Reflections on the Digital Humanities + Design Symposium

I had the great pleasure of participating at the Digital Humanities + Design Symposium hosted by The Digital Integrative Liberal Arts Center (DILAC) at Georgia Tech and organized by Lauren Klein, Carl DiSalvo, and Morgan Orangi. This two-day symposium drew designers and digital humanists from around the country and abroad to discuss the intersections of the two fields and foster collaborative thought. The symposium was organized with four keynotes, three roundtables on process, speculation, and social justice, and three workshop activities, all of which yielded some great conversations. Below are some highlights.

Keynote 1: Anthony Dunne

Anthony Dunne (@_ManyWorlds) of Dunne and Raby design studio presented on speculative and critical design. He provided an overview of design projects that use furniture or an object as the medium. He also explored how design fiction can be used to theorize and speculate about future possibilities. He introduced Meinong’s jungle, a crazy place filled with impossible things, and Dunne and Raby’s design on Meinong’s Taxonomy of Objects

“Designing objects for spaces opens up poetic interpretation.”  

“Design has its limitations; we can’t prevent everything [like dystopian futures].” 

Keynote 2: Kelly Baker Josephs

Kelly Baker Josephs (@kbjosephs), founder and editor of sx salon and professor of postcolonial literature, presented on accessible and minimal design. When designing websites, she questioned her intended audience and her own assumptions about participation. In an overview of digital Caribbean projects, she emphasized she wanted people in the region to access what was being publishing about the region and specifically designed for low bandwidth. Some of the websites she showed were The Digital Caribbean, The Caribbean Commons,  Early Caribbean Digital ArchiveThe Caribbean Memory Project, Slave Revolt in JamaicaA Colony in Crisis, and Digital Library of the Caribbean.

“Access does not mean use and use does not mean full engagement.”

Keynote 3: Anne Burdick 

Anne Burdick (@anneburdick), design editor of electronic book review, chair of media design practices at Art Center College of Design, and co-author of Digital_Humanities, presented on a designer’s role in collaborative DH projects. She emphasized that collaborative DH+design projects only works when we see designers as peers, not as a a work for hire/client transaction. Some of the works she outlined were Digital_Humanities, Meta!Meta!Meta!: A Speculative Design Brief for the Digital Humanities, Writing Machines, Schimpfwörterbuch, and Trina

“Humanists need to take command of tools and build them.”    

“Design can be an analytical tool in literary research.”

Keynote 4:

Jentery Sayers (@jenterysayers), assistant professor of English at University of Victoria, started his presentation with the question, Is design bad for media history? tl;dr: no. He outlined five different types of design: interface, interactive, architecture, experience, and graphic and showcased examples from each, all of which can be found at He emphasized design as a negotiation process, beginning with prototyping, and the need to increase understanding of and responsibility for design in humanities.

“All scholarship is designed.”

Final Thoughts

Design as an overlap of aesthetics and functionality has much to offer digital humanities, which focuses on process and content but not enough on presentation and user experience. Humanities tends to have an insular intended audience, but adding digital necessarily adds a public component. We need to be more transparent in our documentation of process; considerate of accessibility, ethics, empathy, social justice, and aesthetics in universal design choices; and push the boundaries of interactivity and immersion perhaps through prototyping and speculative design.

To view the conversations from Twitter, check out the DH + Design Storify (courtesy of @laurenfklein)

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