Facilitating Digital Humanities Designs

In the last few weeks I’ve been working with Dr. Cece Conway of Appalachian State University on a digital humanities project she’s working on about the history of the banjo. She’s a scholar of Appalachian folklore who wants to make her research come alive in digital media and I’ve been helping her think through what that means in terms of data sets and user interfaces.

That led me to the question: What is the best set of questions that I could pose to a humanities scholar without any particular knowledge of computer technology to figure out what s/he is trying to do so that I design the best possible implementation in digital format?

There may well be a good discussion out there on this topic, or even a handbook for practitioners that covers this area of design. However, I came up with my own set of questions based on my own experience in software design and as a humanities scholar myself. Note that I try to stay away from specific technologies and implementations as much as possible and try to focus on the high-level goals and resources.

This is the list of questions that seem useful to me, as a starting point for discussions, but perhaps others can suggest improvements, refinements, or additions. I hope that others might find this set of questions of use as well if they are trying to facilitate humanities scholars to go digital.

(1) What is the goal and purpose of your project (from a high-level perspective)?

(2) Does your project have pedagogical goals or methods?

(3) Who is your target audience?

(4) What are your data assets? In what media or digital formats are they?

(5) What are the relationships between these assets?  Are they grouped logically in some way?

(6) What should the user experience “feel like”? How should information be conveyed? How should the user navigate through the information space or interact with the system generally?

(7) How will the user experience meet the goal and pedagogical methods of your project?

(8) What examples do you have of other similar projects (on the internet or otherwise)? How do these differ from what you’d like to do? What aspects of these examples do you think are successful or unsuccessful, and why?

(9) Are there any further considerations for the design or implementation of your project?


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Asking questions that aim to identify the efficacy and feasibility of a DH project is invaluable as it gets at the harder questions of time, effort, and investment. Is the envisioned format going to provide the best vehicle for this data? Has this sort of thing been done before? If so, by who and for what cost? Great questions that should be part of the first-pass interview between a DH Information Specialist and the inquiring scholar.

    1. Great comments. I wasn’t even taking costs into consideration!

  2. Naomi Jacobs says:

    These are excellent questions for Digital Humanities scholars. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. I’ll be off to ponder them! – Naomi of the ‘Uncovering the Roof’ academic blog at http://naomijacobs.wordpress.com/ (and, more informally, of http://leithincluan.wordpress.com/ )

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