Lou writes about how IA in Germany isn’t really taking off.

I did an IA workshop in Brussels yesterday, and after talking with some of the people here I got the feeling that (please feel free to disagree with me here), in Europe, it depends on the country. In France, IA will probably never take off, at least the current style of US-centered IA. In Belgium, there are a few companies doing interesting IA/UX work, mostly for large clients like J&J and such. But as a field it’s pretty unknown. I blame Belgian’s lack of self-promotion :) In Holland, there is a bit more awareness (and historically more ‘design’ awareness) around IA, but also some confusion about what IA really is (there’s another Dutch ‘IA’ organization with a very different take on what it means). I’ll report back on Spain later, but I have noticed there is a bit of a UX scene there.

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  1. As an IA trying to evangelize the gospel of the field in continental Europe, I have often wondered why this important community of practice does not take of (yet) here.

    Here are some my thoughts:

    Generally speaking, there is insufficient level of English language proficiency (especially speaking passionate in public and writing compelling essays) among people within IT and MarCom. Even though some IA materials have been translated (Thank you Peter!), most of them are developed in (US) English. Thoughtleaders in the field are mostly native speakers who’s witty conversations are English only.

    Then there is the bad socio-economic climate and lack of an entrepreneurial culture in continental Europe. In many cases, companies are trying to survive by reorgs and cost reduction strategies only. Mind space for trying anything new hardly excist. In this respect, the so-called Lisbon Strategy of the European Commission to become the ‘most competitive economy in the world by 2010’ seems so ridiculous.

    Also, there are hardly any large technology companies in continental Europe. Europe lacks the power, collective brains or entrepreneurship to build and foster companies like Microsoft, Apple, Dell or HP. Let alone that there is the risk taking business drive to build companies like Google, Yahoo!, eBay or Amazon. IA as we know it today is fostered within the bounderies of these types of organizations. European technology companies that do exist, such Siemens, Philips or Ericsson (hardware mostly) have moved most of their product design activities to the US or to Asia.

    In Europe, websites and intranets are positioned as tactical instruments. Marketing communication and knowledge management (sic!) have been the main drivers for building these. Any kind of strategic thinking from a business perspective related to a proper organization of electronic information environments takes a shift too big for many.

    As far as there are UX/IA activities going on in continental Europe, it is obvious that they always link directly to the US. Conference, workshops and seminars are mostly organized by US-based companies, like AP or the NNG.

    Altough I’m not a pessimist by nature, I’m not seeing any change of this situation in the near future. Maybe other continental Europeans do.

  2. As yet another European Peter in IA I wish I could disagree with either of the other Peters, but I can’t. At least, not completely.

    Peter van Dijck is right in saying that the design culture in Holland is there, and that the confusion with “the other IA” (Lou’s enterprise IA mixed with IT and information management) makes it hard to get recognized by the parties that often (should) look for us: IT-focussed companies or the IT departments of general enterprises. It means we will have to do a better job at promoting ourselves at all levels (international, national, local). The IA Institute has a role to play there.

    Peter Bogaard’s comments on the (lack of) industry and entrepeneurial spirit at large are true, but that should not discourage us from trying to deliver our services. It should not matter if the products are manufactured elsewhere, as long as they are R&D’d, marketed and managed from here, we’ve got the right audience to talk to to deliver our IA services.

    And even if we have to do it in German, Spanish, or Albanian, we can still report on it in English at annual conferences, can’t we? We’re used to seeing Greeked wireframes, how unclear can an Estonian wireframe be? :-)

    I look forward to seeing a lot of European IA’s at the upcoming EURO-IA conference that is being planned for later this year.

  3. I’m Spanish and I’ve worked as an IA in various major websites, search engines, big portals, etc. and still am. The thing is no one knows I work as an IA, they wouldn’t even care anyway. The Information Architecture, HCI, Usability areas and the like are non existent in Spain. No, really. Sure you can find some crazy IA, or IA crazy people like myself, and a book on usability written in Spanish by Spanish usability experts (all of them), but that’s all there is to it. And it’s not going to change in, say 10 years?, 20?, ever?

  4. I’m from Spain too. I disagree with Miki when he says that UX areas are like non-existent in Spain. I’ve been devoted to IA and usability for more than 7 years now. Back in 2000 you could count the number of professionals with one hand.

    Now, there are more than 50 people fully devoted to IA and usability only in Madrid. My company, for instance, has 14 of them.

    Cadius, a Spanish speaking IA and usability community with more than 1200 members, has been organizing meetings for 3 years now. Every first thursday a bunch of IA’s meet in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.

    Besides, the AIPO (HCI Association) holds a conference every year. Last one was at the University of Lleida and more than 150 professionals attended.

    Besides AIFIA in the United States, I don’t know any other community more active than the Spanish one. I would even say that it’s the most active one in Europe.

  5. Sometimes, facts and figures tell a lot. Independent of how active everybody is.

    IA/UX-related job opportunities by OK/Cancel (http://jobs.ok-cancel.com/)

    Continental Europe (20):
    Germany (8)
    France (4)
    Switzerland (3)
    Italy (2)
    Netherlands (2)
    Greece (1)

    AngloSaxon Countries (869):
    United States (642)
    United Kingdom (194)
    Canada (28)
    Ireland (3)
    Australia (2)

  6. I’m Polish living since 10 years in Germany. I agree with Peter J. Bogaards in every point esp. on bad socio-economic climate and lack of an entrepreneurial culture. I don’t know why, really! The bad thing is, that many people I talk to about it, just don’t see it or agree with me, but are not changing anything.

  7. I’ve worked in/with various places in Europe, and, though I come from Canada, I think I can comment on this fairly.

    The working culture isn’t as adventurous, even in the big cities, as mentioned above, but I would also add it’s also not as dependent on computers. I would say that a lot of people talk on the phone for things, go meet in person and, perhaps, are even somewhat reluctant to rely on written communications. I think that with such varying langauges, europeans are likely communicating more in ways where miscommunication can be avoided. It can be difficult in Europe to understand someone even a few miles away in some cases, and that’s usually thought of when meeting in person. This might be a need for IAs in europe more than a reason for a lack of them, but I think there is another reason that IA isn’t gaining ground fast, it’s that europeans appreciate good design a lot.

    It’s hard to convince people with a lot of design history that such ‘new-fanlged’ devices are actually well designed. I think it will take a good knowledge of how design is received to make IA a part of european culture. I don’t think current IA practice meets the design needs of europeans and so it’s going to need a more creative approach to make sense overall.

    This is just my perspective, of course, and I’m coming from a design background, though I really do see the needs of europeans as being much more toward better made, more appropriate and much more comfortable systems. I think the functionality of the systems is secondary to to the nature of the design or appeal in some cases, and this should be considered in the IA profession on a whole if we are planning to agree on what process or model sets any standards internationally.

    I can see with the advent of rich internet applications, that there may even be a distinct devide in this field, as the efficiencices of the north american interfaces won’t be the goals of european designs. I’d hope we can, as talented IAs, work with a variety of needs and not get hemmed into designing for only one part of the world.

    Feel free to let me know how wrong I am, by the way, I’m always happy to learn more about europe.

    CD Evans

  8. hi,
    i am from germany.
    the situation over here is rather daunting.
    but germany still is a potential market for IAs.
    as i stated over at lou’s place, local IAs (and gonna be-IAs) need some help from their “elder brothers and sisters” in the US (and the UK). there should be something like a godparenthood or something like that. …

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