Who Do Diagrams Help?

In a recent thread on SigIA, Peter Merholz talks about Jesse James Garrett’s (his colleague at Adaptive Path) latest diagram: The Nine Pillars of Successful Web Teams. If you aren’t familiar with Jesse’s first diagram, check it out. He made a book out of it. The ensuing chatter on SigIA was started by Derek Rogerson, […]

In a recent thread on SigIA, Peter Merholz talks about Jesse James Garrett’s (his colleague at Adaptive Path) latest diagram: The Nine Pillars of Successful Web Teams. If you aren’t familiar with Jesse’s first diagram, check it out. He made a book out of it.

The ensuing chatter on SigIA was started by Derek Rogerson, who blasted the diagram by saying that it was pointing out the obvious but sarcastically suggested that there might be a few people who needed it (those who have no business whatsoever of being in the field).

Most of the comments after this one either supported the diagram, blasted Rogerson, or started debating the worth of conversations with such flaming.

Every so often you’ll see these types of comments on SigIA. What I find amazing is the ability for Information Architects to continually question their field, to put to the test tools and techniques for their own learning. Perhaps this is the result of the relative lack of an artifact that we can see and judge. In contrast to this, we can easily judge web designers on how good their site looks. (of course, this is not necessarily how web designers should be judged – nother story/nother day).

I know that Adaptive Path helped create the architecture for the Peoplesoft site. But I can’t really judge (even superficially) whether or not it was a success. Only real users of the site can judge that. The site looks good, though.

Most of the posturing that I find in and around diagrams like Jesse’s are about reputation. Does Jesse really know what he’s talking about? Is his diagram inclusive of all the necessary elements, or is this a veiled marketing scheme? Are the rules inherent in his diagram representative of real-world constraints? And on and on.

I have diagrams of my own. I will not be putting them up on the web anytime soon. They are for me, and they help me think about and talk about the world of web design. However, I am not convinced at all that they would help anybody else (without a whole lot of explanation).

How can we possibly know the worth of these sorts of diagrams? Well, what about people who have used them? I don’t mean looked at them and judged whether or not they fit conceptually into what they already know. I mean someone who has changed their daily practices because of these diagrams. Does anybody produce better products because of these changes? Is there anybody? I don’t know. Its hard to tell from reading the emails on the list, where they seem to be used as more of a debating prop than a tool.

Published: August 1st, 2003

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