Thoughts on Design Decisions: Wednesday Progress

May 1st, 2014 | Posted by fwiencek in Network Ecologies digital Scalar Publication

After clarifying our ideas and goals for the publication on Monday, and thinking about the role of keywords in the publication and explaining the reasoning behind Scalar as platform of choice on Tuesday it is time to think about the design of the Network[ed] Ecology publication.

Design of a digital publication is not only about the visual look and feel but also about the interaction with the content. To not invent the wheel anew we asked

  • What existing infrastructure and readymade interfaces can be reused to create a digital publication easily?
  • What features and functions are missing and needs to be created, that allows easy scholarly publishing?

Scalar as a platform already takes away a lot of the decisions on the side of the backend of the project and offers a standard reading interface, where the author can decide on a default view for the page, which are distinguished in an emphasis on text or on media, the positioning of the media content affiliated to a page as well as a range of data visualizations, that visualize the content / network structure as well as tags or metadata. The default view can in the “reading” process be changed by the reader. This standard interface can be adapted like most website-theme by for example setting custom background images and sound, custom CSS styles, custom JavaScript or JQuery functions to enhance the behavior. But besides the default interface provided by Scalar the system offers the possibility to use the data edited and structured in its backend in a custom interface by accessing the data through the Scalar API.

We used two starting points to think about the design.

  1. design research on electronic publications and digital storytelling – both produced employing Scalar and other backend technologies
  2. our data corpus and its specific needs for mediation.

1) Design Research

Already before the meeting we started to look into diverse practices of digital publication and digital storytelling, and focused on practices which would transform “reading” into exploration of a content network. In a second step we looked at the showcase on the Scalar website, in order to see best practices and get a feel of how other scholars employed Scalar for their publication. We will leave the analysis and a deeper dive into the mechanics, aesthetics and interface grammar of digital publications for a later post. But at least some projects, we discussed today should be mentioned here.

Visually we were absolutely struck by the narrative structure and aesthetics of projects like the Highrise Project, which is an audiovisual interactive narrative with various vantage-points to dive deeper into more detailed information layers branching off the main narrative. Where the narrative structure is interesting we also realized that this particular format would not fit our data. A much better role model for our project is Performing Archive: Edward S. Curtis + ‘the vanishing race. It acts as a “meta-archive” and interpretive layer to archive material through essays from several scholars (see project description on Scalar showcase) and does not only make use of bold visuals, good readability and making the network character of the project explicit through using a visualization of the content network but also has an open ended character through being open for future contributions.


2) Starting from the data corpus

Each data corpus has its own needs in terms of how to make it explorable and how to mediate it. There is no “generic” design if you are aiming at a sophisticatedly edited publication which needs to bring different streams of content together – as our publication does. Decisions need to be taken on how the user can interact with the content; how to structure the different data streams to make them explorable, to form meaningful connections and slipping points while leaving enough “gaps” to be explored.


Design decisions taken:

We decided to re-use a experimental new reader interface for Scalar, that is also employed in the project “Performing Archive: Edward S. Curtis + ‘the vanishing race” and adapt it to our needs. It already offers a modern and clean design, bold use of images, a clear and straightforward navigation, a better readability than the standard interface and a navigation feature called “pin-wheel”, which uses a visualization of the content-network as for traversing the data-network of the Scalar-publication. Tomorrow we will clarify with Scalar, how to work with this new interface technically.

We decided on three entry points into the data:

  1. topical paths, which make data around a specific topic accessible
  2. 2 sections: essays and symposium
  3. Keywords and annotations as “slipping points” for the transition between different content layers.

Moreover we decided to use the Twitter stream of the symposium as annotation and additional layer over the video material captured at the Network_Ecologies Symposium. That way they act as enhancement and contextualization of the audiovisual material and on the other hand offer vantage points to other layers of content.


ToDo for tomorrow, Thursday:

We will Skype with Scalar representative Craig Dietrich to discuss several questions with regard to the production of this particular publication but also about the future of Scalar as a publishing platform.

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