between deep site structures and broad site structures. In trying to limit the number of links in a navigation, a "tuck things away neatly out of sight" mentality, often, it becomes out of sight and out of mind. In my experience, this leaves site users feeling they know what all the site has to offer when they don't, plus they just have a harder time finding the things they're looking for. I'm increasingly embracing a broader site structure, making more "quick links," or at least, exposing more layers at once through dropdowns and the like. It seems people would much rather scan more links to gain a sense of what all is there, than try something, realize they made the wrong choice, back out, and try again, over and over. Of course neither can you throw at them an undifferentiated sea of links and expect them to derive meaning from it or really absorb their options. It's like what Andrea Resmini said, people don't look at a city from the top down like city planners do. They look at it in experiences and paths and known vs unknown. In the same way, websites aren't perceived at all as the tidy hierarchies information architects so lovingly craft. People are looking to find paths through the site, to filter out the noise, to find what they want, or to make discoveries. Site navigation needs to be conducive to that.
Goodness, this riffs with so many other ideas by so many other speakers that I just started describing another session and ended up getting three different ones tangled. It was amazing how by the end it was like a symphony of ideas, repeating themes being developed across different people's brains. So beautiful and powerful and enriching.

Ok so probably what you really want to hear about are the adventures.
On Saturday night people wanted to go to the Congo Festival - that was in Louis Armstrong park. I went with my roommate, Mobina, and her classmate, Adam. Armstrong Park is a must if you are visiting NOLA. A great combination of lovely ponds, landscaping, and fountains with fun and colorful constructs, bridges, and sculptures. Here are Mobina and Adam at the gate:
Mobina and Adam at Armstrong Park
I took the following video with my phone. It gives the vibe of the festival a lot better than I could explain with words. The ones waving are Mobina my roommate and Adam. At one point you'll hear me shouting. I am talking about the singer. She is in the cast of the Lion King (which was playing right next to the park) and she dropped in to sing one song.

I love to dance. This you know. But now, thanks to my roommate, we have evidence.
Me dancing - yes, it moves!
After the Congo Festival, we wandered around Louis Armstrong Park for a bit. This statue kind of disturbs me. I think it was supposed to capture a musician in motion but it ends up just looking like a 3-headed monster.
Creepy Trumpet Statue - by Mobina
Then we walked into the French Quarter. Adam wanted gumbo. Mobina wanted good New Orleans food. I wanted an adventure. I'm pleased to say we all got what we wanted. Plus I got a pretty dress. And on Jackson Square we found this guy, who was quite charming:

Water Glass Music Guy - by Mobina 
He was a seasoned entertainer. It took a while for the wedding bells to stop ringing and the brass band to stop playing so we could hear the quiet ring of the glasses, but he entertained us with little stories and built up a good crowd in the meantime. It was well worth the wait. And he let me play the glass. I can never do that when I try at home. Apparently the secret is to have a clean finger and apply a lot of pressure.
Me and Adam at the Gumbo Shop - by Mobina
We got crawfish etouffee, jambalaya, gumbo, amazing french bread, blackened fish nuggets, spinach and artichoke dip, and red beans and rice. It was delicious, but so salty I couldn't eat much of it. I needed more rice to cut the flavors or something. I also tried a honeydew daqueri. Mobina is Muslim by heritage, and Adam believes in "something bigger than us." Mobina's abstinence from alcohol led into a lovely, thoughtful conversation on religion. 
There was a really freaky monster tapping at the windows. I mean, it was about 7 feet tall, black with colored spikes and lights all over, and big, googly eyes. Sounds surreal, but it was really there, ask Mobina! I wish we had a picture of it. After dinner we took a stroll down Bourbon Street.
Corner of Bourbon Street and...? - by Mobina
It was certainly novel, but there was only so much of this we could handle:
Bourbon Street Crush and Bustle - by Mobina
So many drunk people, with folks on the balconies cheering, leering and throwing beads - it was kind of overwhelming. On the upside, there were pirates. Jack Sparrow flirted with me. I think he liked my cape. (I wore my new dress around my shoulders so I didn't have to carry it.) We saw an interesting shadow and retreated to a quieter lane, where we discovered a wedding party seeing off the bride and groom in a horse and buggy:
Jesus Statue's Shadow Looms over a Wedding Party - by Mobina 
Bride and Groom - by Mobina
We saw at least 6 wedding processions that weekend. This couple hopped into their buggy with beer bottles and cigars in hand. Ah, New Orleans.

My favorite street is Royal Street. So that's the route we took back home. It is just as enjoyable in the evening, in its quiet loveliness with lit shop windows and elegantly-dressed dinner parties, as it is in the daytime with its bustle of musicians and art galleries. Thankfully Mobina is a photographer after my own heart and took the shots I would have if I'd had a real camera.

Fleurs de Paris Evening Gowns & Hats - by Mobina
Wild Old Ladies Parade - by Mobina
Gorgeous Antique Shop - by Mobina
The evening faded into quietness as we left Adam at his hotel and returned to our own. We popped in at Games Night briefly to watch a few rounds of Apples to Apples, and then on the way to our room I had to stop Mobina to listen to that same great singer, Anais St. John, perform one of my favorites, My Mama Done Tol' Me. We crawled into bed completely worn out and utterly happy.

