30 Jun 2012
If we design for humans, then we need to know humans. Good design decisions are helped by research, and access to the latest research of others, like that from the academic world. What we might call intuition is the effervescence of hours of absorbing information, experimenting, and applied curiosity. That’s why it galls me that some of the best research into how humans process information is locked into academic journals. Yes, professional peer review is necessary and useful. Yes, it costs money to review, edit, and publish papers. However, who exactly benefits from the current practice of locking research data and results into walled gardens on the Web behind a paywall?
If our community of Web professionals has demonstrated anything it’s that amateurs can become professionals by participating diligently in the informal peer review system of the empirical Web. By testing ideas and solutions, publishing results openly, and providing review and feedback, we have grown into a profession. The crucial ingredients are the free sharing of knowledge, and our own curiosity. Paywalls retard sharing, and inhibit curiosity. The €208 for the three ‘online only’ issues of the 2012 Information Design Journal are one example of many. If the academic publishing industry had been the de facto route to sharing our experiments I would not be a web designer today. I would simply not have been qualified enough to be published, and would have struggled to find the money to buy the journals holding your research.
So, I urge you to support campaigns like that of Cambridge mathematician, Tim Gowers — documented in an excellent article in The Guardian in April this year — that want to free research from the paywalls of journals.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Their thoughts and work make us better. Set it free!