…a boy can dream big, can’t he?! Although, I doubt I’ll ever be that good.
Still it’s important to remember that aesthetics are as important as argument. Why? Because design isn’t just about making something pretty, design has very real connection to functionality and credibility. This is particularly true when it comes to technology and digital media. Three of the pieces we looked at this week for class all dealt with this topic.
Acts of Translation: Digital Humanities and the Archive Interface I found to be the most interesting because the information was the most practical. Not only did the article look at how three websites functioned, but why they functioned and how design is a key element in that. Both Elish and Trettien did a good job reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of each site. Not surprisingly the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s ArtScope site received the most praise. I suspect that’s because as an art institution the importance of high-end design is readily accepted if not consciously understood. Elish and Trettien critiques gave me some ideas to think about while doing my own digital history project.
I also really liked the How Do People Evaluate a Web Site’s Credibility? report. What really made me appreciate the report was that the researchers really explored why people feel some websites are more credible than others. Also they laid their terms out (i.e. defining what exactly the meant by “credibility” immediately made me like the report). Yet while I enjoyed the piece and felt that the information presented was definitely important for us as historians working in digital media to remember, I noticed that the study didn’t really include websites similar to what we will be creating. The closest type of site included in the study were non-profits, but none of the non-profit website were produced by cultural institutions or universities. And I think they only reason why I feel the non-profit category is close to digital history is because of my background in public history and museums. Nonetheless what they uncovered (while not surprising) was still applicable to our work. Two things in particular really struck me as important. First, people judge a site’s credibility largely on how it looks. Second, for non-profit sites writing tone and affiliations were really important (people actually care more about content than design when it comes to non-profits).
The third article Attractive Things Work Better said just that-people perceive well designed things to work better and prefer to use them. It also talked about how a happy mood increases the creative thought and better problem solving. And to prove all this Norman relied on scientific studies (although I thought some of the studies a little extraneous).
Yet why are all these articles significant for a digital historian? Because design matters, even though historians don’t want to believe it. We are, after all, trained to be analytical not creative. There have been several occasions when I have been critical of a historians writing ability while discussing their work in a class and have had the professor respond by saying that not everyone is a good writer. In other words we shouldn’t concern ourselves with a scholar’s writing ability, even though making an effective argument relies deeply on a reader understanding what is being said. The same is true in digital media. If a user has difficulty using your site, then it doesn’t matter how great the argument is because the user probably won’t see or understand your argument. Design (or visual cultural) is a language just like the written word. I think the lessons learned from these pieces can be applied to all aspects of the historical craft whether we articulate our analysis through digital or print media. What does everyone else think about this? Do historians (or other humanists) need to consider design in both digital and print media? For clarification, in the case of print media not only do I mean writing but also format and structure of the narrative. Also I do not believe that every historian will be or can be the Da Vinci of digital media or the Melville of written history, but I do believe that we all can be better writers and graphic designers.
I raised this same question after reading Megan’s blog as well.