The Dirt on “Clean”

Last week, when I should have been finishing up a conference paper I gave on Sunday, I instead kept messing with the webpage that Jeremy is teaching us how to design. Coding left me confused and bewildered, but now I realize that it also pretty much left me cold. I did once announce that it was satisfying, but I think only in a “I’m glad I did that” kind of way. In contrast, the process of designing a webpage is fun. I like thinking about design as I go about my life both on the web and otherwise. I like making my apartment look nice in ways I can afford and maintain. I like creating and cooking meals that balance taste, texture, and color. I like bright and bold and playful fashion statements that don’t entirely forsake comfort. These are some of the things I do while procrastinating, while avoiding my academic work because I’m confused or bewildered, so I think designing for Prism will be similarly appealing and therapeutic for me.

As for design values that we should adopt, “clean” seems so common a metaphor that it may not actually carry much weight as a guiding principle. Does anyone aim to make things look “dirty” or “messy” when designing something for many different kinds of users? I don’t find it helpful to take anything as a goal or guideline if its opposite is obviously undesirable. But I also don’t know that we need to abandon “clean” entirely—Ed and Brooke have explained a bit about what “clean” means to them, and I think that’s what we should pin down. Just now Brooke, Jeremy, Wayne, and I briefly discussed how different people use “clean” in design terms. It could mean ample white space or big buffers and borders or not too many fonts or all the important stuff near the top of the page. This is the kind of stuff I hope we can start working out pretty soon, and to get that going, I propose “visually logical” as a guiding principle that is (hopefully) at least slightly more specific than “clean.”

I am a 2011-12 Praxis Fellow, a PhD candidate in the UVa Department of English, and a former AmeriCorps member, campus civic engagement coordinator, and criminal defense investigator. My dissertation uses theories of waste and excess to examine American literary responses to disaster from the 1927 Mississippi flood to the present.

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