Delagrange, Susan "When Reflection is Re-Design: Key Questions for Digital Scholarship"

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Susan Delagrange posed several key questions in her web article “When Reflection is Re-Design: Key Questions for Digital Scholarship.” The article is sectioned with website navigation. In the article, Delagrange discusses her attempt to create a digital Wunderkammer. The project focused on arrangement as a visual practice, separate from invention, that could produce knowledge “in the same way that 16th-century Wunderkammer did—through the process of serial juxtaposition and reflection”(Introduction section) Delagrange argued that arrangement was a tool for invention and discovery. For her argument to work, Delagrange’s digital version could not contain text that drove images, but rather images that drove text. The physical space would hold the design experience (Delagrange) and the exploration experience (viewers). Her digital Wunderkammer “would function as a thought engine in which the manipulation and arrangement of its contents by both collector/designer and visitor/viewer animates the process of inquiry and insight”(Introduction section).

Delagrange’s 2006 version of the digital Wunderkammer did not quite fit her argument in several key areas. Delagrange reflects on the project and its design and answers key questions in the areas of design, interface, motion, navigation, disambiguation, production, and code.

Question: “How can digital space be redesigned so that the experience of the user more closely corresponds to the meaning-making tropes of the argument” (Design section)?
Response: Visual meaning should be primary, images should be active and mobile, and action should be controlled by the viewer. Delagrange claims that “Designing scholarship in new media requires continuous oscillation among the text, the images, and the visual and conceptual framework. An idea suggests an image, an image a sentence, a sentence a motion, a motion a placement, a placement another sentence, that sentence a link, and so on” (Design section).

Question: “How can the physical and conceptual properties of the interface be balanced to support exploratory manipulation of the digital environment while still meeting scholarly publishing requirements” (Interface section)?
Response: When designing the interface of a scholarly article, one can “reinforce or enact the argument through the design, an opportunity not usually available with print media”(Interface section). The design is connected to the images and words and plays a part in making meaning. Each design choice, even something as small as size, influences the rhetoric of the final outcome.

Question: “How can the sequencing and mobility of the images and the text be redesigned to foreground the primacy of heuristic vision in a digital landscape” (Motion section).
Response: Arrangement has always been about moving things. Even in argument, humans move things around: evidence, images, text, etc. Movement creates new associations. Movement does not occur after a conclusion has been drawn; it is an active component of invention. Delagrange claims that “new ideas are merely several old thoughts that occur at the same time” (Motion section) Delagrange uses this idea to support her claim “that new knowledge can be generated by the discovery of meaning in unexpected juxtapositions, and that those juxtapositions will be stimulated by wandering and wondering through a richly furnished imaginative space” (Motion section). She had problems with the way her first version of “Wunderkammer” moved because did not embody a multisensory experience, and the movement of the piece “worked against” her “primary argument that objects/images themselves, through manipulation and arrangement, are productive of wonder and insight” (Motion section).

Question: “How can navigation be designed to provide a thoughtful, exploratory viewer experience while still offering enough signposting to prevent viewer frustration” (Navigation section)?
Response: Design books on interactive media show that people like to know where they are going before they click on a link; links should be clearly marked and unambiguous. These navigation preferences go against the argument Delagrange was posing. The purpose of her navigation was not just to be convenient or functional; Delagrange wanted people to get lost, not know where they were going, to spend time exploring. Her first version of “Wunderkammer” included minimally signposted links, and viewers thought the navigation could be more specific. Delagrange had to determine how to give enough direction to hold viewers without cutting the tension ambiguity of images and text created. She revises the navigation of her project to fit her purpose and the expectations of viewers. Her navigation is nonlinear, and she asks “why, after all, should we object to the option of nonlinear navigation in a digital environment when nonlinearity (think "walking in the city") is so much a part of the structure of our lives” (Motion section)? Interactivity, flexibilty, and viewer choice are important aspects to Delagrange’s navigation. She thought “viewers should be able to follow multiple paths through the project, and avail themselves of a range of interactions at any point”(Motion section).

Question: “In multimodal, multilinear media, how can the often competing scholarly obligations to be clear and unambiguous and to promote inquiry and discovery be balanced”(Disambiguation section)?
Response: It was hard for viewers to understand Delagrange’s meaning in earlier versions of her project; the relationship between text and images was unclear, which in part, fit with her purpose, but like with navigation, viewers were wanting a little more clarity. For her argument to work, Delagrange’s viewers had to “see meaning first through the visual components” and they had to “engage with the interpretation of those visual elements without an intervening verbal explanation”(Disambiguation section). She learned it was important for designers to preserve ambiguity for as long as possible because they wouldn’t want to exclude any ways of thinking that might be productive in the end. Ambiguity is important to learners, as well, because “premature certainty shuts down the process of inquiry and exploration that often leads to more sophisticated, more interesting, more generative knowledge”(Disambiguation section). Delagrange thinks her revised project successfully allows viewers to be on the edge of understanding and then to have an “aha” moment in which they understand.

Question: “Does composing new media scholarship necessitate learning and designing with HTML, CSS, Flash, or other multimedia software” (Production section)?
Response: It takes time to learn software, keep up with change, learn design principles, and write in a digital format. Finding or allotting that time is challenging for digital media scholars. Delagrange’s definition of new media includes “includes projects that are interactive, media-rich, and, most importantly, cannot be (as) meaningfully composed or published in nondigital form”(Production section). Digital production is its own powerful thinking tool. Delagrange thinks it’s important to have the “knowledge to both design and deploy smart, aesthetically pleasing, rhetorically effective, digital media,” although she does not oppose writers working with designers who help them visualize and realize their arguments (Production section). It should be a collaborative effort because “design is intrinsic to argument, not decoration for it”(Production section).

Question: “What are the affordances and constraints of learning and writing underlying code when designing the visual and conceptual interface of a multimedia project"(Code section)?
Response: Delagrange argues for code. Code allows designers to more specifically customize their interface, enhancing user experience and better fitting design to rhetorical argument. She points out that “reading and writing interactive media is an important new literacy practice, one that requires procedural as well as interpretive skills, and if we think that media literacy is a skill that our students should have, then we need to learn it ourselves too” (Code section). True media cannot be fill-in-the-blank. She says it might not be necessary for digital scholars to practice what they write, but it definitely helps.

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