Radio Johnny: Louis Rosenfeld ~ IA Summit, Corporate Strategy, and Rosenfeld Media

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Today on Radio Johnny, Jeff Parks talks with co-founder of the IAI, author of O’Reilly’s Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, and founder of Rosenfeld Media, Louis Rosenfeld. Lou shares feedback from his impromptu session at the 11th Annual Information Architecture Summit; ideas for a decision making framework within larger organizations; as well as upcoming publications and future plans for Rosenfeld Media.


I think we should actually be providing not necessarily more tracks [for the IA Summit] but more ways to engage with each other. Instead of having the extremes of hearing a presentation or in the hall way interacting with each other….why not look at it in an onion layer model where there’s different levels of engagement and ways to engage with other people, businesses, or products.

[When working with clients] It’s more like defining things like specific methods…to help them understand and see the value in content modeling and other little niches like that, helping clients build out their toolkit.

Trying to figure out frameworks for decision making within large organizations that can take into account different perspectives. I don’t want to tell someone who is a business analyst how to do their job, I want to learn from them. But I also want them to see the value I bring; which is different.


Louis Rosenfeld shares feedback from an impromptu session he lead at the 11th Annual Information Architecture Summit in an effort to both share ideas and learn from attendees about how to create an even greater experience for all in the future.

Lou also talks about the need to find a balance between those who understand “how” people are accessing information with those who can articulate “why” people are engaging. This need has inspired Lou to begin looking at creating a decision making framework that acknowledges both the data captured by the organization and the people who are every organizations’ “raison d’être”.

Show Notes

Other conferences mentioned during this conversation: Interaction Design Conference; UX London; UX Lisbon

Lou is continuing workshops with Steve Krug in London this year; dates to be determined. Stay tuned!

Podcast discussion with thought leaders and attendees at the 11th Annual IA Summit about new ideas for the IA Summit

Content Strategy Meet-Up in Ottawa by Kristina Mausser

Books published by Rosenfeld Media at the time of this publication include:

Storytelling for User Experience – Crafting Stories for Better Design by Whitney Quesenbery & Kevin Brooks

Remote Research – Real Users. Real Time. Real Research. by Nate Bolt & Tony Tulathimutte

Prototyping – A Practitioners Guide to Prototyping by Todd Zaki Warfel

Card Sorting – Designing Usable Categories by Donna Spencer

Design is the Problem – The Future of Design Must be Sustainable by Nathan Shedroff

Web Form Design – Filling in the Blanks by Luke Wroblewski

Mental Models – Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior by Inidi Young


A special thanks to Jeff’s sister Suzanne Lowry for providing transcripts for Radio Johnny! More on the way soon…

Jeff Parks: So today on Radio Johnny I’m actually having the pleasure of talking with Louis Rosenfeld, from Rosenfeld media. Author of the book from the Polar Bear book from O Rilley, I think you and Peter have three additions out now?

Louis Rodenfeld: That’s right!

Jeff Parks: So thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk to me.

Louis Rosenfeld: Thanks Jeff, I appreciate it.

Jeff Parks: Lou and I were talking a bit before we started this recording and we were jumping around with a lot of different topics. I don’t know Lou, maybe we can start with some of the experiences that you’ve had at the IA summit this year. I know there was great presentations and interesting conversations. It’s been the 11th one, but maybe you’d like to share some of your experiences and ideas from that event.

Louis Rosenfeld: Well, it was yet another great event and people worked really hard to put it together. I thought the material was really strong, you brought this up before the call, I organized an impromptu discussion about the format of the event. And I probably framed it more negatively than I should have but I express my concern that the format might be getting stale and I really wanted us as a community talk as much as we can about what we can do to make the event better. There is a lot of competition from other conferences now, both international but also local, because there is such pressure right now from the local UX London’s  and UX Lisbon’s and big design in Dallas and things like that, that are really putting the pressure on some more of the traditional events and it’s mind boggling to me by the way that the IA summit is now a traditional event, but 11 years makes us, I guess middle aged.(Jeff Parks: chuckles) as far as these things go. Unbelievable!

