The annual World Information Architecture Day (WIAD) is coming up, and I am producing the 2016 event in Chicago.

Let me be frank, this is my first rodeo. I have never volunteered to organize anything more than lunch. Last summer, when the call for volunteers came out from the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) I threw my hat in the ring thinking there would be dozens of other, more experienced people, eager to organize WIAD. When I received word that I landed the responsibility I was gobsmacked. But, with the help of friends and colleagues – come hell or high water, WIAD Chicago will happen.

Part of putting on an event like WIAD is searching, asking, convincing and securing sponsors, without whom this free event could not happen. I’ll be the first to admit, asking people for money is not my specialty – even when the money is corporate and not coming from any individual’s personal bank account. When my kids were young and in scouts or summer baseball, I failed miserably at fundraising. Every year, I would invariably end up buying boxes of “The World’s Best Chocolate” myself.

Well, the price tag of putting on an all-day event in downtown Chicago is a bit larger than selling a box of candy bars is going to cover. Larger and more complicated.

The process of getting sponsorship reminds me a bit of the T.V. comedy M*A*S*H (1972 – 1983) in which, members of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital cared for injured Korean War soldiers. (I forgive you if you’re too young to remember the show.) A running gag was how Hawkeye and Trapper John would start an episode in need of something (say, a special tube for the “secret” distillery in their tent), and would have to broker individual favors to and from different characters in order to finally obtain what they desired – all before the closing credits. In my version of the gag, to secure WIAD sponsorship, I’ve had to promise logo placements, opportunities to speak at the event, and in this case, write a blog post for Creative Circle. (Not a bad endeavor given that one of my 2016 goals is writing and publishing more.)

Overall, this has definitely been an experience that has caused me to venture beyond my comfort zone. I’ve been a member of IAI for years and I finally volunteered on projects. It has taken time, effort, and has forced me to push myself but in return, I have experienced more professional growth than many years prior. That is the importance joining a professional organization like the IAI.

Many times, people think they have to join a professional organization because of the usual suspects:

  1. Enhance your network
  2. Take charge of your career
  3. Broaden your knowledge
  4. Find internship and job opportunities
  5. Learn about conferences
  6. Keep up with industry standards

But rather than researching the normal way – via Google, I decided to turn away from the intertubes and ask real people.

James “Mac” McCullough is Dean of the School of Visual Communications at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, Okmulgee (OSUIT for short). When I attended, Mac was one instructor who pushed his students to join and attend the monthly meetings put on by the Art Directors Club of Tulsa.

 “…many times people will join organizations to get new tips, to work with their peers, to have a sense of involvement outside of the confines of the work they do every day, and those are all great reasons to participate. But there is also the idea of putting yourself out there by contributing in both big and small ways to help a cause that you’re passionate about. Professional groups so many times are viewed as just a socializing activity and limited to that by too many of its members. But, if you decide to make it more, [then] that organization might very well be the catalyst for you to stretch your skills, your interests, your capabilities, and that of the organization, to make a real impact in your community and beyond.”

I posed the same question to Abby Covert who, as of this writing, is President of the Information Architecture Institute as well as an Independent Information Architect based in New York City.

“I don’t really see it as networking because I feel like that word is used for making connections that will yield a result (a job, a mentorship etc.) …I see the value of the IAI being much more about connecting to other people that are like-minded, even if you are happy in your job or have the resources you need.

You can have a job in information architecture and work on it every day, but the chances are high that you are still the nerdiest about that topic at your place of employment. The chances are also high that you will be hesitant to get nerdy with your coworkers about I.A. outside your assigned work or domain. The IAI is like a sandbox for meeting other nerds and doing projects that are outside your specialty, context or domain.”

Did you notice?

Turns out, to have an opportunity to be an active contributor is the real reason for joining and the way to get the most out of a professional organization. By joining and contributing to a professional organization, you grow your skills, your network, and your reputation. It’s more than a line on a resume.

Until getting involved – I totally missed the boat.

Don’t do the same. World Information Architecture Day 2016 is coming up this February 20. If you work in the Information Architecture, User Experience, or other related fields, I highly encourage you to register and attend. This could be the start of a great new experience.

Trent is an Information and User Experience Architect in Chicago. A longtime member of IAI, he is currently heading the effort to re-envision IAI’s online library as well as produce the 2016 World IA Day in Chicago.

Trent makes his home in Chicagoland with wife, Violinist, Dr. Gretchen Madson-Sherrell, their three kids, and one (half a dog tall; two dogs long) dachshund.

When not at work, Trent spends his time trying to convince his family that he really is organized and strategic even though he his desk looks like something out of “Hoarders.”

Trent can be engaged via email at or Twitter @tsherrell.