The common thread throughout the readings and in class tonight was communication. Communicating with our audience, communicating with each other, and communicating clearly. Historians traditionally communicate through books and articles. Now we have the option, or maybe opportunity, to translate history from those books and articles to a digital format. I think, as I begin the process, I need to really understand WHY I want to translate my work into the digital realm. What makes the digital presentation better or more effective than the traditional format? Is it merely accessibility? Or are there other reasons? I don’t have any answers now, but these are some of the questions I’ll try to answer over the course of the semester. (I’ll also try to define my questions more clearly.)
The Polyglot Manifesto II holds that knowing more than one language enhances our understanding of our own language seems straighforward at first. But what does it mean for historians? Does understanding XML and CSS help us understand how to explain our work to a layperson? Or is it the fact that we can make our work pretty? I think it’s not so much that knowing the language of the Internet allows us to communicate better, but instead understanding design and aesthetics. People are more willing to forgive design flaws if it’s pretty*, but there still needs to be good design to get to “pretty.”
Yet there is a major pitfall here, too. If we believe that design and aesthetics will help us communicate, we run the risk of depending on design to cover a lack of historical rigor. We still have to be historians and do the work. To me the big concern is to find the right balance between design and academic competence.
It seems to me that what we’re going to learn this semester is how to translate our work from the familiar format of a paper to the less familiar terrain of the Internet. But I still need to understand why it would be necessary or desirable. And “I had to for class” just doesn’t cut it.
Daniel Donald Norman’s “Attractive Things Work Better”, anyway.