Jeff Parks: Well it’s interesting too because 11 years for any conference, you’re right, is a long time. I know for example the Interaction Design conference that was this year only the third one that they had for example. But the IxDA is doing wonderful work and that conference was the first one that I attended and it was fantastic but I wonder if we’ve gotten to the summit for example, like 11 years, it’s kind of ancient in conference standards, whether or not we need to be making whole sale changes to the event?  I know you ran an impromptu session trying to get people together and i think Nick Fink gave a talk as well around idea’s on how to build upon things. Do you want to share with some of our listeners the feed back from your discussion that you ran at the summit.

Louis Rosenfeld: Well, it was pretty far ranging, and it got into one of the real bug-aboo issues that has been a concern for the last 9 summits now which is the relationship ASIS&T which is the  producer and owner of the event in the IA institute, which is not but certainly the people that are involved in running the summit as volunteers, presenters are often very much involved with the IAI. So there’s always been a concern that ASIS&T isn’t really our parent organization, has different production values than maybe some of the more experienced oriented organizations.  So that was one the things that came up, it wasn’t necessarily my goal to get that out there, but I’m not surprised that it came up.

Another, was just how to structure the manage of the event. Whether or not it was ASIS&T Is still running parts of it, is it really something that was fare to expect one or two people to do the line share of work on  as volunteers. And  then there is this sort of how to people engage better as a community of interest or a community of practice in the context of an event like that. So on one hand there are some people at the event who felt like we should go back to the early days to the first IA summit, which I was one of the chief organizers of when we had the single track, and there’s a nice communal feeling to that, everyone is in the same place, interacting with each other, interacting with the speakers.

I’d maybe be on the other side of the coin where there’s just not enough providing  not necessarily more tracks but more ways for people to engage with each other. So instead of having the extremes of everyone is in a room hearing your presentation, or their in the hall way interacting with each other you know in a scatter shot way, why not look at it as using an onion layer model, where there is different layers or different levels of the engagement and ways to engage with each other with speakers with other people at the event whether that’s media or companies that have products or what have you. And look for ways to create more opportunities to engage.

We can talk more about that if you like but those are some of the issues that came out of that discussion, and I felt good at the end I think because everyone that is going to be involved next year came away with certainly a lot of things to think about, like if I were put in that position I’d probably throw out 90% of what I heard, but even if there’s is 10% left that’s worth while then it’s worth the hour that we spent doing this. So it’s just good to be introspective.

I disagree with people who think we should have had this behind closed doors, and this is actually a good thing to do in a public way and  it’s a community discussion.  I think that we should be doing it every year at every summit and looking at what happened this year while it’s still fresh with an eye towards how way may do better next year.

Jeff Parks: Well like you said, this is the eleventh one, right? I mean we’ve been running it for a long time. I think one of the like any conference one runs into, regardless of the discipline and what not, that’s been running for a while, that when you start it it’s new and exciting and fresh, and you get lots of interest from lots of different disciplines, and eleven years ago the work that you and Peter Morville and other thought leaders disciplines have started, you know it’s starts to get comfortable after a while. I think after eleven years, it’s time for change, I know 60-75%, the exact numbers are escaping me now, over the last few years are new people coming in. So on the one hand is that good or is it a recognition that we need to change?

I also think that you can get comfortable to the point where  you have a lot of the same people presenting. And I know that some of the concerns is how do we get people involved in this and how do we evolve the discipline as a whole, and I think that’s another thing that we need to be looking at.

I actually did a show over on the IA podcast that I do as well, we brought in people like Soren Muus, and Andy Budd from UX London and talk about ideas about how we can sort of build on this. One of the ideas was a single track, one of the ideas that I brought out was let’s seek out great story tellers, because not all thought leaders are great presenters. Imagine an IA summit where you can have like Ted like presenters, presenting at every presentation!?   So there are a lot of ideas and enthusiasm to keep it going. I think it’s just that communities are acknowledging as a whole that it’s just time to make some changes because things have evolved.

