Sam Brown

Hey, lose the pedantic negativity

Ryan Carson called me out in his latest Think Vitamin feature Hey, lose the pedantic negativity in which he quotes my entire post from Monday (omitting my name) and essentially says that I am a smug elitist who takes joy from attacking other sites. Wow.

Let’s be clear, I was not offering ‘celebratory negativity’, what I was offering was constructive1 criticism2 in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. We all know that no-one in their right mind would apply a global a:hover {opacity: 0.75;} to their website, I was merely trying to point out an obvious solution to a simple problem. In my opinion.

“Exactly – it’s just his opinion and yet it’s being stated like it’s UX gospel to have a hover state.” – Ryan

Hardly, my issue with the lack of hover state is not only a UX issue but more an accessibility issue, although I absolutely realise that the users of 37signals products are tech-savvy and might not have any problems with it, that does not mean others wont.

What I do think is that as a company who have a large following and a lot of people looking up to them they should be trying to convey best practises as much as possible, whether their audience needs them or not. That was my point.

2. describe the problem
1. offer a solution

Post a link to this on Twitter ↩


Chris Rowe 29 April 2009, 02:44 #2

I definitely agree your comments were constructive criticism, perhaps Ryan didn’t get the sarcasm.

I am quite surprised Ryan went all out with this one though, what with such wide reaching blog post. There are nicer ways to make this (ill informed) point without targeting your specific comments.

Cole 29 April 2009, 03:13 #3

Dear Sam

Did you know that the word opactity derives from the Latin opācus meaning dark?

You can have this one for free ;)

Love Cole

PS what a load of kerfuffle over spilt molehills – think this whole discussion ties in well with your previous post about SEO. Write honestly and with personality and anyone investing an ounce of common sense should get what you’re going on about and appreciate it as it was intended.

Cole 29 April 2009, 03:15 #4

Dear Sam

Did you know that I am a dick and opacity is not spelt opactity :)


kat nevile 29 April 2009, 03:17 #5

I thought your first post was really funny! I’m really surprised people are so up in arms about this… this is the PC world gone crazy (don’t say anything to hurt anyone’s feelings, don’t try and improve standards). Definitely think you got the raw end of the stick on a day when someone criticized his apps. And completely agree… their page is gorgeous, but feels very flat.

Andy 29 April 2009, 03:21 #6

Oh sweet merciful christ, seriously?

Travis 29 April 2009, 03:44 #7

Any opinion of value will likely offend somebody. I back up your comments!

Matt Brett 29 April 2009, 04:14 #8

Indeed, Ryan didn’t catch the sarcasm that seems blatantly obvious to everyone else. Just read the first few comments on his post, which are all in your defense. What a douche. I guess he deserves all the flack he seems to catch. I tend to avoid the drama as much as possible, but I’ve caught wind of people jumping down his throat quite a few times.

flynnlike 29 April 2009, 04:58 #9

indeed, thank you for your constructive criticism

Dan 29 April 2009, 05:03 #10

Your one and only comment on his post should read:

Hey, Ryan. Thanks for the traffic boost.

Vero 29 April 2009, 06:30 #12

Well hey, can’t expect an American to get sarcasm, can ya?

runs and hides

(Juuuust kidding Ryan, as a Canadian, it’s my duty to take the piss out of Americans as often as I can)

With love,
Captain Shit Stirrer

Wolf 29 April 2009, 06:31 #13

C’mon guys. We got other things to discuss.

David Hughes 29 April 2009, 07:24 #14

Does it seem ironic to anybody else that Ryan is un-constructively criticising somebody whilst talking about “constructive criticism”?


No of course not I think we’re all used to Ryan’s self-promotion tactics by now. Of course that now makes me a “hater” in Ryan’s big book of teh interwebs.

And for the record; the 37signals site is horrid – I’m stunned that it is a redesign!

