Design View | Articles and opinion on design professionalism, technique and culture by Andy Rutledge

Journalism

August 1, 2011

If you follow many designers on Twitter or read any of a few popular blogs and news publications, you’ve been told that I recently offered up my proposal for the redesign of the New York Times website. If, however, you actually read my article and you possess common cognitive abilities, you’re aware that I did nothing of the sort.

For those paying attention, the recent flurry of discussion seemed more a display of invested prejudice and vindictiveness and less a display of comprehension and honesty. It’s hard to fathom how so many individuals and supposedly responsible publications could read my premise and explicit disclaimers, and yet maintain the fallacy that my purpose was to offer up a redesign of the New York Times website. It follows, then, that these folks read little or none of my article; which is fine. But to then publicly attack my ability and intelligence based on their fabricated context is just despicable. There will be consequences. (Addition after publication:) In fact, there already have been consequences; I and my studio mates will endure them for some time to come.

Deliberate Harm

As for the authors of these articles, most of their words reveal that they simply looked at the mockups, scanned a few sentences or bullet points, and then made some assumptions…which then formed the foundation of the thesis straw man premise that they then each attacked in supposedly-authoritative articles. For those of you scoring at home, this is called irresponsibility. It’s also called libel.

In these articles the authors invariably took me to task for the shallow context and misguided effort to attempt a redesign of an august publication like the New York Times 1) without sufficient information, 2) without sufficient context, 3) without sufficient real-world constraints, and 4) and without appreciation for how folks we barely know or don’t know at all should tell us what’s really important and how to think on any given subject (this last one was a legitimate difference of opinion). My folly, they each posit, was that I ignored the overwhelming volume of actual requirements needed for such a redesign while being so presumptuous as to offer up what I seemingly believed would work (as presented).

Oh dear, how foolish of me! If only I had made some attempt to explain that this was only a limited-context exercise meant to address the few specific issues cited in my article? Oh wait, maybe I did… (excerpts from my article)

“As with all of my previous redux efforts, this one is not a specific suggestion for how to precisely redesign a specific site. It’s just an exercise to discuss and examine specific issues via quickly-conceived, hastily-constructed visual comps.” (Emphasis added)

Oh, when you put it that way (as indeed I did) it seems almost as if this was…as one might say…not a specific suggestion for how to redesign a specific site. Hrm. Well, this is all ambiguous and confusing. Surely, though, this was meant to be a fully-functional, plug-n-play redesign of a specific site…like, say, the New York Times, right?

“Given these standards we’re able to achieve a highly useable and, I suggest, more attractive presentation for digital news. Here’s my example for what this might look like.”” (Emphasis added)

Oh, presentation and looks. Hmm, I guess that since web design has less to do with what something looks like and more to do with how one uses and interacts with it, it almost seems like this was not an effort at offering up an actual redesign here. But even though I just said “for digital news,” surely it was the Times that I was specifically addressing, and not just digital news in general, right?

“Some news sites are done better and some worse, but the New York Times presents a rather typical example of terribly-designed news. As they are somewhat well known in the news industry, I’ll use their site as the redux example in this article (know, however, that it is news in general that I’m talking about).” (Emphasis added)

Well, there I go again; pointing out that it was “news in general” that I was talking about. Well, even so it should be clear to all that what I was offering up was a fully-realized, specific website redesign that was meant to encompass the fullness of what a redesign must address, right?

“As you can see, I have barely even scratched the surface here. How about you start thinking about better presentations for news online and bring that to your work and maybe even to some further articles.” (Emphasis added)

Oh. Hm. It’s funny, you know; when you read the actual words from the article it’s almost as if I was speaking to just some issues in digital news in general and to fundamental display and design. It’s almost as if I was talking about just some surface elements rather than offering up a “proposed redesign of the New York Times website,” as those seemingly-oblivious and irresponsible folks came right out and lied in their articles. It’s almost as if they didn’t care about what I meant or even specifically said in my article. Apparently, they recognized an excuse to do damage and went with it. Regardless of appearances, only malice or ineptitude could allow anyone to ignore an article’s content and create a straw man premise for use in inflicting harm.

The lies and distortions of these authors have damaged my reputation in the design community and, far more importantly, among potential clients. While, indeed, some took me to task for ideas I actually expressed in my article, these writers criticized me mostly for something they themselves made up—and they also gave voice to and repeated the criticisms of others who likewise ignored the content of my article in favor of a premise they invented; a context I specifically, explicitly described as outside the scope of the article. In doing so they deliberately and dishonestly impugned my skill and intelligence.

Here’s a sampling of what the authors of these articles wrote:

 

“So what he proposes is his own rendition of what a NYT.com section front should look like — and journalists on Twitter, especially from the publication under scrutiny, weren’t feeling it. And, really, they’re right. It’s hard to take seriously a design that completely ignores the constraints of a typical newspaper… (Emphasis added)

From Fake New York Times Redesign Gets Torn To Pieces On Twitter, by Lauren Rabaino

In other words, one cannot take my work seriously.

 

“…the problems of large-scale information architecture for news sites are really hard problems. Smart people think about these problems. And their solutions require more than a nice slab-serif typeface and some white space.”

From Designing a big news site is about more than beauty, by Joshua Benton

In other words, I’m not smart.

 

“News design thinking like Mr. Rutledge's merely requires that you lop off a big chunk of headlines, headlines that someone somewhere wants to read.”

From Times Gets Readers to Pay for 'Terrible' Website, Fortune Gets Forbes' Goat by Matthew Creamer

In other words, my thinking is careless and shallow. Clearly, I’m a Tin Man designer. Oh, if I only had a brain.

Irresponsible

It is likely that these baseless criticisms have cost my studio hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in potential projects. These individuals and these publications have a broad readership and loud voices in the professional community, which they use in authoritative tone. They likewise have grave responsibilities that, as indicated by their actions here, they take very lightly. It appears they seek first for excuses to do harm rather than for evidence to support their accusations and observations. To say that this behavior is irresponsible is to put it rather mildly.

Ad Age, Nieman Lab, and Media Bistro’s 10000 Words, made a point to publicly disparage me and inflict deliberate harm to my reputation despite the fact that the premise for the basis of their criticism was false and their own invention. I ask that you judge me based on the specific words, context, and substance contained in my article and you should likewise judge these three publications according to the very same standard.

We need criticism in our profession. We need public scrutiny and honest, contextual evaluation of efforts that gain a high degree of community or public visibility. We do not, however, need the sort of careless, irresponsible, baseless, libelous writing that has been displayed by these individuals and their publications. They smugly call it “journalism.” What would you call it?

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