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Reaction to NextD

"NextD takes a slash at "Findability Information Architecture" is a hot topic on the IA Institute member mailing list. Excerpts from IA’s Unidentical Twins (Revisited) [PDF - only long-term direct link that is available, ack] is the trigger. By GK VanPatter. The response has ranged from:

  • "#$%@ him, he is a moron."
  • Agreement on the basic points (since others with the IA community have been saying the same thing).
  • The tone and the inflammatory nature gets in the way of the message - there are some valid points but it is hard to address them because of the way it is written. Not exactly an invitation for conversation.
  • Where are these other "twins" like "Design 3.0" and "Human-Centered Innovation" and "Strategic Information Architecture" - e.g., show me the books to buy to learn about them.

My reaction: NextD represents a view on IA I am not familiar with (I know about RSW of course but I do not recognize this "NextDesign Leadership Institute"). I try really hard to stay up on the broad touch points of the field, but this is a group / set of writings I am not familiar with. Most likely, I stumbled across NextD a long time ago but have forgotten that I ever saw it ("old fart's disease"). But now that I have found it, I am obligated to learn about it, understand what this NextD thing is about, find connections to my professional background, and become a better IA as a result.

Here are the things I am doing in my spare time to learn about NextD:

  1. Read some of the other writings at - hopefully they are more helpful and educational than the trigger article. The Journal has some interesting articles at first glance. Design 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 [again, only as PDF, ack] caught my eye.
  2. Find connection points to people I am familiar with: the interviews with Peter Merholz and Patrick Whitney look promising. Rethinking Wicked Problems [PDF, ack] is also interesting, since I just re-discovered Jeff Conklin (one of the fathers of the hypertext field) on my own.
  3. Scanning the blogosphere for posts that reference
  4. Like Richard Dalton has done, look into some of these "twins" that were mentioned. Not having much luck either - which I think speaks volumes. But I am not giving up. I have been trying to poke around in as much "Innovation" literature that I can - at least the part that connects with the human experience side of it. So I am probing my personal "Innovation network" to see where NextD fits in.

All of this learning will take time. I will let others continue the conversation until I digest it all more.

I would recommend 1 thing for the IA Community to consider: invite someone from the NextDesign Leadership Institute to speak at the 2008 IA Summit (Miami, Florida, USA, April 10-14). We have a history of giving our biggest critics a voice at our main event - Mark Hurst and Mark Bernstein are just 2 examples. Time to find our long-lost twins.


I loved Richard Saul Wurman's Information Anxiety book, but I have not read any of his others. I have always thought that the design principles reflected in Information Anxiety are reflected in the best information architecture and visual design work I've seen over the years. I didn't follow much of what was in the NextD document, so I will anticipate the results of your research, Keith.

I'm not so interested in who should get credit for the big ideas in this big field. I am more interested in whether there's a body of knowledge that can expand how we all think about making information easier to use.

NextD "Institute" is merely trolling for credibility with this incoherent throwback potshot. It has all the hallmarks of trollness (except, apparently, for the ability to write or comment on a normal blog like everyone else, instead making an annoying PDF), and we're supposed to ignore trolls, right? Need more evidence? GK VanPatter's bio includes a photo of him in sunglasses and opens with this bombastic zinger:

"GK VanPatter is an internationally recognized understanding designer, innovation architect, and visionary thinker."

You yourself even say "I do not recognize this 'NextDesign Leadership Institute'". Wait, I thought he was internationally recognized? I think you seem to be falling for the "Institute" bait. Just because they call themselves an "Institute" and publish in PDF form (and manage to leverage that "Institute" into some big-name interviews) doesn't mean we should consider them to be a significant force in the IA world. Why should we give them the time of day, much less a speaking slot at the IA Summit? I've read through the NextD site and besides these random ad hoc white papers and rambling interviews where VanPatter talks more than the interviewees, I can't for the life of me tell what NextD does or has done or what exactly it is they stand for.

Thanks for adding your view. I will leave it up to the IA Summit organizers to determine if they think NextD folks are worth inviting. No guarantee they would even accept - no one has stopped them from attending the IA Summit to this point.

Sometimes when you get someone in the same room, they make a lot more sense. I have been a part of a lot of online discussions that were useless, but when you get the same people together face-to-face, it becomes very worthwhile.

Keith, if you find evidence of those long lost twins let me know! I'd love to learn more about them! - Richard

It is sad to see so much anger in our community combined with so little knowledge and even less interest in learning from others. I wonder how calling oneself the “father of information architecture” for ten years compares on the bombastic scale with what NextD is doing. As far as I can see they have been sharing their considerable conversations for free since 2002. Just because our own community has been intoxicated with naval gazing for years does not make NextD any less valid. Some among us seem to have a real bug up the ass when it comes to other disciplines changing and growing. What are we so afraid of?

I regret the tone of my last message above, but if you read GK VanPatter's actual report, you'll see that it is positively seething with resentment and petty insults to the IA community. (since NextD appears to be largely a one-person operation, I'll refrain from referring to "them" as "NextD" and refer to the actual person we are talking about here, GK VanPatter.)

