“Truth and Dare – Out of the Echo-Chamber, into the Fire” - My critique of Jason Mesut at EuroIA 2011

 by Martin Belam, 26 September 2011

Before starting his EuroIA talk, Jason Mesut suggested that if you kept a count of the number of people he offended, you might win a prize at the end. He also asked for people not to tweet his soundbites out of a context - a tweetable soundbite in itself - and asked for a public critique of the talk at the end. Here is mine...

Download all of my EuroIA 2011 blog posts as one printable PDF or for iBooks


  • I love challenging talks at conferences - I thought, for example, Cennydd’s closing talk at the IA Summit was a masterpiece. Jason was in similar territory - pushing against the status quo.
  • The “Don’t believe the hype” segment, where he played Public Enemy over an auto-advancing set of slides of current buzz words like “responsive design” and “content strategy” was inspired.
  • “You can’t just reorganise a company because the website is shit”
  • Arguing that you’ve got to be prepared to put yourself up for criticism if you also want to be “on the circuit”
  • “EuroIA helped me become a manager”


  • He put up a slide with the faces of some UX rock stars, when he complained that they were “setting us up for failure”. I didn’t think all the faces on the slides deserved the criticism, and he could have made the same point with some placeholder images and allowed the audience to fill in the blanks.
  • He really should have stayed in hospital to look after his girlfriend longer rather than hot-foot it to EuroIA.
  • The dancing


  • Suggesting that UCD is a losing bet, because more non-UCD’d products hits the market and are a success than UCD ones. I think I’m in the camp that says that whilst some UCD techniques can be “stone soup-ish”, getting a business to shift to UCD and evidence-based decision making is as much about weaning them off bad and damaging habits as it is about convincing them to use new ones.
  • “There is no universal truth in UX. Anybody who tells you otherwise? They are lying, and you should burn them on Twitter or something”
  • Daring people to either commit to getting involved in working in strategy, or concentrate on being a great UX practitioner, but not to try and do both.


  • The words on the slides for anyone without a clear line-of-sight to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.
  • There was a lot about the people Jason doesn’t want to hire - I’d have liked to hear about what it was that caused him to choose the people he has done.

My very favourite thing though...

Arguing that the UX bubble will burst soon enough, but in the meantime we should be refusing to play over-inflated day rates to people without the requisite experience, and make sure we are giving our best and most exciting projects to permanent staff, those who are committed to carving out a career and sticking with a product and design life-cycle that is more than a three month contract. Having recently been recruiting for people to join me on a permanent basis at The Guardian, I can only say amen to that.

Judge it for yourself


I’ve still got my notes to come from a brilliant talk by Bob Royce about the software development heritage that helps us be the IAs we are today, and from Mags Hanley’s closing plenary about how proud she was to be an IA, and how we need to focus on our core skills in order to keep her proud.

This is one of a series of blog posts about EuroIA 2011 in Prague. You can download all of the blog posts as one printable PDF or for iBooks.

All your EuroIA 2011 slides are belong to us
“Designing today’s web” - Luke Wroblewski
“The IA of /Culture” - Martin Belam
“Navigating the Digital Spice Route” - Terry Ma
“Extending the Storytelling - Blending IA and Content Strategy” - Boon Sheridan
“Pervasive IA for the Sentient City” - Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati
iPads, kids and design lessons for adults - Wouter Sluis-Thiescheffer & Brian Pagán
“Understanding the Nature of Resistance” - Alla Zollers
“Does a Rich GUI Make the Bank Richer?” - Haakon Halvorsen & Kjetil Hansen
“Designing for Everyone, Anywhere, at Any Time” - Anna Dahlström
“Truth and Dare – Out of the Echo-Chamber, into the Fire” - My critique of Jason Mesut at EuroIA 2011
“The Rise and Fall...and Rise Again of Information Architecture” - Bob Royce
“Fill in the IA gap” - Mags Hanley

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1 Comment

Two quick reactions: One, I think once you get deep in any field you'll find 'rock stars' with controversial opinions. I've started following the anthropaleontologists and it's not uncommon for them to call each other out. "Homo erectus evolved from Homo habilis? Bullshit!"

Two, I find the rock stars are helpful in addressing the Getting Old problem. This is when you have kids, move into management, and get involved in your community etc. and simply don't have time to follow the tweets, blogs, books, and conferences anymore (I make an exception for Mr. Belam). If I go to to a talk and someone summarizes how I can make my product better with responsive design, even if that talk is 70% signal and 30% rockstar hubris, I'm utterly grateful.

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