Design by committee: Wikipedia’s Achilles heel

How a I wish for narrower columns of text and borderless illustrations when reading articles on Wikipedia.


Wikipedia’s internal design team yearns for it too.

But the final result shows how difficult it is to approach design with fiercely democratic ideals. It’s relatively easy for Wikipedia to train great fact checkers (facts are objective—they’re facts after all!). It’s a lot harder to train a great designer. Good visual design is a mix of rules, risk, and taste. There is no one right answer that a community can agree on.

“I’m an Occum’s razor kind of guy.”

Scott Berkun’s speech to the Economist in 2010:

Lastly, I need to talk about words. I’m a writer and a speaker, so words are my trade. But words are important, and possibly dangerous, for everyone. A fancy word I want to share is the word reification. Reification is the confusion between the word for something and the thing itself. The word innovation is not itself an innovation. Words are cheap. You can put the word innovation on the back of a box, or in an advertisement, or even in the name of your company, but that does not make it so.  Words like radical, game-changing, breakthrough, and disruptive are similarly used to suggest something in lieu of actually being it. You can say innovative as many times as you want, but it won’t make you an innovator, nor  make inventions, patents or profits magically appear in your hands.

“Whatever Works”

In his New York Times blog David Pogue writes about about  low tech solutions to the problem of keeping track of his Keynote slides when they are being run by someone else backstage rather than by him from his own laptop onstage. This bit made me smile…

Anyway, every now and then, though, this system goes off the tracks. A few months ago, I showed up for the technical setup and met the projection tech. “O.K., I’ll go ahead and take your laptop backstage,” he said. “We’ll be running the slides from there.”

“Oh,” I responded. It was a new talk. “I was sort of hoping to be able to control the slides from the podium myself.”

“You will,” he said. “I’m going to give you a clicker. It’s like a remote control. When you press the button, the slide advances.”

“Ah,” I said. “So it’s a USB transmitter?”

“Uh, no,” he said sheepishly. “The clicker just makes a light go on backstage. My buddy will advance the slide manually when he sees the light go on.”

I couldn’t believe that that was the arrangement he had in mind. So much for split-second timing. The bigger problem, though, was the slide previews and notes that I wouldn’t be able to see.

I’m often the “buddy” backstage advancing the slides manually. The solutions he mentions are ones we often use. It’s also possible to have the remote transmitters directly operate the presentation, which for a presenter like Mr. Pogue makes perfect sense.