Creative Web Design
This kind of conceptual cross-fertilization has been responsible for numerous key breakthroughs throughout the history of thought and invention. This insight gave me an idea. Although I’ve been casually designing sites for almost as long as the internet has been around, until about six months ago most would have thought of me primarily as an English professor. A recent career shift to full time developer/designer, in combination with my background in literary studies, has given me a unique and perhaps weird perspective on the world of design.
Metaphor- This one’s almost too obvious, but last I checked metaphor is still largely the expertise of English professors. Brace yourself for one of those annoying zingers people always says about their profession: believe it or not, the web is all metaphor! Burn! (No, not really). Metaphor — a comparison using two items that appear to have no relation — is the chief (and some would say only) paradigm we use to process new technical media.
Signature- When I used to teach first year composition classes, signature was the single most important concept I worked on communicating. It doesn’t just mean putting your John Hancock at the bottom of something. It refers to the unique trace of the person that peaks through the words and ideas. Closely related is the idea of voice: the vital, unique force that speaks through a particular project.
Busting the Cycle- Okay, this one’s not strictly from an English classroom. I actually stole it from an episodeof The Show with Ze Frank, but I often applied it to lessons on how to write A+ papers. The most brilliant papers are those that not only identify current ways of thinking but also take them a step further.
Nonce Taxonomy- What, you may be asking yourself at this point, does this guy have for all these random terms? Let me explain. The term “nonce taxonomy” is borrowed from a woman who died way too soon, my literary-critical hero Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Nonce means “for the once”, and a taxonomy of course is a system of naming. So a “nonce taxonomy” is a system of concepts and terminology that’s tailor made for the project at hand, and disposed of or redeveloped as soon as it becomes cumbersome or meaningless.
Contact Zone- This term was developed by a critic named Mary Louise Pratt in response to the idea of frontiers (as in Wild West frontiers). She claimed that frontiers are the wrong metaphor for the situation, because they only suggest that action occurs in one direction from one perspective. The fact is that even in situations of extreme power imbalances, such as that between cowboys and Indians, multiple perspectives and motives from both sides shape the outcome. By acknowledging the influence of these multiple desires, a more realistic assessment can be made of what leads to successes and failures in a given situation.
Parting Shot- All in all, the genius of responsive design is the way it imports a foreign but uncannily relevant concept into a completely new context. When you do this, old ideas spring to life in new ways. The cross-fertilization of ideas is what drives forums like TED, IFTF, and this very eZine. If you spend too much time cycling through the same buzzwords over and over, you stagnate and your work suffers — things must evolve or die. By offering these ideas up here, it’s not at all my intention to try and force unwanted suggestions on a field of already smart and motivated designers. The main aim is just to be a little provocative. If we expanded this type of cross-disciplinary exploration into Philosophy, History, Politics or Psychology — those oft-disdained liberal arts — just imagine the host of new concepts that would become available.
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