Designed to touch

I enthusiastically agree with Ed’s use of the word “tangible” to describe Prism. I couldn’t have chosen a better word myself. To get the clearest possible definition of the word, I went old school and looked it up in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary where it’s defined as “perceptible by touch.” No surprise there, but the phrasing of the definition did remind me of the importance of touch to perception. From the origins of the ‘Patacritical Demon in those SpecLab transparency exercises, Prism has been all about touch: touching the transparency to the text, touching the highlighter in your hand, touching the highlighter to the transparency, pressing the transparencies together onto the text and deriving some kind of information from the touching or non-touching of highlights. The physical acts of marking up a text and then seeing many markups laid on top of each other are integral to the user’s perception and interpretation of the text in question. Prism’s ultimate goal of “aesthetic provocation” requires the user’s physical interaction with the text, so Prism can’t be successful (can’t “touch” its users) if it loses its tangibility.

Like Ed, I’m not exactly sure what “tangible” as a design aesthetic looks like, but as we’ve been asked to look at CSS design galleries for Prism inspiration, I find myself bookmarking the sites that play with the boundaries of the page and implement texture in an interesting way. I also agree with Ed’s emphasis on “keeping it real…clean,” and I would go further to say that “clean” for me means maintaining the primacy of the text on the page, whether it’s a page image or a text transcribed in HTML. While I’m on the subject, Sarah and I briefly chatted in the grad lounge today about tangibility in another sense. There has been a fair amount of discussion as to whether we should use page images or transcribed text and the general consensus we’ve come to in the last few meetings is that we’ll use both. I think having both options opens up some interesting possibilities for interpretation (allowing for an examination of how users mark the same text in each form, for example), but it seems absolutely crucial to the tangibility of Prism to have page images, however complicated that may turn out to be.

In my interview for the Praxis Program this summer, I hopped up on my soapbox and boldly claimed, “The book is dead.” Sheath your swords, bibliographers (looking at you, Sarah and Alex), I didn’t quite mean what I said. I meant that paper books will eventually become artifacts, which isn’t a far-fetched claim to make, but the problem with e-readers, in my opinion, is that they aren’t enough like physical texts. They aren’t tangible in the way that readers are comfortable with. Prism obviously isn’t an e-reader, but my point is that translating the tangibility and physicality of the transparency exercise is a design task that is absolutely crucial to its success. We want Prism to make interpretive possibilities “perceptible by touch.”

Brooke is a 2011-12 Praxis Fellow and MA candidate in the Department of English. She is currently working on a thesis which investigates Virginia Woolf's moment of being as a biographical, historical, and narrative phenomenon in Woolf's fiction and essays. Brooke is also a graduate research assistant in IATH, working on Alison Booth's Collective Biographies…

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