Monthly Archives: February 2014

Type Assignment

Type Assignment

Tedious hours maneuvering style elements in the CSS style sheet and in the HTML is how I spent most of my weekend. In an effort to make things line up properly and appear in the correct size, in the correct font or exactly where I wanted them to, I spent an inordinate amount of time in small details, trying a little difference over and over and over again.

However, I learned a lot about HTML and CSS.

The page, as always, has a long way to go. But I will spend a few moments to tell you what I was trying to do. The more I look at the page, the more disappointed I am. But, I have some more time before class Monday evening!

Professor Petrik said we should write a small essay. I chose women in the Marine Corps in World War II. The topic is simple and direct.

As I began my assignment, I realized I would have to change the background of my webpage. The photo which serves as the Home/About Me background is a photo of female boots in digital cammies – certainly having nothing to do with WWII. So I went for a dark green and tan color scheme, which certainly keeps the traditional Marine Corps colors. They have the added benefit of spanning generations, so are just as easily used in any Marine Corps era.

In other respects, I tried to maintain some continuity across the pages. I kept the fonts the same, and kept the alignment the same. The navigation bars thwarted every effort thus far to get them to do what I want. I had wanted to put the main navigation at the very top of the page, and make it horizontal across the page. All efforts thus far have failed, but I will continue to try. Also, I inserted a page-specific navigation, which I thought was nice if a visitor is only interested in one aspect of the page.  They can skip right to it.

I attempted to insert a picture, but cannot seem to make it fit within the body of the text. However, I did figure out how to make the caption fit under the picture! Still working on that one. I like the cursive script, because I feel it adds a feminine tone to the webpages. I purposefully called the first section “Free a Marine To Fight” because I think that is an easily recognizable WWII-type phrase that tells the visitor this is a page about women in the military in WWII, without having to read any further.

One thing that I have not attempted yet, but would very much like to do, is footnotes. I read and re-read Professor Petrik’s article on footnotes. I believe I’m starting to understand how to incorporate the CSS to make the footnotes work. What would be helpful is to understand what the HTML looks like. Has anyone else tried this so far? Any luck? I would appreciate any advice, and am looking forward to seeing everyone on Monday!

 

Here is the link to my Type Assignment.

This week I’ve commented on Kirk’s blog and Beth’s blog.

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A Non-Designer Learns Design Fundamentals (and a bit of HTML, too)

This week’s readings attempted to give the non-designers in the class (me) some fundamentals with which to work. I could not have been more grateful. The first few weeks of class, I admit that I was sufficiently overwhelmed with just getting my HTML code to result in an actual website, that my commitment to design was minimal. So the timing for the chapters in WSINYE and Thinking with Type could not have been better.

Before I actually got to the readings, I HAD to go back and fix some of the things on my website. Professor Petrik will be happy (I hope) to see an About page and a Home page – which are different! I changed a few other things, am still trying to get the caption on the pictures in the right places, but please take a look and let me know your thoughts. As always, constructive criticism is welcome! Click here to see the latest version.

With the updates to my website neatly out of the way (for now), and forcing myself to stop messing around with it, I looked at the readings. WSINYE has quickly become my favorite book of the course, if for no other reason than the chapters are short, fun and easy to read. Chapter 5 (Mini Art School) earned a special place this week by teaching me the critical fundamentals. Though I have thought about many of the concepts (line, space, color) before, it was always subconsciously. I never purposefully looked at a page or a website and thought, “that’s a terrible use of scale” or “what a wonderful use of color!” The website just felt right, or it felt wrong. Having the terminology to identify what was going on is great. I even did some of the exercises at the end of Chapter 5. It helped significantly for me to better understand what I was seeing, and how I might apply it to my website.

Writing in a way that I could understand also helped me discover that design really does matter, and that it is actually quite hard. You cannot just tell people what you want to tell them, you have to draw them in, capture their interest and then keep them there.

Chapter 6 and Thinking with Type took these concepts to the next step, helping me to visualize how to build a website using grids. How much easier for my simple mind to grasp squares and rectangles! Much like we outline our papers, and think about what goes where, using grids to layout websites forced me to think about what I want to say. It made the different sections on the webpage feel more important, and made me think that I should take greater care in what I dedicate to precious whitespace.

In short, it seems I will have to return to the design phase before I spend more time trying to “fix” my website. These readings also have helped me to answer a question I have been asking myself since we began this semester: do we first learn the code, or do we learn the design? Certainly, we cannot build a website without knowing some HTML and CSS. However, how good will our websites be if we do not know what we are trying to convey? As I have struggled through the first weeks of the course, I think now it is a give and take between the two. Of course we must know some HTML and CSS to build a website. We must also be able to design, to give us ability to interest our audiences. However, knowing a bit of HTML first has shown me that I must temper my grandiose design ideas with my capabilities – and work with the concepts we are learning in class.

