A lunch with Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld

The relatively famous authors of the book Information Architecture, Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld, came to my school today to be recognized as outstanding alumni (along with two other librarians from SI).  About 30 students attended the lunch meeting, and after the alumni gave talks about their backgrounds, we got to split into small groups and talk to them.

Excitement.  For me, this was like meeting the singers of a band who you really like, whose songs you respect, but maybe not your favorite band ever.   The Cars?  Death Cab?   I mean, I felt composed and everything, it wasn’t a beatlemania moment.  But it was a ‘moment’ nonetheless.

It’s just that their book saw me through some tough times; times when I wasn’t sure how to proceed, times when I felt like a fraud.  It was the famous Polar Bear Book that first taught me about card sorting, how to go about taking a content inventory, and taxonomy basics.  I’m also aware of how respected and high-profile they are, which really made me feel pressured not to make an ass of myself.

Sitting across the table from these old friends and ex-business partners, I soaked in the moment & even asked a few questions.  Here are a few key conversations/advice/observations from today’s adventures with ‘Morvenfeld’ (or ‘Rosenville’?):

  1. Wireframes are not dead.  This question was burning my brain and I had to ask it.  Are wireframes going the way of the vestigial tail?  Peter said he doesn’t believe wireframes are dead, but we must look at the context of the project and make sure wireframes are the right tool for the job.  We talked a little bit about the confusion wireframes can cause – how people are ‘always’ nitpicky about details, not understanding that wireframes != visual design.  Lou and Peter acknowledged the problems with wireframes, but seemed to come out in support of them; Lou said that wireframes allow the client to become ‘engaged’ and educated, so that next time they are presented with a wireframe they will understand what’s going on.
  2. Write, Speak, Consult.  Their holy trinity helped them keep a work balance, and each component helped augment the other two.  It’s like a 3-legged chair, said Lou – without one leg, the chair will collapse.  Putting their ideas out there by writing and speaking about them has helped them get almost all of their business; they haven’t had to actively solicit much at all.  This reminds me of what Jason Fried of 37signals was talking about at IDEA08 – that sharing information and getting known is a more effective way of getting business (at least in his business model) than trying to outadvertise or outmarket the competitors.  Anyway, Peter and Lou said their 3-part-plan also allowed them to take a hiatus here or there to work on writing or speaking when they felt the need to change things up.
  3. Advice to the youngsters:  Peter talked about some classes he found really helpful (Cataloging and Reference), and Lou said he wished someone would have told him to ‘think about what risk means to him’ and then live his life in a way to minimize that risk.  At least, I think that’s what he was saying.

After the group session, Chris Hanrath and I cornered them and talked a little bit about the IDEA08 conference – Dave Gray, Aradhana Goel, Elliot Malkin, etc.  They were interested in who we liked at the conference; apparently Lou helped found the IAI, and Peter was the president for a year.  It was good to talk to them up close and get a feel for these guys.

A few speakers today said we should ‘soak up everything, like a sponge’ while we’re at school.  I’m like a sponge in a School of Information hot tub, floating ’round in the frothy water and picking up bits of ‘information’ (hair, small bugs) along the way.


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