Auld Sang Syne

I know a good many people what might fit that description actually. But this one person I’m thinking of is named Sang Han. None of the others I know are named that. I’ve never had the pleasure of working with him, but we’ve had some few interactions here and there, and I’ve seen a lot of his work. It’s really a lot of beautiful stuff I think. Well, I mean, go look at it. He has that certain something, yes?

I recently wrote a post that discusses the way in which the specialists that meet at the intersection of creativity and technology are often carping about how others “don’t get it,” and how the different specialists mean different things when they say it. Yesterday, my friend Skye sent me a link to a post on the St. Louis Egotist featuring Sang’s work. In the comments, this “you don’t get it” theme presented itself. (To be honest, some of the commentary is merely inside baseball soap opera stuff which is not a lot germane to my post, but it’s there to read if you’re into that kind of stuff.) The point is that this kind of intellectual siloing is rather a lot a common thing and you don’t have to go looking very far to find it.

Anyway, here’s John Nance in the comments:

“This is the very personification of clueless adverting people bastardizing the Web. They didn’t get it ten years ago, and they don’t get it now. Sang, you get an A in art, and an F in producing anything that anyone cares about.”

I don’t know John, so, let’s ignore the inflamed rhetorical maneuvers because he’s also trying to make a point here. He’s saying Sang doesn’t “get it.” And to be fair, Sang wields the “you don’t get it” theme as well (he’s talking to a particular anonymous commenter, but it speaks to what would appear to be his bias regarding UX as well):

“you just gave up on being an art director cause you suck at design and now are preaching the ux; usability angle”

It turns out that in their social networks, people generally have high homophily bias. This is to say the people that most people know, all tend to know each other. This would appear to be especially strong among experts (or aspirants) within a given domain. What this creates are clusters of people that all know and regularly interact with one another. Generally, this also means that they’re not, for the most part, regularly interacting with people from other clusters. In this way, homophily also means that these people all tend to hold much of the same knowledge and presuppositions. Again, specialization (reductionism) would seem to encourage homophily.

There’s this rather a lot smart guy named Ronald Burt who is Professor of Sociology and Strategy at the University of Chicago. He wrote a book called “Brokerage and Closure” in which he points out that the people that make the most money, get most promotions, and have the best performance reviews, have the lowest homophily bias in their networks. Put another way, brokers create value.

One might think that only, well, brokers can be brokers. As in, the salespeople. But anyone can be a broker. At the ictus of creativity and technology, brokers are needed. As I said to Skye, everyone’s work is important. Sang is an exemplar of a set of understandings and abilities that comprise a significant potential value. This is equally true of the understandings that inform and attend the discipline of user experience.

There are important conversations to be had. There is knowledge to be brokered. The importance of this is derived from the fact that there are decisions to be made, some of which are rational, and some to which no formula can be applied. And in essence, the power to affect outcomes is a function of the willingness to be a broker. So, y’know, be powerful.

Update 11:13 AM, 5/21/10: The perspicacious Brad Nunnally has, as usual, a link that is apropos. This time it’s “The Psychologist’s View of UX Design” by Susan Weinschenk at UX Magazine. To wit:

“A visual designer approaches UX design from one point of view, the interaction designer from another, and the programmer from yet another. It can be helpful to understand and even experience the part of the elephant that others are experiencing.”

But yeah, go read the whole thing.