Why am I so angry?

Last week I set a personal record: started flamewars on four mailing lists. It would have been six […]

Last week I set a personal record: started flamewars on four mailing lists. It would have been six or seven, but I realized I was edgy, and decided to not watch the mailing list folders for a few days until I cooled off. But I never cooled off. And I wondered why. I recalled a recent blogpost by Adam Greenfield (hilariously if inaccurately mocked by ok-cancel) and I found a clue. I think he, and Peterme, and Lou and Peter Morville… well, we’re all outgrowing our favorite pair of jeans: IA. And the waistband is cutting in badly, but it’s our favorite pair, so of course we’re crabby. We’re all going to stay crabby unless we finally take them out of our “skinny” drawer and give them to goodwill. (Okay, I suspect Peter Morville saw a tailor to have his let out, restyled, and pressed; and Lou told us that they were in the garage, but really he cut them into patches and made a quilt — but hey, let’s not beat this metaphor to death. Oops, too late.)

Despite no longer calling myself an information architect (I’ve been happy with entrepreneur for some time) and despite a deep affection for the community I’ve been part of for so long, the lists have been making me crazy. I’d been off them for a while, and had gotten back on for a number of reasons, from promoting the new Boxes and Arrows features to seeing if new trends were emerging in my (former?) profession. And I was shocked at the blatant stupidity I thought I was seeing. Only it wasn’t stupidity; I had radically changed my point of view. It was as if I had been enjoying the company of swans for some time, went to sleep and woke up a duck– and thought the swans looked silly, all long necked and white and showy.

Starting my own company, I’ve had to learn an amazing amount in a short time. I’ve had to essentially give myself a home-MBA (resulting in similar quality, I might add, to a home-perm). As a result, returning to the lists, I couldn’t believe what things people were saying — I was thinking “Of course they don’t implement that feature, there is no upside” “you have to make choices, and in this market that was the right one” ” Jesus kee-rist, of course YouTube is designed.” and so on.

I’ve been angry because so many (not all!) design practitioners whine about how no one pays attention to them, when they don’t take time to understand the business folks. When they proudly crow about their empathic skills, and just as proudly crow about their hatred of excel. They expect business to read GAIN, but refuse to read businessweek. Too often they judge from their point of view, instead of questioning and learning instead.

And I’m angry because I’ve been so very stupid in so very many of the same ways, and my hubris pisses me off. I’ve been humbled by Excel in the last weeks, and made wise by Advertising Age. PowerPoint has been a better friend than Photoshop, and Drucker wiser than Hillman.

I’m not sure I could write another design book ever again without first going to the well of business and drinking deeply. For those “moron sheep” sure know a whole lot. And you cannot learn unless you have ears to hear with, and sometimes that means shutting up.

I’m not even sure if I have a point yet to make from all this research and digestion.

I do know I am a small piece of something big, and I bring my own skills to play along with others, and now I can no more tolerate dismissing of “monetization” any more than I can stand dismissing design as “making it pretty.” I don’t know if the right thing is to unsubscribe and move on, or to remain, and try to explain some stuff I figured out, while watching for the new stuff others have figured out. Or maybe I should just flame and be done with it, and start the conversations needed to get change happening. I’m not sure I have the stomach (even though I clearly have the talent) for that work.

This blog has more to say these days about publishing than about IA, because it is a blog: a personal journal of one person’s view. Maybe it’s getting to be time to change that also; change topics formally, change the dynamic, or maybe it’s getting to be time to take my own advice and “Shut up and Dance.”

Anger is almost always based on fear, and change fuels fear. I am becoming Christina 2.0, and joy and fear and anger as par for the course, I guess. With occasional flamewars and design bashing thrown in.


Add Yours
  1. 1

    Christina, don’t go away! We need you.
    Teach us what you’ve been figuring out, but remember what you are figuring out is in your context and we designers (those remaining in that role) still have other contexts to wrap our minds around.

    (BusinessWeek, Wired subscriber for 4 years … proud to be a designer.)

  2. 2
    Karen B.

    Interestingly, I find myself in the same place that you’ve so eloquently expressed: should I stay or should I go now?

    How does one reshape their POV without losing the essence or the driving sense of importance of whatever you want to call it? Extensive navel-gazing and endless arguments among the adherents is not productive. I do, however, value intelligent logs on the fire such as you. Please don’t up and leave without urging the rest of us onward.

  3. 3
    Austin Govella

    It must be something in the water. My momma always told me to shut up if I didn’t have anything nice to say, so I’ve been quiet for a while. I feel like I’m totally in left field — if not out of the ball park — wondering if I’m stupid, crazy, or bizarrely incompetent.

    I definitely believe in sharing lessons learned, and I think the community would be many times better if you made some of those “business” comments.

