Thinking & drafting & drafting & drafting

In the midst of developing work on the Data Re-Use Charter I mentioned in the previous post, I am discovering a new way of developing ideas, which does not involve taking notes, reading long books, and writing complex argumentations. While the first idea of the Charter was tending towards a final product that would be a one-page paper one can physically sign, it soon evolved towards a web page, and then towards a modulable web page. On this web page, each of the different actors invited to join in the Charter partnership has to sign in and then select the blocks of text he/she wants to be identified with. Developing the Charter and its elements means developing a web page with bifurcations and options, trying to find a balance between transparency of interface structure and freedom of expression. Like my last post showed, this means going through a series of use cases. But it means also finding a strong theme and a way of presenting it that will lead the user through the different modules he/she has to pick from.

Since I am staying in Paris this week, I have the pleasure to work on this in close cooperation with Dorian Seillier, who is developing the interface prototype (together with the rest of the team at the office at Inria Paris where we endured the heatwave in perfect coolness last week). I gave Dorian concrete text blocks or image ideas to start developing, and this turned out to be more iterative than I first thought. It took me a few days to find a balance between not too much text and not too cryptic images for him to work with.

At first, I have been filling pages with isolated words as if this puzzle game could generate meaning:

Working with keywords - in list shape

Working with keywords – in list shape

Together with the webpage, we are also working on a poster on the same topic, which gave me an occasion to try and structure my keywords:

First poster draft

First poster draft

This looked pretty nice when structured properly in a clean digital format. At that point, I was pretty happy about my idea to intertwine the five key actors in 5 olympic rings, until we discovered the re-use conditions of olympic ring-related image (The French version of the Olympic Rings image re-use conditions sounds much more discouraging than the English version, but since we came across the French version first, we decided to stay cautious and abandoned this idea). Now that this option is off the table, we are considering other metaphorical registers, other shapes.

I came up with a cereal motive today:

Cereal motive

Cereal motive

While I am learning to structure my thoughts with much less text than usual, I am also learning a lot about the behaviour of internet users, from a design point of view. What do you need on a homepage, how can you structure it, where does it make sense to introduce bifurcations for each user to be able to find his/her path. Once you start seeing web pages from this point of view, similarities in structure are really striking.

What is also striking me about drafting a web interface is how the relationship between abstract concept and concrete elaboration is so hard to grasp when you are used to draft a paper structure and then write paragraphs according to that plan. The linearity is more subterranean, and emerges from the work on the surface aspects. In terms of heuristics, it certainly opens new horizons to me.

It still won’t make my drawing skills better, alas.

Anne Baillot

I studied German Studies and Philosophy in Paris where I got my PhD in 2002. I then moved to Berlin, where I have been living & doing research ever since. My areas of specialty include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history. I am currently working at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin as an expert in digital technologies for the humanities.

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