Louis Rosenfeld: You have hit on some really good points, and I totally agree! One of things that I brought up this year that I’m really concerned about is that were not being welcoming to newer people, and or people who are more providers of commodity IA work, like did the folks that create wire frames and site maps. I feel like some of us area actually pretty kind of hold that work in disregard. You may hate the wire frame but love the wire frame, there’s got to be a place for them in the event for this. You’ve got to think about the evolution of any particular discipline, you’re going to have different points in your careers, there’s going to different kinds of work.

Sometimes it might be more comity style, sometimes comity work is all you’ll do in your career and that’s fine too, there’s nothing wrong with that. People have to do their work and everyone that does IA work should feel comfortable at an invent like the IA summit. I’m definitely pretty concerned about that, that we have a lot of people who are thought leaders who put this event on that are involved in and they’re not representative of the majority of people who should probably be at the event and their not at the same point in their career’s of the majority of people who attend an event like this.

Jeff Parks: Yes exactly. And the other thing to recognize, at least from my experience I have been to the last three for those people who know me wont come as a galloping shock. I’m a bit of an extrovert, but a lot of people in the discipline aren’t, and it’s fearful. I mean here’s another thought i had yesterday Lou. You know when I went to Miami in 2008 for the summit to record all these shows for boxes and arrows I wasn’t really all that concerned about the technical aspect, i was just in awe of meeting all these people for the first time, and I remember going down on south beach at the end of the day with Jesse James Garrett, Andrew Hinton, Chris Baum, Christina Wodtke,  all of the people in the industry. And the thing that really struck me at the thing was just was just how nice everybody is, like they are genuinly approachable (Louis Rosenfeld: it’s true) nice, their are really very few egos in this industry. I mean like there are some like in any industry but very few, and one of the ideas that I had for the summit for next year, was this idea of dedicating an entire tack to first year people, making it multiple tracks. I think that you forget, once you’re in the industry for a while and you’ve had the success, maybe you have published a book, maybe you’ve presented a conferences and the community admires the work you’re doing. I think that the people who started it forget how hard it was to approach people that they admired when the industry started and I think if some of the people that are more well known in the industry took the time at the these events to reach out to  new people and introduce themselves to new people and make them feel welcome. I think that’s as much our responsibility as ASIS&T or the IAI for example.

Louis Rosenfeld: Ya, I mean I totally agree with you, it’s something that means a lot to me and I like to think that we have been pretty good at making it a welcoming event, and just because you don’t know a lot of people or you’re new to the field or whatever, that you should never feel uncomfortable at networking and meeting people. You know every year there is a bunch of people that say that it wasn’t friendly and I’m always a bit shocked but I guess it’s a two way street, it’s a matter of how much effort you put into meeting people but, you know.

I’m sure not everybody is as welcoming as they should be. What can we do at the beginning of every event is to remind people that’s one of their responsibilities is that wherever they are, at least come half way.  It’s not a bad idea to have it as a reminder. You know, it’s something that I always try to do, I’m sure I’m still missing out on people who i should be meeting. So it’s easy to fall into “Oh, I only get to see this person once a year so I want to catch up with them, but that’s no excuse not to meet new people.

Jeff Parks: And keeping in mind the people that are presenting and or have been to these summits for a while, yourself very much included, Peter Morville like I said, most of the people that I’ve met are very approachable. It’s just reminding yourself that “ OK, If I put myself in their (I mean were in the user experience discipline) put yourself in the shoes of someone that might be new and might be interested and reach out a little more. I’m not saying were not doing that now, but we can do more, all of us collectively can do more.

Louis Rosenfeld: I mean in my career I can honestly tell you that there was not an event that I could go to and feel comfortable at and feel welcomed until the IA summit, frankly. It’s almost that you have to create one yourself  if you’re semi introverted like I am. And I went to plenty of events, even if it was a function of Youth, maturity and experience but, it was just dam hard to feel comfortable at industry conferences, even if you were speaking at them, so you know?? I don’t know.

Jeff Parks: The positive spin to put on this I think , and this is what I want to make sure that people who are listening to this show are putting on, if this wasn’t the IA  that people are truly passionate about and found valued in, then you wouldn’t be taking time at the Summit to run those impromptu sessions and Nick Fink wouldn’t have put on a presentation like that. It’s not focusing on the negative, it’s focusing on the fact that it’s time for changes so lets work together to figure out what those changes are that will benefit everyone. And i hope that people will take this conversation and others they hear about in approving on the summit in that light, and i hope that’s the way it’s taken.

