Semantic UMW Rotating Header Image

November 9th, 2008:

Visual design and information design

There’s a funny tension at work throughout the web between the needs of visual design and the needs of data design. Sometimes it results in some funny things when you do what I’m doing — taking the data out of it’s visual context to mix and match it in new ways. Funny, and very interesting.

Case in point. I saw one blog has the title, “Charlie’s Blog for”. My first thought was that it was a type-o, or a blog so unfinished that the author hadn’t even completed figuring out what, exactly, the blog was for. Whatever the case, as I parsed both the grammar and the data, that there was no way this would work as a title. It seemed to do the opposite job of a title, completely and deliberated avoiding giving information about the blog.

Ahhh….but then I visited “Charlie’s Blog for” (Exhibit here ). Here’s a close-up of what I found:

See what Charlie did? He wanted to break up the visual design of the title. So, in the visual design, the full title is obviously “Charlie’s Blog for When America Came Marching Home 2008”, his blog for Jeff McClurken’s course by that title (Exhibit here ). To squeeze things into that visual design (supplied entirely by the WP theme), he made the tagline of his blog “When American Came Marching Home 2008” — a good, sneaky, respectable trick.

It’s a neat example of how people will disregard the information structure — The UI clearly says: “Give a title in one field, give a tag-line in another field” — if it gets the visual effect they are looking for. I’m not quite prepared to say that’s a bad thing. Just something that I need to be aware of. And, especially as we encounter more and more documents and data that have been republished via feed syndication, something that we will all need to be aware of as part of our information literacy. Something that looks like it must be an error, like this odd title, might make perfect sense when put back in it’s original visual context, even though the data is odd.

I can’t leave this idea without also wondering whether this signals at least some more consideration of how students (and everyone else, for that matter) thinks about how they are represented to the world via their blog. Not “represented” as in self-representation (“This is who I am”). But regarding the techniques and technologies of representation — things like making the data collected by me, Google, Yahoo!, and anyone else accurate when removed from a document’s context.

The key issue is whether we are at a point such that information fluency calls for understanding that any online document is also data, and as such calls for attention to both the ‘realization’ of the document — it’s visual form — and the ‘realization’ of the data — how it will be syndicated and re-formed by others.

In short, “All your document are belong to us.”

css.php