    The best lesson would be they aren’t business comments at all, but design comments. Designers, supposed masters of context, self-relegate themselves to various ghettos of thought preference: “Teach us what you’ve been figuring out, but remember what you are figuring out is in your context and we designers … still have other contexts to wrap our minds around.”

    This is a common thread that runs from IDEA through Adam’s post through Jim’s messages on IxDA through here.

    If people like you and others simply wander off without passing on your enlightenment, then the community essentially loses its history, doomed to walk the same roads over and over again. You may already know Buddha, but there are plenty on the road who haven’t met him who would benefit from being introduced.

  4. 4
    George Girton

    Since when is Excel such a great app? We have all used it fdor ages but it was designed long ago and its dominance is not entirely based on merit. Complaining about excel might be an unthinking codeword type complaint against business in the same way that the term ‘suit’ has always been used, but we have all used Excel for years and bear our little usability scars with frustration and resentment not with pride.

    So, Drucker. I thought Drucker had been discredited as a guru. I’m deeply skeptical of Drucker. I’ve read Drucker. I say think for yourself.

    Powerpoint? I’d say give it up. Abandon Powerpoint. Edward Tufte’s slam on Powerpoint is not a screed. What are you aiming to do with Powerpoint, set up your very own Challenger disaster? No wonder you’re thinking about throwing your design conversations in the dustbin if Powerpoint is your new best buddy.

    Your newfound perspective calls to mind the seventies rap of the Last Poets “White Man Got a God Complex.” Better not to throw away your IA hats; you might need them again when your head returns to a size that better contains your thinking brain.

  5. 5

    I hope to read more on how the home-MBA changes your perspective on design. Please share the wealth of knowledge you’re acquiring :-). I can’t see how understanding the constraints of running a business could make anyone a worse designer. Cheers!

  6. 6

    Hi Christina –

    I see your points here, but a retreat from the IA community is one thing, a retreat from performing IA-related services another. I’d think that your exposure to MBA-level business strategy would add greater depth to your knowledge as a designer, rather than force you out of the practice.

    Anyway, the best of luck in whatever direction you choose to take.

  7. 7
    Eliot (Amy)

    This is fascinating… except that, as my first time reading your blog, I have absolutely no idea what your problem is with the designers. Yes, they’re not reading business journals. But why do they need to? And what’s your problem with Information Architecture? I know with Web 2.0 and tagging everyone thinks there’s no need to organize web content anymore, but I think that’s going to be revealed as a myth more than a reality very soon.

    People still need organized websites. Not every site is going to be shot into the stratosphere by interactivity. Maybe I’ve just been in the nonprofit world for too long, but content is driving the web right now, and you need good information design and graphic design to present that – with business sense, too, but not alone.

    Maybe some links from this entry to other entries would clarify your position for me? I’m interested…

  8. 8

    Until the end of the first paragraph I thought you literally meant you were annoyed because your jeans were tight, and I was going to direct you to the Zawodny Diet.

    > “I have absolutely no idea what your problem is with the designers. Yes, they’re not reading business journals. But why do they need to?”

    As long as they happy to not get paid, they don’t need to at all 🙂 Information Architecture only happens when people are willing to pay for it. People are only willing to pay for it when it’ll result in them making money. Thus, if the IAs read Business Week, they’ll be better IAs because they’ll understand the context in which they’re working.

  9. 9

    Funny, but while reading the comments I got a sense of deja vu. I’m not even sure why, maybe it’s because I have a fetish for reading rants from respected people against the culture from which they came, and no matter how much wisdom the rant contains there’s always some idiot why tries to justify the rant-points. My gooly gosh, what a waste of time, and how badly the point was missed. I symphatize.

    I loved your rant; it’s spot on, I agree wholeheartedly with it, and I suspect one thing; consultants are bad for society. The context of their services are way too shallow to get the real picture, always has, always will. I too was there as a consultant, thinking I knew what context was and how to apply it as a service. Now I’m very certain I was terribly wrong. (I know one consultant who changed her whole business model to get closer to the larger context; lower prices, longer engagements, more on-site … One to admire!)

    I think “context” needs to be specified better, and the larger context strived for. Most of the time the context in which we do our work is too shallow, so unless we explain our context we cannot improve it nor expand it when it is discovered that your context is worth squat!

    (And thanks for the Ok-Cancel reference; that was truly hilarious! I need to work less …)

  10. 10
    Bob Baxley

    Christina…I share your frustrations. I too have had the sense that much of the discussion in the IA/Design community was dangerously close to a conference of virgins talking about sex.

    For some reason I’m reminded of the quote, “When I was 17 my father was a complete idiot. But I gotta tell you, by the time I turned 28 I couldn’t believe how much the old man had learned.”

  11. 12

    I think home-MBAs are awesome. While folks want CW to impart her wisdom…it will be more profound when you actually see her in action…and move things forward to success!

    Thanks CW on opening the doors to saying it like it is…

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