Louis Rosenfeld: Well, I think you just made a really good point that’s very instructive for me, I mean, you just framed it in such a positive way. My regret for calling that get together that we had at the last Summit, probably sounded too negative,

You know I’m concerned about the future of the event, what can we do to reconsider the format. Maybe a better more positive “Jeff Parks” style or approach would be to say…

“What if we had the opportunity to start from scratch. What would it look like? Lets take a blue sky approach”  in fact that’s what I often do with clients as a consultant.”

So, I should have eaten my own dog food there. (Jeff Parks: Laughing) I think that’s really the way to do it. What could that event be? More importantly what would the community be? if we had the opportunity to just build from scratch.

Jeff Parks: Ya, we can do anything. Right? We are bound by pretty much nothing today! The technology is no longer a barrier for the most part, and if we could do anything, and we can learn from anyone, well you know the sky’s the limit. So I think that’s great. And speaking about the positive approach to doing things, Rosenfeld Media, you are doing incredibly well. I got all your books. I’ve read every single one of them, (Louis Rosenfeld: Thank you) In fact the most recent one that I’ve been really enjoying is “Story Telling” by User Experience by Whitney Quesenberry and Kevin Brooks, when did they start writing that book? Just out of curiosity.

Louis Rosenfeld: Um, let’s see, I think we sort of fixed them up actually back in about 2 years ago, maybe a little bit longer. These things take a long time. Sometimes I think publishing is like the media equivalent of slow food. (Jeff Parks: laughing) It takes forever but it’s worth it, and it’s hopefully some what nourishing.

They’re a real interesting pairing. Whitney is someone who’s been in the industry for quit some time, she has been very involved as a leadership, and the leadership positions at the UPA and STC and she’s been very involved in things like the redesign initiative. I mean she’s a real usability person!

Kevin is story teller, although he has a very interesting background in terms of not just the story telling but coming out of the MIT media lab and working on the UX side and Motorola since left  MIT. Just a really fun and interesting pairing and I’m really pleased with what came from that.

It’s just as nice to look at something essential and human in story telling something that we take for granted, and get us a step back and realize that it is there for us. It’s something that many of us already do, in fact we all really do it, but we do it a little bit better and a little more consciously and really take advantage of it. And so far a lot of people agree and I’m happy that you’re enjoying it.

Jeff Parks: I think ultimately like metaphors and story telling are absolutely essential today. Because i remember, just so that people understand, Lou and I tried to do a show a couple months back but Skype bailed out on us and it wasn’t publishable. One of the statements that you talked about was that we pretty much nailed down what is Information Architecture and why it’s important. But the one thing that we don’t do very well is sort of answering the question of “How?” like “How do you get buy in for these things?”

A colleague of mine Kristina Mausser started a Content Strategy Meet-Up here in Ottawa, the first one here in Canada actually, the other night and I was helping her with that, and that was the key question that the foundation of  brainstorming a lot of the ideas that came out of that meet up last night was just about that. They understand why strategy and content is important and they’re starting to understand what it’s about. But like with everything else, like in IA it’s how do you get buy in for these things. When you are talking with clients of other people in the field do you find that? is that still a primary concern for people? Or is there another main focus that IA’s and what not need to move towards.

Louis Rosenfeld: Well you know it’s interesting, I’m a full time publisher, but I’m also almost a full time consultant it seems; and the ladder enables me to make me the former.   I’ll have to making a living somehow, and a lot of the consulting that I do too is sort of  not quite managing consulting but it seems things are moving in that direction. We”re working with people who themselves are moving up the chain who do some form of user experienced, and so we’re all moving forward in strategic rolls, but I’m not finding my clients so much in need to justify things like Information Architecture, it’s more justifying things like methods, like specific methods.

So with clients I’ve been doing a lot of advocacy for my current favorite which is that I‘ve been working on a book on and off that I’ve been working on a book on side search analytics. Also trying to help them understand and see their values in things like content modeling.  Along with a number of our other little niches, it’s often just helping clients balance out their tool kit.