This leads me to the HTML and CSS book and the Lynda.com video – which was a fantastic breakdown of concepts and design of an HTML webpage. With the first code behind me, I can better understand what the narrator was talking about regarding sectioning the webpage, headers and footers. It was still too much information in one sitting, but it is comforting to have it as a reference tool. I am certain that I will be returning to all of the readings from this week, and the video, throughout the semester. Perhaps some of our Art History compatriots could give us some pointers? See you Monday!

See my post on Kirk’s blog; and Beth Garcia’s blog.


Women in Military History Preview

Well, here it is – first attempt at a Portfolio Page. It seems we all  experienced similar difficulties with FTP client, and will be erecting a monument in honor of Amanda for her patient assistance!

The best thing about this experience so far – womeninmilitaryhistory.com was actually still available. And I snatched it up! All comments and (constructive) criticism welcome.


Type, Fonts and a Non-Designers Perspective on Design

This week has definitely forced a breakthrough in how I think about type. Formerly, I could read about typography, and appreciate anecdotally how we might find one type (Baskerville) more believable or credible than another type (Comic Sans). Beyond that perfunctory analysis, I had not fully appreciated how in depth this field can be, and how important type becomes in an overall design.

Despite the title of the week – we started off with a reading about color. As a non-designer, I enjoyed the basic descriptions about color pairings, how colors do and do not work together. The most helpful recommendation I found was looking to nature. I have always admired the color palettes that reflect a neighboring picture (as seen in the book). They look perfect together, and that is an easy way for me to begin.

The Thinking with Type book gave me a lot to think about. One of the very first lines talked about how design’s purpose is actually to help people avoid reading. This reminded me of Krug’s book and understanding the user and how the website might actually be used. Since this theme keeps re-appearing, it will be one that perhaps should be put on a sticky note at the top of my computer, as a constant reminder!

The book took me further, talking about how printed type changed the way we look at text and initiated the idea that the blank, silent spaces in between the words were just as important as the words themselves.

Talking flows in a singular, linear direction. Text liberates a person from those constraints, because it occupies space as well time. Due to its organizational construct, type allows readers to enter and exit where they like (similar to websites?). Is this why well-designed websites may have more power or ability to get their points across to their audiences – because they are not fighting the linearity of Word or PowerPoint? I wondered.

This is much more than a simple discussion of text. This is a conversation about how we convey information. It is also very telling about the human approach to information processing. Individuals seem to desire freedom and flexibility very strongly in how they process information. They want to be able to skip around. They don’t want to actually read – they want to get the information that is interesting or important to them, and then keep moving.

Digital readers are more impatient than hard copy readers. Why? According to the book, they are more focused on searching rather than processing. At first glance, this appears to be a valid statement; I find it to be true in myself. Why do the authors subscribe a cultural slant to that? Did culture change as a result of the digital age? Or did the digital age just reveal new aspects of the human condition? I’m not sure the answer is strictly cultural, but that is a longer conversation for another day.

The separation of style sheets forces designers and builders to think purposefully about design distinctly separate from content.

Somewhat contradictory points are being made – “text rising from its own ashes” on the web because it is a better medium than either film or television. Simultaneously the web is the dissolution of writing, as we know it. Symbols, logos and other design graphics take the place of text. Which is it? Can it be both? The author speaks of users somewhat derogatorily, vice readers or writers.

The Helvetica documentary – unknown to me until this week – but it provided an absolutely fantastic insight into the world of typography. It is ubiquitous. As I look around now, I see it everywhere. I am also beginning to look at type and try to see what might be easier on the eyes, how some make a statement and how some fail to attract attention – how type can encourage us to read further, to draw our eyes in or to make us want to run away. Now how in the world do I (a self-admitted non-designer) apply this to my website?

It is becoming clearer to me how thinking about design has to be an integral part to building any website. The content is a given. You have to have good content. But to get people interested long enough to look at the content, to absorb it and reflect on it, you have to encourage them to look further.

One of the commentators said that he challenged himself by trying to find ways to make Helvetica new and interesting. I liked this reaction best of all. Rather than just saying that Helvetica is wonderful and nothing can ever surpass it, or that it was old and boring, he was trying to create something new with it. This also makes me think that you almost have to have at least two fonts on your website – there needs to be the attention-getter, the one that draws the visitor in and makes them want to see more. There also needs to be the type that is easy on the eye, easy to read, so when the visitor gets to the content, they stay.

