If you’ve ever attended the NAA or NARPM Annual Convention, then you know how inspiring and exciting it is to be surrounded by people who are passionate about what they do. AppFolio’s User Experience (UX) Team recently attended our own professional conference, IA Summit 2012, and we wanted to share some highlights of our experience.

The “IA” in IA Summit stands for “Information Architecture.” Just like building architects, IAs plan and design – but instead of structures, IAs design websites and software. Sounds pretty simple, but like Property Management, IA and UX is a people-oriented profession. We spend a lot of time researching and thinking about what people need from their software in order to achieve their goals as efficiently and painlessly as possible.

IA Summit covered a lot of ground this year – social media, organizational culture, and information overload, to name a few – but there are three talks we want to highlight here.

The first is “Clutter is King: The story of Filing, Piling, and How People Really Get Things Done,” a high-level exploration of two main ways that people manage paperwork. That’s right, at our high-tech conference we talked about paper, and two behaviors that you probably know well: piling and filing. Turns out most of us organize by piling papers in our office. It’s a great method because the most recent items are always on the top where we need them – but there are downsides, like losing things in the middle of the pile. So what does that tell us? Well, for one thing, using the file folder metaphor to organize documents on our computer may not be the most intuitive way to work. Take a look at your computer desktop. Do you store a lot of miscellaneous items on your desktop, in virtual piles? Yeah, me too. And do you know where the item is that you need when you need it? People are good at spatially organizing things, and this has implications for how we can design software.

Speaking of clutter, here are a couple pictures of some collaborative design methods we practiced in a workshop. Just look at all those post-its!

The second talk we want to share with you is “Deconstructing Delight: Pleasure, Flow, and Meaning.” The gist of this talk is that it’s not enough in our high-tech world to simply not annoy our customers – our goal should be to delight you! But how do we do that? We looked at examples of delightful user interfaces (TripIt.com and Zipcar.com) and analyzed what they have in common. The three principles these web experiences share are pleasure, flow, and meaning. Of course, my instinct was to identify instances of and opportunities for incorporating these three principles in AppFolio.

The third talk you might be interested in is “User Research is Unnatural (But that’s OK).” This talk was all about how to make usability testing a little less artificial so the the research participant can relax and so we can gain better insights into how to improve AppFolio. Watching our customers use AppFolio is the best way to understand what what works well, and what needs improvement. Based on feedback from our customers, our design and engineering teams are able to make changes to improve the overall user experience. If you’d like to participate in user research, contact us!

We also found a little time to explore our host city, New Orleans. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it – as a local told me, you have to go out of your way to get a bad meal.

We had an especially memorable meal at Bistro Daisy where our waiter served us Creamsicle Baked Alaska for dessert and here’s some amazing art from a young painter named Justin. Can you guess which one came home with us?

And of course we had to try beignets from the legendary 24 hour Cafe du Monde.

But beignets don’t travel well, so when it came time to bring something home to our fellow AppFolians, we selected a King cake. It tastes a bit like a cinnamon roll, and there’s a little plastic figure of a baby embedded somewhere in the cake. Who ever gets the piece with the baby is King for a Day (and has to bring the next cake to work)!

Here’s our Scrum Master, Heidi, hoping she gets the baby. And here is Malcom from our Quality Assurance team, our King For A Day!

You know it’s been a great conference when you return home with renewed energy and passion for your work. AppFolio’s UX team is more determined than ever to create great user experiences across all channels, and we’re already implementing some of the strategies we picked up at IA Summit 2012!