But it’s still very method oriented and that’s kind of what were trying to cover and publishing as well is we don’t want to have books coming out on Interaction Design or Information Architecture or Usability engineering. We want books out much narrower topics that if you master will bring you a lot of value and really help you balance out your  mythological tool kit.

Jeff Parks: Yes, and you can see that in the books that you have published. Indi Young’s  book on Mental Models, Tod Zaki Warfell’s book on prototyping, Card Sorting by Donna Spencer, Remote Research by Nate Bolt… All these books are exactly as you described, if you can understand the foundation of these ideas you can in fact communicate up threw any process regardless of discipline or interdisciplinary teams that you might be working with.

Louis Rosenfeld: Well it’s interesting I still have this bizarre metaphor for the editorial agenda that we’re following. It’s like a woven cloth. I don’t know if it’s the work or the wuff but what ever the horizontal weave is a method books that pertain in all contexts and that’s mostly what we’ve done so far.

You could look at the vertical weave as really more UX for particular contexts. So, Peter Jones is working on a book on experience design In the health sector. I’d love to do more industry books like that and when we’ve kicked around, although I haven’t found anyone yet, it’s financial services and of  course it’s probably not as popular as it was a couple years ago anyway. (Jeff Parks: Laughing) there market has drastically shrunken for practitioners there.

There are other possible verticals like particular audiences or all encompassing topics like Nathan Shedroff’s book on Sustainable Design. I’m looking at potential books on topics like Accessibility. So these aren’t necessarily method books but they’re areas that a lot of different methods that it could be involved in, or within.

Jeff Parks: Right exactly, I mean even one of the books that is in progress is talking about agile experience design with Anders Ramsey. So, Agile has become a very hot topic. And a lot of people are looking for that mesh between User Experience and Agile and moving those disciplines sort of to a better understanding of how that can be beneficial for business and for people in the different fields, because I think we need to do a better job of learning the value of each discipline that we work with.

Again, going back to the story telling idea, I just think that we need to a better job at communicating, because a lot of times we all have the same goal but different process to get to that end state. (Lois Rosenfeld: Right!) and we spend a lot of time debating over process, and to me it’s almost gotten to the point that process is ego, and it like “Okay, put your ego aside, and put your personal opinions aside, and let’s learn from one and another!  I’ve been going to a lot of Agile meet-ups lately because i want to learn about this stuff so I can communicate better with the developers and in turn with the executives or anyone else that I want to work with.

I think we need to spend more time doing that. We need to spend more time learning from one and another and other discipline’s so that we can communicate more effectively with them cause telling everyone else what it is, why were important and why we need to lead. Jesse James Garrette made a good point at the summit last year, He said “You know, we’ve only been around for ten years.” And maybe ten years isn’t enough time, and in a way, I mentioned the ego aspect of it, and I’m not saying this is universal but in some experiences that I’ve had, I mean who are we to tell the business people/leaders, that have been doing this thirty-forty years, how they need to change their business. I think we need to do a better job at listening to understand and spend less time telling people the way things “need” to be done.

Louis Rosenfeld: Ya, I agree mostly what you’re saying, I don’t think that we should be instructing anyone, I mean to me instruction, or telling people what to do is almost never the right way to do it. I mean sometimes people will ask you to do that but even then you have to be a little cautious and sceptical.

I think what we’re all trying to do, and not just in our field obviously but all over the place are solve new and increasingly complex problems that require our multi disciplinary set of prospective tools and approaches.

I’m working with a lot now in my own consulting work and it’s bubbled into the book that I’m working on as well, is trying to figure out frame works for decision making within large organizations that can take into account different prospectives. I don’t want to tell someone who’s a business analyst how to do their job, but I want to learn from them but I also want them to see the value that i bring which is different!  If I’m talking to someone in marketing they would see things very differently and see things very differently and they solve problems differently, and that’s good but they almost never solve the problem if their approach comes only from them. And the same is true for any of the fields under the UX umbrella going on and on and on.