The Erroll Morris piece was fun, and doesn’t surprise me in the least that some fonts produce a more positive reaction than others. It goes back to our readings from last week about attractive things working better. That it made such a significant difference (as he asserts) did surprise me. Going further, I think we assign relative intelligence or educational (thus, credibility) levels to fonts. It’s not just that they are more pleasing, but Comis Sans looks like a little kid wrote it. Baskerville looks like it came straight out of the Salem Witch Trials. Perhaps that is a bad example. Nevertheless, people seem to equate “old” with intelligent or educated, and young with not as educated. Dunning uses “formal” and “informal” and “starchiness” in his terminology, but the gist is the same.

The transcription of Capt Walker was especially moving. Beyond the words or the appearance of the words, I feel his commitment to keeping a journal. Not a full 24 hours passed before he was back to committing the entire war to memory. His courage and determination in the face of such adversity makes me admire him.

The Lynda.com video was extraordinarily long (supposed that goes without saying). The best parts, for me, were the explanation of how to pair types and the practical application of what the HTML and CSS looks like. Being a non-designer (beginning to see a theme here?), I can look at two types that I may like, and tell that they don’t quite go together. However, I cannot begin to pair types in a determined way. This at least gives me a starting point and something to come back to.

The Lynda.com video and the HTML and CSS book were most helpful in identifying what the HTML and CSS might look like. It’s easy to forget just how new we all are to building websites, as we dive into the intricacies of design. Having a “copy and paste” type of description is invaluable – and hopefully will show up well in my Portfolio page!

Lastly, the piece on footnotes was greatly appreciated by the scholar in me. As we begin to build these pages, we need to be cognizant that we are still scholars, and still need to build a “breadcrumb trail”. A very thoughtful and informative piece, I appreciated the fact that it was written and especially appreciated the recommendation based on skill level and purpose of website. To a novice, the note/text markings in the CSS and the HTML itself were confusing. I would have to try it to see if/how it would work before fully understanding. I fully admit to feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared!

If the intent of the readings this week was to get us to think deeply about typography, and in new ways, then they succeeded splendidly. Side note – I think I’m finally getting used to putting one space at the end of my sentences! Bad habit a wonderful (truly) Catholic schoolteacher drilled into me 20+ years ago. Looking forward to everyone’s portfolio pages.

See my comments on Daniel’s blog and Anne’s blog.


Opening a Broader Perspective – Creativity in Digital History

This week was all about design, and I loved it. As I have begun to explore digital history, a question that has often come up was – when one is learning digital history, what do you focus on first? Design or building? Admittedly, both are important. I especially enjoyed the Ramsay article for that reason – real digital historians build things.  I couldn’t agree more. There is something intrinsically important getting your hands dirty by actually doing. There are lessons that we can only learn once we have tried something. Without a doubt, that is choosing the more difficult route.

Back to design for a moment. The Norman article was fascinating with its analysis of human behavior. When people are happy and relaxed, they are more productive, creative and more likely to return to a website. And it doesn’t take much to make a person happy! The article talks about small gifts or rewards – just something that makes us feel good.

Perhaps most striking about the readings this week, and this included the Norman article, the Stanford Credibility Report and the book, is that design trumps content. This statement makes me squirm just writing it, but everything seems to be point in that direction. We need to get and maintain people’s attention if we want them to get to the analytically rigorous content that we so painstakingly incorporated into our websites.

The articles and book also emphasized to me how important it is for digital humanists to think before we do anything else. Think about our audience, how we want them to use the sight, what might be most useful and challenging in navigating and accessing our hard work. Because our audience is dramatically different in digital history (most academics are probably more comfortable reading research papers!), we have to think and act in dramatically different ways. In usual research fashion, our thoughts of audience, language and method of conveyance usually take a backseat to the content. In digital history,

“Acts of Translation” brought me back to reality, a bit. It reminded me that as digital historians, we have two vastly different types of audiences! Scholars (hopefully) will want to visit our sites as well. So, do we make different sites for scholars and for the public? Do we try to accommodate both on one site? What do we lose, and what do we gain? I can relate directly because the site I eventually want to create would be for both scholars and the public.

Bottom line – it requires a significant amount of thought, planning, creativity and expertise to craft a good digital history website. Let’s hope that this class follows the ideas proposed in Norman’s article – and that our tools for learning generate happiness and relaxation conducive to creative thought!

– Posted on Casey’s blog.