Conflating Sturgeon’s Law

“I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.”

–Theodore Sturgeon

I just tripped over The Pernicious Effects of Advertising & Marketing Agencies Trying To Deliver User Experience Design. It’s a thoughtful well-written post. But I was off put by the them-ness of it all. Condemning an entire sector as crap strikes me as unlikely to be true, if not an act of brutal generalization. And of course the comments were partly saying “exactly!” and partly saying “no, not at all!” And puzzled, I suddenly remembered Sturgeon’s law, which applies not only to artforms but to everything. 90% of everything is crap.  We forget this because most of the time only the 10% manages to get to us.

I used to walk around thinking that Marketing people were useless idiots who got in the way of real work. Then I worked at Yahoo! in their heyday (remember the ‘fro commercial? How about the dolphin?) That marketing team was way more than a group capable of picking a smart commercial vendor. They could plan a launch, get a logo revised, give you crisp, interface-friendly copy, pick the right spots in the press to leak to (admittedly PR, but integrated tightly then) and they were the best partners for design ever.

I had a funny little “oh, there is good marketing and bad marketing” moment working there. Doh!

So I assume there are bad ad agencies (90%) and good ones (10%) and Peter and all the crabby commenters run into the stinkers who spoil the pot for everyone else. Can any ad agency do user experience? I think that choosing an ad agency as your interface design provider is less than a good choice, since great user experience design takes years of practice or mad genius. But, considering Sturgeon’s law, going to a design agency is a crap-shoot also. Pun intended.

But while we are on this topic, I’m a bit worried about design. It is the hottest must-have ever in the valley.  Every startup is hiring a designer to get that “mint magic” and every big company is hiring a designer to get that “apple magic” And Sturgeon’s law suggests that when every single designer gets snatched up, a LOT of people are going to be VERY disappointed. I just hope those business folks are going to be smart enough to blame the designer, and not design.