So how do you put together some broad holistic decision making apparatus for a large organization? So to give you an example.. (Jeff Parks: Ya, please.) My main client right now is a large financial service company, and not like the mutual fund company but they move money around. They have unbelievably brilliant people. They have analysts, they have web analytic people that are operating heavy machinery’s, things like Omniture, they’ve got a great user research team and then they have a whole bunch of people on the call center sitting on top of all kinds of incredible data and unbelievable marketing group and well, how do all these people go about solving these problems? They do it kind of differently and they do it well but they don’t do it in a way that really solves the problem.

I know that sounds a little conflicting, so in other words they do what they know how to do well. They do what jobs their jobs incent or what the jobs tell them to do. But they don’t really solve problems that well. The way you solve problems is that you start putting together data from different sources. So combining the dichotomies by quantitative and qualitative data; attitudinal behavioural data. Data that essentially tells you what is going on, data tells you why?

I know that and an analytics person for example can tell you a lot of what’s going on based on behavioural data but they can’t tell you really why it’s happening. I know a lot of user researchers who are really good at figuring out why things are happening threw things like field studies, and lamp studies, but they’re afraid of the analytics data. (Jeff and Louis: Chuckling)

This problem is siloization of research in these organizations, and it’s reinforced with our disciplinary background, it’s reinforced by the conferences that we choose to go to, the book and all the publications that choose to read it’s reinforced by the org chart inside these companies.

So, just like we were talking at the IA summit, what if we started from scratch,what you were creating like a broad research agenda, or even a dash board for decision making, and you banned  certain words in the discussion like , product names like Omniture or Google Analytics, disciplinary names like interaction design or usability engineering, anything that has baggage, anything that serves as a natural divider.

How might you build a decision making capacity for an organization? What would it look like? You’d probably would want something that’s balanced, you’d probably want it to span dichotomies as i mentioned before, then worry about who dose the specifics. I don’t know if I’m talking a lot of hand waving stuff here. I mean there is a lot more to it, I’ve been writing more about it presenting more about it but this something that I feel that is a huge untapped frontier with all kinds of knowledge and power inside organizations, they get it now but they just don’t know how to integrate it.

Jeff Parks: I totally agree, because what I’m hearing you say is that maybe if we remove the technology from the conversation would be able to strike the balance that you’re looking for. Get the tools out of the way, I find a lot of people just focus on the tech, right?

And I agree with you Norht America, (I’ve mentioned this several times in the past but it’s worth noting that we’ve got the largest generation in North America history retiring, that’s thirty to forty years of wisdom gone in one career, even one organization leaving, and no one is capturing the wisdom of those individuals!  In my mind, if we can do anything with tech today we need to look at the things that we’re not going to be able to that we can’t necessarily quantify.  I can’t just look at some data and sum it up. I can’t get thirty five years of experience from a senior executive who’s been in a carrier from the time he was in the junior level and worked his way up to the top. If he leaves, what do I have left? I have a lot of junior people who are enthusiastic and driven but I think there needs to be that greater balance because again, if you remove the technology from the process~ It happened to me, I was working on a contract in the Canadian federal government.  In one of the buildings the power went out for like an hour, so I grabbed a bunch of people together and they said “Well, what can we do?” because the computers were all down and what not, so I said “ Well, come on lets go.” So I grabbed the director and the team and said “Lets get in a room and talk about what we can do together, let’s grab the different teams, grab a white board and let’s just have conversations.”

We got more done in that one hour than we would have in an entire week because know body could excess their computer know one could actually get to the technology. So, I know that may not be directly in line with what you were describing, but this idea of trying to start the balance where you do remove the technology, well the people are the foundation of your organization and their going to be the reason why you are successful or not.

So again, going back to the idea of learning about story telling within Whitney and Kevin’s book and talking about these things in a context and learning to communicate more effectively away from the technology I think would be  the foundation to striking that balance.

Louis Rosenfeld: I think you put it really well Jeff, and you kinda reminded me of you know being careful to not lead with technology; well I kind of made that same mistake when I introduced the problem. I use the idea of creating a dash board for the organization, a decision making dashboard. A dashboard is a technology and ultimately although it maybe useful metaphor to a degree it actually starts getting in the way because then it sort of skews the discussion that things we are relying on things that are quantifiable that fit inside little dials.

