Abstract Design: Some Project-Related Concerns

I am having a design-related issue with my project that overlaps with a lot of what we were discussing yesterday during class, so I thought I would try blogging about it. My problem has to do with how to present a set of images in a way that dynamically shows the differing relations between the representations in those images. While my design concerns largely have to do with information architecture and how I am going to stage my analyses of the images for viewers, crafting the aesthetic experience of my gallery is also important for how I want users to engage with it.

What I am running up against is how to convey abstract concepts through design. (Ashley, I really appreciated your post directing our attention to Maria Ebner’s use of “images as metaphors” because of how it speaks to this issue). My project brings Victorian illustrations and advertisements depicting female bodies together in varying visual configurations as a way of demonstrating how the shifting contours of these representations interact to form ideological spectrums. The abstract concept I am trying to figure out how to render through design is a spectrum. This concept is helpful to me because along a spectrum, the elements shift in prominence and blend in relation to each other, which is how I see different forms of female embodiment operating across the Victorian period. In my project brief, I proposed using a sliding image reel (see the image gallery of this website for what I have in mind) to render the concept of an ideological spectrum because “the sliding action across items in the reel mimics the blending that occurs within a spectrum and registers the changing prominence of forms across the period of a spectrum.” However, on the level of information architecture, I’m not sure whether a sliding image reel is really the clearest/most engaging way to relay my idea.

I can’t think of how else to convey a spectrum using images, but I worry that I am stuck on this because it is an aesthetic template I am already familiar with from web design. Along the lines of what Ben was suggesting in class, it is possible that that design aesthetic is affecting my thinking in a way that prevents me from conceiving another (perhaps more effective) approach.

A Few Provocations on Collaboration

Hey all,

I’m sorry I’ll be missing you today in class– I’m having some health issues. While I think we’ll probably have more of a discussion on collaboration later on, I did want to post a few ideas or thoughts that I had in response to the articles we read for last time to prompt discussion.

– In Collaborative Futures, the authors make mention of the privilege inherent in collaboration. That is, it takes a certain amount of privilege in order to be able to pursue collaborative projects, as it assumes extra time, energy, and other resources to work on any collaborative project. I think this is certainly a valid point and I’m glad it went acknowledged, but I didn’t feel at any point that viable opportunities to remedy this were provided. It was kind of like, ‘Well, it sucks that collaboration is a classed process, but what are we going to do about it?’ So– would there be any ideas on rethinking collaboration so that it isn’t as much of a classed processed?

– It seems across the articles that collaboration is relied upon as a buzzword now and has lost some of its intrinsic value as a result (or so it was suggested by a few of the pieces). I think we had this conversation about the word ‘gamification’ as well last week– but what’s in a word? If something becomes buzzy or catchy or trendy, does that mean that we need to find ourselves a new word in order to continue our work? Or are we taking a very hipster-ish approach in our unwillingness to use words that have been appropriated by other establishments…especially business-centered ones?

– Once more, I’m going to draw from Collaborative Futures— mostly because I had some bones to pick with the book in general, if that wasn’t abundantly clear. There’s a whole chapter on how the book might be useless. First, well, yes, isn’t any text…that depends on who you are as a reader and your experiences interacting with the text, in my opinion. As a second point, the argument that seemed to be made about this uselessness was not, in fact, about the content but was instead about the fact that we’re all collaborative beings in the first place and we’re reliant on others for xyz and shouldn’t we just really all think about how interconnected we are. I’m oversimplifying, but I did take major issue with the idea that breastfeeding was used as the example that got the writer thinking about the collaborative nature of life. To me, that’s not collaborative– that’s one being feeding from another being and dependent on it for survival. The breastfeeding mother does not need to breastfeed in order to survive, nor is it common for more than one person to breastfeed a child in Western cultures. So the questions that arise out of this issue for me are: 1) are they trying to reconcile too many different ideas of what collaboration might be to make their point? 2) even though humans tend to be a social species that do involve themselves heavily in the goings-ons of other humans, does this count as ‘collaboration’? and 3) how do these ideas of interconnectedness  connect back to the idea of privilege? Or do they? I see a clear connection between the way that these chapter presented the idea(s) of collaboration and the way that the authors had initially brought up about the privilege inherent in collaboration.

Project Brief

Due March 31, your project brief should be a narrative of no more than five pages that responds to the feedback you’ve gotten on your elevator pitch. Your narrative should address the “what, why, who, where, when, and how” of your project. It should start with the “what” stated at the outset, in a single sentence. It should end with a clear statement of what you propose to produce as your final project for Core II.

Turning It In
To turn in the brief, create a new forum topic titled Project Brief: Your Name, where you replace Your Name with your own and then attach your file to the topic.

Before writing your brief, read our feedback to your pitch posted here (password protected).

project management, aka, your hand is not your day planner

Day planner of 17th- century scholar Placcius.