His accusations that the "Findability IA" community are unaware or ignorant of the work of Richard Saul Wurman are so ludicrous as to betray a complete lack of familiarity with the professional community he critiques. Nobody I know in this world is unaware of Wurman's work or the roots of the term Information Architecture. It's pretty clear to us that the IA we do is several times removed from Wurman's initial idea, and that the term has been essentially bastardized. Big deal.

His equation of "design" with "design thinking" is erroneous, I think -- the two are very different things, for better or worse. And his idea that the "findability IA" community is hostile to design in general is a harsh overgeneralization that I am guessing presumes that because "findability IA" has found some common ground with the HCI community (which I'd agree is generally hostile to design) that all of Findability IA is hostile to design. If anything, I'd say that the current "findability IA" community is characterized by the fact that it has great affinity for design (moreso than traditional HCI and usability communities) even as it tries to maintain a safe distance from it. This is what makes this community so strong, I think.

Finally, he keeps accusing Peter Merholz of saying things that Peter Morville actually said. Weird.

Wow! Keith, take a look at this shot found in NextD Journal, one of our strategic thinker diplomats offering olive branches to the design community:

Peter Merholz: “In my experience, designers are victims not of the actions of others, but of themselves. They have let others come and define their roles for them, dutifully accepting requirements, iterating on whims, and then bitching about it over beers after work...As the saying goes, God helps those who help themselves”

"Let others define their roles for them......Dutifully accepting requirements” Very tactful. Very respectful. Hey maybe that should be our IA tag line: “God helps those who help themselves.” It goes nicely with the father of information architecture thing. Part of the problem here is that some among us have been acting like spoiled teenagers for quite some time. Some one finally stood up and called us on it.

You're selectively quoting Peter way out of context. He's talking about designers in a broad sense, and he is including information architects in that group. Heck, he even includes himself in that group.

Very unfair quoting there.

On the topic of how designers can improve their lot in life, the "hot topic" related to NextD is not the slash at IA but the response to Are Designers The Enemy Of Design? ("hot" based on the number of blogs pointing to lately).

NextD counters with another PDF - this one a collection of reactions from 50 members of the design community.

And there is a recap of the reaction to the original provocation: democratization of design and "the salvation of the world may lie largely in the hands of designers."

“selectively quoting”? No way. Can you imagine Rick Greffe of AIGA or Michelle Berryman of IDSA talking about design and designers this way? No way. They would be out on their ass in no time. Don’t leaders set the tone that resonates through a community. Others pickup on it. Merholz would not have said such things unless he knew his IA community constituents well. Doesn’t that tell us something right there?

1. Reading GK VanPatter is a waste of time. Another self-proclaimed design leader. In this so called Special Edition: Beautiful Diversion Fifty members of the global design community respond to Nussbaum's “Are Designers The Enemy of Design?” He includes himself in the fifty. Ha! If you take his bait shame on you!

2. Richard Saul Wurman never anticipated the information architecture of today. Great guy! Let's not confuse his perspectives in Information Anxiety with IA as it's currently practiced. RSW saw Information from a designer's perspective.

3. Now it's time for my twice-annual-need it-or-not IA is NOT strategic design. It is a practice area focused on the structure and organization of information. IA is a subset of a much larger body of thought, process, and work. A bunch of people have invested so much in the concept of IA as the strategic umbrella that they can't see anything else.

Maybe some of us are in denial about certain nasty bits. Maybe part of it is the public perception of IA is changing thanks to certain individuals behavior. Look at this pitbull attack by Paula Thornton on Nussbaums blog about Are Designers the Enemy of Design.

In the middle of a well meaning joke between Nussbaum and Van Patter she unloads. If that isn't seething with resentment I don't know what is. What would the purpose be other then to poison the water. Where do you think this kind of tone comes from? Out of thin air?

Anyone doing a google search would find this:

Maybe some one should tell Paula Thornton that the war is not so secret anymore. Some of us seem to have no clue where the bodies are buried in this war.

@"Adam": It is selectively quoting because "Mark" omitted the parts where Peter specifically included himself as a member of the realm of design. The way he was quoted was deliberately designed to make it seem like he was saying he was better than designers.

@"Durrell": Paula Thornton was attacking VanPatter, that's for sure, but it looks to me like it's nothing more than some kind of personal thing that is between them. You seem to know more about the situation and have more of an interest in it than meets the eye. The three people who attack Paula on Nussbaum's site also seem to be fairly knowledgeable about Thornton and VanPatter's history, whatever it might be.

(It's interesting that a certain philosophical camp of commenters here, and on Nussbaum's site, are all anonymous. And it's interesting that "Mark" above makes the same mistake VanPatter does, confusing Peter Merholz with Peter Morville. Keith, you might want to check the IP addresses of some of your anonymous posters. Sock puppetry?)

I checked the IP addresses of the basically-anonymous posters - those who left a first name only and no URL. All 4 are coming from the same IP address. I have emailed each to see if they can provide a clearer identity. At this point they do seem to be the same person.

In general, I do not mind anonymous posts that add to the discussion. I want to make it easy to comment. I could make people register instead, but that would add a barrier that I would rather not have.