What I really think, and it sounds like what happened with this impromptu meeting that you had, is that people are the dashboard; you can’t just reduce it to a bunch of dials. There is so much more decision making, data driven decision making.

I think we need to think about getting frameworks for getting those people together, allowing them to focus on the things they have to do on a day to day basis but also making sure that if I’m designing a task in analysis for my company I should probably talk to some of the analytics people to see what the frequent search quires are,because that might be something that I want to figure in. These different methods and different inputs fit together so elegantly and so nicely if you look at it that way, if you think of it holistically. That’s just what I’m hoping, I don’t know how, but hopefully we’ll figure out a way.

Jeff Parks: I think the other thing that we need to get better at doing is saying three simple words in one sentence, “I dont know!” I think a lot of the times we can know about anything today and i think we need to be more cognisant to the fact to say that it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” And in fact that can save a lot of time and the reality  is, is that I can get ~ Was it Mark Twain that said that there are three kinds of lies, “lies, dam lies, and statistics?” (Louis Rosenfeld: Laughing) I can’t remember, the quote could be completely wrong but it’s that idea right? I can get stats to tell me anything. If I frame a question in one in five different ways I can get the answers that I’m looking for.

But again that sort of the imbalance that we have right now, everyone is so focused on apps and data and stats, how do we get to the core for of what the people are designing for things or want?!  Ultimately if we’re designing for them, our opinions need to be not as important as the people we’re designing for, because my opinion means well…. nothing really, if I’m designing for a community or a group of people that I have no experience with. So, I don’t know, I think we need to get better at saying “I don’t know” and we can get better at listening to understand, I think are some of the keys things.

Louis Rosenfeld: Well, I think saying “I don’t know”  is one of the things that i think is really critical is that, it’s not all surprising, we’re not all good at it I mean, it’s what you would expect out of a field of people that are really generally pretty smart but are generally all pretty inexperienced. Hard to say, “I don’t know” We know your smart when you’re young still and maybe you haven’t been around the block consulting wise in the work place, it feels very frightening and makes you feel real vulnerable to say those three words.

Jeff Parks: There’s another example for the leaders in the IA, UX, IXDA, community could be doing more often as well, you know standing up and saying “I don’t know” and moving the conversation forward in that regard, because i know I make fifty mistakes before lunch most days, and I know that’s saved me in many occasions by saying “ I don’t know” and they’re like “Well you’re the user experience designer” Ya, I don’t know I’ll find out for you, I’ll call other colleagues that are smarter than me, or have more experience than me in this particular area, but it’s always better to do that than to try to convince people that I know something, because it doesn’t take long for some to realize that “ Wow, you really don’t know”

Louis Rosenfeld: And you can’t, and maybe that’s why a lot of us come from Library Science because that’s one of the few fields where at least in Reference Lirbarianship you are actually encouraged to say “I don’t know, but I will find out for you.” You don’t really want to give people your own answer from your own mouth, you want to show them how to find the answer.

Jeff Parks: Well iteratie design is all about putting ideas out there and in a certain context failing. I know Brad Nunnally and I did a show on the importance of failure a while back and I mean the foundation of innovation is predicated upon failure, you have to fail!

I don’t know how anyone else learns out there but I learn from making mistakes and  looking back and thinking “oh ya, that’s right 1+1= 2 not 4, you know and tying to learn from those things and surround yourself with people that know  things that you’re not aware of. Go to meet up groups, learn from other people and don’t get caught up with titles is really key.

Louis Rosenfeld: Absolutely!

Jeff Parks: So, Lou was there any other up coming events or other things you would like to talk about to respect to your own work? Are you still doing presentation with Steve Krug?

Louis Rosenfeld: Yes, were going to probably be in London again in October, we’re still working that out and certainly will be back in the Spring. I try not to travel too much because I’ve got little kids at home and I don’t know if it’s tougher on them when I’m away or me, but it’s tough nonetheless!

