The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project #17: Nicholas Rombes in Conversation with Joseph Sullivan


Joseph Sullivan works as a user experience designer for a large trade association in Chicago.

“A user experience designer,” he said, “used to be called an information architect. Someone recently defined the job as ‘building structures,’ and that’s about right. Another way to think about it: I try to represent the users of our websites and their interests, which often conflict with marketing’s interests.” He can be found here on Twitter.  This interview took place via gmail chat at 8 a.m. EST on June 29.


Rombes: I really loved the Book Design Review website. For people like me, who love book covers but know very little about how they are made and designed and the editorial process, the site was wonderful. How did it come about?

Joseph: I was on vacation in 04 or 05, and this was right after a too-long stint of unemployment. I was having a few drinks and thought “if I could do anything, what would I do?” Designing books popped into my head. I still don’t do that, but that was the genesis of the BDR: look at the New York Times Book Review every week, see what was new, and talk about it so that I could learn what comprises good cover design.

Rombes: Well thank you for that site. It’s a great inspiration and resource. Can I ask you to go to Wikipedia and click on the random article button?

Joseph: Yup. And isn’t this timely: AFC Wimbledon. Soccer! USA USA! Oh wait…

Rombes: As someone interested in design, what do you think about the “Home colours” “Away colours” etc. chart near the top of the page?

Joseph: Sports uniforms are fantastic. Some are so ugly, some are really wonderful. Did you see Cameroon’s soccer uniforms in the World Cup? Awesome. Spain’s dark uniforms are abysmal. They look like palace guards.

Rombes: Yes—the Spanish uniforms brought to mind the Inquisition. So “third colours”—what do you think this means?

Joseph: Just a third option, I think. Which alone is odd. Two options—home, away—this makes sense. The third option must be for when you’re feeling a little sad about being on the road, or a bit bored at being at home and need to shake things up a bit. My background is in philosophy so I’m tempted to try to make sense of this via Heidegger, but it’s too early.

Rombes: Right. Or you are sorely in need of a good pint and you’re stuck in a town with no good pubs. The “third option.” Are you ready to go to another random article?

Joseph: Sure. I click, or you?

Rombes: Go ahead and click.

Joseph: Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. What the heck is this? Ahh… psych testing for kids.

Rombes: It’s interesting how the five scales reflect larger cultural anxieties. Says nothing about kids, but a lot about adults.

Joseph: Yeah… “conduct problems.” I think I had a few of those. Throwing the frog across the biology classroom rings a bell… I have two kids so anytime someone starts to define “prosocial” and things like that my ears perk up.

Rombes: The philosopher Michel Foucault (RIP) would have had a field day with this: categories that define knowledge/power. Where do they come from? From whose authority? (Damn, it’s early to be asking these questions!)

Joseph: Yes, too early, but interesting given the framework of this interview, and running it through Wikipedia. I worked at Encyclopaedia Britannica for eight years, so the whole authority of knowledge thing is interesting to me. I used to link to Wikipedia quite a bit when I was writing the BDR.

Rombes: On that note, these are supposedly random articles, but do you think it’s strange that the first article you hit on had to do with football/soccer? Just coincidence?

Joseph: Spaghetti monster wanted us to talk about soccer. Obey his noodly appendage.

Rombes: Or else. Thanks for taking the time to do this, Joseph.

Joseph: Okay. For the record, the next random article was Carlos Frenk, which clearly would have taken us into the Simpsons (Professor Frink) and contains this gem: “He repeatedly struggles with current technology (e.g. lecture room lighting), despite running a supercomputer.”

Nicholas Rombes can be found here. More from this author →