“Day planner” of 17th- century scholar Placcius.

ah, what to say about project management and grant writing?  that they are necessary evils?  sorting through the links and info pages in this week’s reading had that same queasy, fluorescent light feel of trying to survive eight hours of screen staring during the data entry desk job. if only money appeared out of nowhere and projects unfurled by the magical force of their sheer worth.

my relationship to that which we are referring to as project management is one of reluctant hope.  people, it seems, forever and ever, have been looking for ways to best organize their time, thoughts, activities, resources, collaborations, etc.  the 18th century puritanical preacher jonathan edwards used to pin his notes to clothes so as not to forget.  emerson kept an intricate and extensive journal system that allowed him to cross reference one book to another.  the 17th-century scholar Vincent Placcius turned his notebook into a hulking piece of furniture (see above).  and who can forget memento, whose protagonist inundates himself with tattoos, stickies, & polaroids to combat an amnesia that seems, metaphorically, to parallel the inevitable forgetfulness of the information-overloaded subject of today’s world.

sure some of this may sound more like notetaking rather than official project management, but who’s to say where one ends and another begins. despite my attempts to enforce a logic on my many different types of lists of thinking and doing, my projects/tasks/notes-to-self currently exist in so many different forms that i begin to wonder if i would not do better with none of them at all.  i know i’m not alone.  after the research management workshop last week, students asked whether there might be workshops on just calendars and organization.  i can’t imagine a less sexy topic.  yet it seems, if we could just sort out these two little things, the world would be ours! and so, i can see why an entire institute (PMI) has arisen over this otherwise banal topic even if i’d almost rather read ten pages of source code.

there is of course project management of one’s life and all its many cubbies, and group project management. they are not so wildly different. one of the problems is not so much writing tasks down or keeping up with tasks that are laid out before one — the problem is keeping up with all the different places one orchestrates their project management.  personally, i have a paper day planner, a phone calendar with alerts, a list making app and a note taking app on my phone, multiple groups on the cuny academic commons, stickies on my desktop, evernote to-do-lists, a membership with the project management tool asana for my fellowship duties, a membership with the digital tool trello as of five minutes ago for experimental purposes, and of course, for those few not-to-be-forgottens-!, the back of my hand which currently reads “blog post.” (the latter is reserved for only the most pressing (read late) as it is a practice i detest!) it seems it would take me an entire day just to go through all these different places and so i don’t and the result is that on top of all this technology, at the end of the day, the main task master is exactly what i’ve been trying to supplement — my memory.    though the idea of one universal “project manager” is wildly appealing (and one that many of the tools we’re looking at this week promise), it seems flat out impossible.  my day planner doesn’t come with alerts and can be misplaced, my phone calendar isn’t as accessible and flexible as my day planner, only the online platforms enable discussion functionality with collaborators through email, etc etc.  furthermore, i’ve become increasingly wary of trying new tools and systems for there is always the certain risk (or near promise) that despite the time one puts into the new tool, they will only further fracture and confuse one’s already too-complex ecosystem of project management methods.  and when one already has so much to do, who has time to adopt to a new system!

this is not to say that i think improvements are impossible, only that they will take a lot of research, time and experimentation to find out, and that one must make peace with the fact as soon as possible, that a) neither will the tools be the final solution nor b) will there ever be a utopian solution. while i think it’s great that terry smith’s fourth grade class had a positive experience with project management, i think that has more to do with terry smith than with the tools employed. i can easily see the same project-management inspired classroom becoming a total bureaucratic nightmare. for while writing about project management, and acknowledging its worth and necessity (in our social/economic context), i’m also wondering what this increasing cultural obsession with project management and its tools reflects. it parses individual and social activity into something that can always be boiled down into a mission statement, time frame and dollar sign. great for getting projects done, meeting deadlines, satisfying the bottom line, etc, but not so great, at least personally, for feeling enthused about a project. is this a sign of something else in decline? am i just being whiney? is there room to interrogate this a little?

i have little to say at the moment on grant writing.  the literature here will be much more compelling, i imagine, when using it to apply to the actual writing of a grant which it seems we will all have ample opportunity to consider as we formulate our itp projects.  for someone who finds the construction of even the most minute forms of professional correspondence to be a rather mind-paralyzing activity, these examples look particularly helpful in breaking down the immense task of grant writing into a sort of manageable paint-by-number activity.  at any rate, here are a few more questions:

what project management tools/systems do you use, whether for personal projects or group projects? 

has anyone had experience writing grants?  how do you approach it? are there ways to make the task less daunting, more personal? 

NYC Ed Tech Event

The NYEdTech Meetup group is having some education technology startups come in to talk about what they do. The date/time:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
7:00 PM To 

If you’re interested follow this link: http://www.meetup.com/NYEdTech/events/108930452/

There are two ways to attend

  1. In person. To do this you have to A) Join Meetup.com and then B) join the group and C) RSVP. The process won’t take long but as of this writing there were only 25 spots left.
  2. View the LiveStream. The link is on the page I listed above

Jennifer and Erin, this is the kind of event you might want to start attending as you think about potential speakers and try to get a better feel for the tech scene.