Peter Merholz Brings on the Hate, Jason Fried Responds, I Wonder WTF?

I read an odd post on Peter Merholz’s site today. He complains about 37signals singling out Information Architects in their Getting Real book. It miffed him off enough to pronounce 37signals’ views and rhetoric to be shallow.

Jason has chimed in a couple of times in the comments on that thread. I was going to comment too, but decided to post about it because of the length my commentary has reached, desire for traffic, and general damn-I-need-to-post-somethingness.

One thing that Peter wrote caught my eye:

“information architects” typically do a lot more than information architecture.

I think that other “UX”-related professions would say the same thing about themselves. My dayjob is a specialist position. My job title is Interface Designer. But I do a heck of a lot more than just design interfaces. I have to. Simply to be able to get to the point of putting widgets in some semblance of order. It is largely about the preservation of my sanity that I get involved in so many aspects of requirements, design, development, and testing.

Perhaps it would have been better to throw in a couple more job titles… Thanks to Peter’s “user feedback” and the method by which 37signals is publishing the book, it is an easy update (or iteration if you will, as I view the book as a living document of sorts) to make. If necessary. I am not sure it is.

I know we all have been involved in arguments/debates over job title vs. profession vs. activity. Depending on the make up of your organisation, or more importantly what you value (right or wrong), you may want an Information Architect in your company, or you may want someone to handle the information architecture for the new site. I think, when it comes down to it, the activity is more important than the job title or profession.

Part of the issue resides in the fact there are plenty of people out there who promote themselves as Information Architects, Usability Engineers, or Interaction Designers and really will do only those activities. They’ve been trained and expected by many industries to specialise and not work outside their task checklist. I hate working with people like that because they don’t think they have a responsibility to the user, client, or product; only a responsibility to their tasks.

Overall, I think Peters’ argument about 37signals perceived shallowness is pretty weak. Especially using the generalising phrase of “all of which” to support a single issue argument. If Peter has more issues with 37signals, and this is the straw that broke the camel’s back, then so be it. Perhaps a “Top 10 Reasons Why 37signals is Shallow” list would be a better way to support his statement, “All of which confirms my belief in the shallowness of 37Signals’ views and rhetoric.” I’ve read his site for a while and this seems out of nowhere to me.

Things can obviously be extrapolated to other contexts, but people need to keep in mind that they may not always be able to “Get Real” in the same way 37signals does.

(Jason, based on some of the chats I listened to after your keynote at SXSW, I think, for a while at least, you can’t repeat often enough that these perceived platitudes are from your experience, applied within your context. For some reason, many people seem to think (or maybe they are hoping) you are telling them how solve all their process and development problems. That isn’t the case.)

There is no silver bullet and frankly you probably don’t need one. It is far more important to be able to find the right kind of gun, be able to load the gun, be able to aim the gun, and perhaps most importantly, be able to figure out where the werewolf is. If you are lucky enough to have Marty Feldman* on your team, by all means invest in a silver bullet. Sadly, everyone is SOL on this one.

So spend some time figuring out what your problem is before trying to Get Real with it. Something I am p=>.001 positive that Jason and Peter will agree with. And you agree with it too. Because I said so.

So we are clear, it’s called “being ironic.”

* Since my Marty Feldman reference seems to be a little too obtuse…

Inga: Werewolf!
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Werewolf?
Igor: There.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: What?
Igor: There, wolf. There, castle.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Why are you talking that way.
Igor: I thought you wanted to.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: No, I don’t want to.
Igor: Suit yourself. I’m easy.

Young Frankenstein


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