Know your onions, why the digital humanities should give more relevance to the end-user

April 11, 2011 at 5:28 pm Leave a comment

Pic: Maite Otondo‘s graduate project at PUC

During a Skype call we held with John Unsworth, dean of the graduate school of Library and Information Sciences of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign he highlighted that one of the “missions” of library sciences should be to focus on the information retrieval. Yet, when he says this he indicates that it should be in more ambitious ways. When we deal with the retrieval of information we need to think in who is retrieving and what for.

Even though a humanities study the human condition, the digital humanities, generally, seems to pay little attention to whom they are framing information for. So even though anthropologists conduct great amounts of context-assessment research or sociologists find patterns in human-driven statistics, when it comes to build their data resources digitally, they turn not to be so human oriented projects. They are suddenly not so accessible.

Do we need data to be accessible? If we want to bridge data silos, it seems we want to afford accessibility. In the NY Times article, [which is a follow up to others]: When the Data Struts Its Stuff indicates:

“IN an uncharted world of boundless data, information designers are our new navigators.”

But are designers the only ones suited for these job? Designers are meant to facilitate interactions but this is not just about software tools or drawing skills. Thinking in the end-user is more related into being an empathetic strategist rather than being a fabricator of images. And strategists are everywhere…
Pic: Maite Otondo‘s graduate project at PUC

Knowing that collaboration is essential, sometimes humanists engage with interaction designers which can provide the understanding, prototyping and testing of certain interactions to provide a better or easier experience for people. Nonetheless, the DH shouldn’t be a stranger to these topics. Even though, there are some information architects coming from the humanities [for example in programs like Library Sciences] that are human driven, it seems undergraduates and graduate students in the programs should be taught the frameworks to think and provide information for targeted audiences in and outside of academia.

  • Which are the goals the users need to fulfill when they come to our site or database?
  • How do they meet these goals?
  • Which is the “natural” trajectory they would follow to achieve their goals?
  • Are we providing the basic structure to help them in their tasks?

Pic[ Designing for Interaction + AH course]
For early stages, context assessment tools like the ones brought from ethnography can be useful to understand cognitive territories, expectations and familiarity with the interaction framed. Tools like paper wireframes for testing, basic undersigned HTML structures or even Flash animations can help understand the functioning of the digitally based information. Here are some examples of projects that students have created. Adaptive Path, and the work of Jesse James Garrett and his “Visual vocabulary for describing information architecture and interaction design” becomes very handy…
Pic: Maite Otondo‘s graduate project at PUC Pic: CM at Amable


Entry filed under: Data, Digital Humanities, Diseño Gráfico/ Graphic Design.

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contact + citing (CC license)

Constanza Miranda PhD(c) design.anthro
* Currently @ DILAB
* Ex.VR @ Stanford's Center for Design Research [DesignXLab]
* Ex.Instructor @ PUC Chile [Design+Engineering]
Use citations ¡Citar es ético!
Creative Commons License
Design for Social Innovation initiative by Constanza Miranda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at

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