Free your mind (and the rest will follow)

Hopefully. The readings/videos assigned this week address two complimentary themes: getting people access to content, especially through new media and how to effectively present that content through visual architecture. Listening to Larry Lessig’s TED talk after reading Free Culture  in Clio1 reinforces the idea that creativity is being restrained by laws and notions of copyright and intellectual property that haven’t shifted to accommodate digital media. His low opinion of legislative or judicial means to address these problems shows in his advocacy of artists (and scholars) and businesses carving out their own rules to allow an environment of freer content and the interplay of ideas. Hans Rosling’s talk from 5 years ago still resonates with his call to “link design to data” and get it out to the public.

Scholars give up so much control of their work in the drive to get published and create a reputation; the main takeaway message I’ve gotten from this year in Clio has been to realize that historians have more options for scholarship and publication than I had thought, and that awareness of these options equals an informed ability to control how my work is received. Personally, I think opening access is a good thing, and I’ve taken my own baby step to license my site through Creative Commons (not that there’s much worthwhile up now). Whether the choice is made to self-publish or take another less-traveled path isn’t the point–it’s that there is an awareness that there are alternative paths through the forest that matters to me. For example, last week’s lab showed to me that scholars can ensure images featured in journal articles actually look the way they want by taking the time to make sure they’re to spec. It’s a little thing, but goes to show that we have a right to make sure things are the way we want them.

But what about when you get to the stuff and substance? I hadn’t realized that people recognize blue on a website as the color for links, although the point made about minimizing underlining for that same reason makes sense. Frustration with a site for me usually comes when I have no idea how to get to the stuff I want. An exercise critiquing two exhibition sites for the National Library of Medicine last semester proved this to me clearly, and highlighted the sad truth that government sites are often clunky and frankly ugly while a lot of private institutions and museums have stunning interfaces that function well. Obviously there are a lot of reasons why this happens, and I’m not trying to malign anyone’s efforts;  the point I’m trying to make is that a strong understanding of order and intent is vital. This article summed up the subtleties of visual architecture well: “effective visual communication does not “speak” loudly. It quietly educates and guides the audience through the interface.” I’ve spent a good amount of time trying to figure out the navigation and structure of my final project as the design assignment looms ahead. I’ve sketched and tried to wireframe, and have discarded several versions so far, always coming back to these questions: What do I want the viewers to focus on? What do I privilege over others, and how should I accomplish this?


Edit: I’ve commented on Claire’s and John’s blogs this week.


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