When saying “I am studying Web design” just isn’t enough

Posted on April 18, 2008 by

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It’s been quite a while since I posted on anything relating directly to digital history, but the impulse struck me today. Granted, by writing this blog, I have been, to some degree, doing digital history. Yet, I haven’t posted much on theory or anything else that goes along with what really is digital history.

To recap a little… after wrapping up my M.A. in history from O.D.U. last spring, I started another program in pursuit of a M.A. (and recently shifted to the M.S. track) in Technical and Scientific Communication at J.M.U. I skimmed over some items about digital history prior to the start of the fall semester and realized the potential that the Web has as a more effective tool for the delivery of historical content… as well as perspective. So, with the start of the fall semester, the focus of my studies was on the Web (integrated with my personal interest in digital history). Fortunately, the TSC grad program is very flexible in accomodating students from various disciplines.

As the second semester of this program winds down, I’m able to look back and see that I’ve come a long way in a short time. So far, I’ve had hands-on experience with Adobe programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Fireworks, Flash, and Dreamweaver… as well as Framemaker and RoboHelp. I’ve also improved my knowledge of Technical Communication as a profession and have experience in (among other things) usability testing and technical editing (aka, “emendations”).

However, the hypertext theory class that I took this spring really struck a chord in me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Hypertext 3.0 and Remediation, and could certainly see how various theories could be applied to history. What’s even more significant about this class is that, as projects for the class, I 1) developed this blog, 2) created a hypertext nonfiction (based on my personal Civil War “memory”), and I’m 3) completing another project in which I remediate part of a Civil War unit history (link to follow soon!). The class has also made me realize that I want to learn more and, therefore, I’m taking a interaction design class next fall. I can’t wait!

What is interaction design? It might sound simple (perhaps at least until one starts reading the Wikipedia definition of IxD). This is what has led me to the topic of the day. When I tell somebody that I’m working on a graduate degree in TSC and my main focus is on Web design, I think I’m selling myself short. To me, saying that I am studying “Web design” sounds too basic. After all, a lot of people build their own websites these days. So, saying that simply doesn’t encapsulate all of what I want to do. Don’t get me wrong, knowing HTML, DHTML, XML, CSS, Javascipt… that can all be quite a challenge to someone who hasn’t gone down that road (and I’m still learning it all!). Yet, when I look at a lot of websites (some of my old websites included in that number), they remind me of headstones. Data in stone, immovable, cold, dead. That’s not what I want in the creations that I plan on developing for the Web. I want interaction. I want to engage the reader. I want the user experience to be so gratifying that the reader will return time and time again.

So, that in mind, my thoughts are starting to turn to one year from now. This graduate program has done a lot for me already and will do more for me in the year to come (I can’t say enough how thrilled I am to take on Applied Geographic Information Science as my science cognate – it will be a great addition to my new “box of technical tools” in delivering effective digital history). Yet, I want to know even more about how to enhance the user experience on the Web. I’ve thought about this and started making my way through the Web in search of doctorate programs. Yet unlike before, when I looked at different schools for their history programs, I’m now looking at programs that focus on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Informatics. The way that I see it, the history and the historiography will continue to serve as my content, but it is the many ways in which the content can be delivered that intrigues me now. Like I said, saying that I am studying Web design just doesn’t do it anymore. It’s deeper than that now. This week, I signed-up as a subscriber to the Interactive Design Association (IxDA) and UX: Matters. It’s my next step in seeing that the history that I put on the Web doesn’t just sit there as idle content.

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