Ryan 29 April 2009, 12:35 #15

Hey Sam

I specifically chose not to name you and link here because I didn’t think it would be fair to you. As I said in the post, I respect you. However, even though your post was “tongue in cheek”, it still adds to the general negative vibe that’s starting to erode the joy and creativity in our industry.

Also, there’s a big difference between me saying your comment was elitist and smug than you being that way.

- Ryan

Mary 29 April 2009, 17:22 #16

Sorry, if it was from someone you “respect”, and it really upset you so, how come you didn’t talk to him about it? Not buying it. It was and is constructive criticism: he didn’t say, “It’s complete crap!”, but he did say “a great looking site”. If you think that’s harsh, you aren’t nearly as thick skinned as you claim to be, and feigning concern over other poor creative folks that might shutdown over similar comments is positively laughable.

-From someone who has received lots of criticism, from kiss-ass to nazi comparisions.

Danny 29 April 2009, 21:25 #17

Hard to say what Ryan’s state of mind was when he wrote the response (or under what level of stress he was at the time), but it’s like he felt he was attacked and overreacted by kicking back. I’m surprised he didn’t get the tongue-in-cheeck character of your post…

Daniel Matthews 30 April 2009, 00:57 #18

I think Ryan must just have been in a particularly irritable mood when he saw that, i’ve been close to things like that before, ranting about people’s attitudes with regard to things on twitter.

However…i think we all knew that you didn’t mean it in a “smug, elitist” way, in fact, far from it, it was kind of comical, and as you say…tongue in cheek.

And to be honest, i don’t think the 37signals guys would be all that bothered either.

Rockers Delight 30 April 2009, 01:43 #19

It’s sad that there’s seemingly no room for humour on the web. I too took your post to be in jest.

Kevin Mears 1 May 2009, 12:28 #20

For what it’s worth I actually like the 37 signals redesign, and although the flatness is obviously not to everyone’s taste, perhaps design diversity is a good thing.

I didn’t think your original post was overly harsh, though a tad sarcastic and Ryan bit a little.

No harm, no foul.

- personal bugbear – can we stop using ‘negatitvity’ as an adjective? It’s just that when used that way it’s often followed by the dread term ‘energy’

btw – love YOUR sitedesign

Christopher Scott 8 May 2009, 05:18 #21

Wow, I feel like I just stepped into a cable-news show featuring two web design pundits.

Jay Greasley 8 May 2009, 05:19 #22

No point arguing for either side in cases like this, my only point would be that no-one gets it 100% right 100% of the time.

Five Minute Argument 8 May 2009, 07:51 #23

I think what seems to have been forgotten in this conversation/debate/argument is that the best way of making your links accessible is to ensure they’re obviously links, either by context (e.g. for navigation) or styling (e.g. for links in the main text). I see far too many sites – cough,, cough – that rely on a hover effect to identify their otherwise subtly-styled links. Making the user ‘hunt-and-peck’ for your links is a sure-fire way of annoying them.

Five Minute Argument 8 May 2009, 07:54 #24

And whilst I’m ranting about accessibility: site owners, please transform URLs in posted comments into something useful like, I dunno, links! :-) Browser developers, please add a step in the ‘multiple-click-select’ cycle that selects URLs. Off to check my own site now …

Rogie King 11 May 2009, 02:58 #25


Funny thing. I get both of your sides. I read your article and knowing just a bit about you, I got the point. I didn’t get a vibe that you didn’t like their design. You had one bit of constructive criticism to offer and instead of beating around the bush, you offered it.

What I get about Ryan’s point, even though I totally appreciate your style as its much like mine, is that people have to get you to get it. Otherwise, it is perceived as negative elitism (the comment, not you). I think taking Ryan’s advice ain’t half bad, such as “Beautiful redesign (if you feel that way), but I have a suggestion”.

I think in this case, humility will go a lot further and convey your point more quickly as it bypasses the hurt pride (if any) of 37 signals.

Commenting has closed for this article. Feel free to me.

Sam Brown co-founded Iterate, and was previously VP of Design at Foursquare. Based in NYC.