The thing that I’m really involved in right now besides trying to finish my own dam book, is signing other books and just to give you a little taste of possible topics, I mean there all over the place but there all UX. I mean we’re talking, I won’t name names but certain cases somewhat public.  I’m talking to people about service design, a book on how to interview people, a book on design research, a book on how to design surveys, another one on field studies.  We’ve been talking about comparative testing…

I still feel like I’m leaving out some critical ones but there’s so much good stuff I think that will be coming out soon and not just from us, I think other publishers are really starting to jump into the UX world with both feet, and it’s just fantastic to see it!  I’m happy for their success because I always munge it up… raising tides raise all boats!

Another project that I’m working on that have been for years, a long with lately Yoni Noll  who I think you know, he’s my neighbour here in Brooklyn, is a developer par excellence, we’re working on revamping UX Geist which is a failed experiment, but like you were saying failure can be a good thing and I think in this case it will be. UX Zeitgeist will try to be and ultimately will be in the summer this year, a true library of information about books, people, topics, and something we weren’t doing in the past, articles within the UX space. For each of those we’re going to have some  information and interesting information that we aggregated from very real UX sources, and it’s going to be some interesting products that fall right out of that. So, keep posted and I think by summer you’re going to start seeing a lot of interesting and useful material being pulled together by shared by UX Zeitgeist.

Jeff Parks: Very nice man, that’s a brilliant idea!  I’m on the page right now and I can see where you’re going with it and I think that’s great. I don’t know Lou, I’m overwhelmed, you know three years ago I went to summit and met everybody and the last few years as I had my own little emotional break down  at the IA 5 minute madness this year.

I really have been over whelmed by the experience and opportunities that IAI and Boxes and Arrows, and Johnny Holland, it’s a phenomenal opportunity to share with other people and the things that I’ve learned and experienced I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to pay back these people that provide these opportunities.  On behalf of the UX community around the world, thanks for ALL the things that you are doing,

it’s fantastic the work that you’re doing, and staying focused and even the show you ran at the IA summit this year, and if people take it in vain the way it’s  intended, which was trying to make things better for the user experience community regardless of your title it’s phenomenal. So thanks you for everything that you have done and continue to do.

Louis Rosenfeld: Oh, well  thanks Jeff and back at ya!  And the stuff that you’ve did in terms if the recordings at the IA Summit, I mean I’ve seen so many thank you comments and great comments about your work there, and I really appreciate the opportunity to be on radio Johnny. It’s just a fun space to be in and a fun community to be part of and still young enough and open minded enough, I think we’ll have a few more fun years like this left, so lets keep it going and thanks again for the opportunity.

Jeff Parks: Thank you Lou, all the best, we’ll talk to ya soon.

Louis Rosenfeld: Alright, take care!

Jeff Parks: Cheers!

Jeff Parks

Jeff is the co-founder of DIGIA UX Inc. and actively collaborates with industry professionals from around the world through his involvement with Boxes and Arrows and Johnny Holland. Jeff is also leading workshops on Information Architecture and User Experience Design over at Follow the UX Leader, in addition to volunteering his time as a Mentor and Member of the Board of Directors for the Information Architecture Institute.

5 comments on this article

  1. mango on

    Finally, you added mp3 format. Thank you. Now I can listen this podcast in my car on my way to work. Once again, thank you. -behindvfx

  2. Pingback: » Radio Johnny: Louis Rosenfeld ~ IA Summit, Corporate Strategy … | World Media

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  5. ammneh on

    Hi Jeff,
    Great interview with Loui. It addresses many of the current issues in user experience world. I agree with Loui when he mentions about the fact that many other disciplines are great at what they do, but it doesn’t answer many of the questions that UXers are looking for. You put it really well, that when we remove the tools / technology away and communicate to each other without those tools, people probably will start understanding each other better.
    Your guy’s conversation on failure was very interesting as well, that we need to start saying “I don’t know”. I have a theory about it, sometimes User experience world makes world problems so easy to understand, that it becomes very hard to say I don’t know. But, that’s also where we go wrong. Showing other disciplines that we know answer to everything, we are considered arrogant and who would then try to understand or listen to arrogant people. We need to be respectful to all those business analysts, project mangers, developers who are not understanding our point of view and try to listen to them as well.
    Thank you again!