Ok it is 10:45 and I have two more days to go. I also have real life crowding into my awareness beginning tomorrow at 6am. But I have this unshakable feeling that if I don't tell the story tonight, it won't get told. I suppose I'll tell the rest in brief. It involves me singing "Summertime" to wake up a hungover, but happy bunch at the closing "Five Minute Madness" and having a drink with a "brainstorming addict" who crashed the last day of the conference. His name was Crawford, he's a visionary and a bit of a pirate. He wears a fedora and is trying to get together a "team" with whom he can start up a new venture. He told me his big ideas while walking me to the bus station. Interesting stuff, I wish him luck.

Then there was the harrowing experience in the middle of the night in Mobile when a late cab caused me to miss the Megabus. I panicked, a bit, but God provided. Just like Joshua said. Joshua and Emily (?) were seeing off a beautiful older lady who was constantly praising God under her breath. I didn't get her name. Anyway, they overheard my whole drama. There was a Greyhound leaving at 12:45am but they said it was full, and wouldn't even sell me a standby ticket. The next one wasn't until 4:25 and I could hardly bear the thought of those hours on an uncomfortable bus station bench, stolen away from the precious day I had planned with Matthew. I called Matthew in tears, and explained the situation. He asked, "are you sure there's no space on that bus?" Joshua said "there will be room" in that kind of completely confident voice that suggests divine backing. So I was sitting there at the end of this huge, long line with no ticket, praying that someone would decide not to go or that there would otherwise be space for one more person. 
And then there was this lady, her hands were filled with stuff, and she had two bags whose handles were breaking. She looked so frazzled and tired, and she was trying to drag the bag across the floor with one handle. I had to help her. So I picked up her extra bags and walked with her to the door. I explained to the bus driver collecting tickets that I was just helping her load her bags. At some point a woman had said to me, just talk to the bus driver, he'll let you on and then you can buy your ticket at the next station. So after I helped her get her bags on the bus and helped her up the stairs (I think she might have been strung out, she wasn't entirely present) meanwhile keeping an eye on my bags inside the station, I saw my opportunity. I rushed in, grabbed my bags, and set my suitcase down while I stood at the bus door trying to find the bus driver to talk to him. The next thing I know, the loader had thrown my suitcase on the bus and it was about to drive off. Either my suitcase would be traveling to Atlanta without me or I was riding that bus. So I hopped inside and there were so many people I thought, maybe I'll just sit on the floor. Are they going to count, are they going to kick people off if they don't have actual seats? But then I found a seat. The old woman was in the front of the bus praising God, and Joshua and Emily were outside grinning like mad, waving, and pointing heavenward.

I got things straightened out at the Montgomery station. The ticket girl gave me a funny look when I asked to buy a ticket from Mobile to Atlanta. "Long story."

(The rest is mushy stuff - I'll forgive you if you stop reading now. In fact, if you've gotten this far, I commend you!)
At last, after a few hours' fitful sleep and only an hour and a half later than scheduled, I saw what my heart had been yearning for for the past month and a half.  There on the street, studying the windows of the bus, was my beloved, Matthew! He had rushed over from the MARTA station just moments before. The sight of him, the feel of his embrace just kind of erased all the trauma and the exhaustion and put the world to rights. He took me to a marvelous breakfast and then to Oglethorpe where a nap on a friend's comfy couch and a shower helped restore my spirits. Then, the sweetheart, he drove me home so I didn't have to ride the bus any more! Let me tell you, three hours riding in the car with my beloved is far better than 4 hours in a bus on top of another hour and a half to get home from the Charlotte bus station. Matthew just takes care of me and cherishes me. Just the little things, like when I was choosing a drink and he says "Why don't you get orange juice?" He knows how fragile my immune system is after traveling. Shows he's really thinking about me.
At home, my parents were excited to see us and wanted to take us out to a classy dinner. The food was amazing, but we both just about fell asleep in our plates. Matthew had a long day too, what with my calling in the middle of the night and then him trying to find me at a different bus station in the early morning hours. We spent most of today on the couch, just sort of leaning on each other dozing. It was so hard to say goodbye. It gets harder and harder every time. It is going to be a very long next few years. But God will grant the grace. He's never failed me yet. Not once.

I hope you've enjoyed the story. I don't have a tip jar, but the comment button goes a long way.
Goodbye New Orleans adventures and IA visionaries, hello work and school and normal old life.  Goodnight.

IA Summit in New Orleans ||  1 - Getting There || 2 - French Quarter Buskers || 3 - Rain on My Parade || 4 - New Ideas, New Friends, & Bourbon Street || 5 - The Festival, the City, & the Way Home


  1. I'm so glad God provided. And how sweet about Matthew and the orange juice! I wish you'd got a picture of the monster and I hope you take it very easy for the rest of the week. No more adventures until the weekend, just work, school, sleep, got it? :)

  2. So glad you had such awesome adventures, are home safely, and that your "knight in shining armor" rescued you from the bus disaster!


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