Literary Design Process

From Harry Potter and Wikipedia to Persian poetry by Rumi, literature is designed. Phenomenologically, we may read into literature as a mirror reflecting the author. Structurally, with language as the basis of cognition, literature is its own source for both the author and reader.

Literature can be approached by just about any design school to form a literary school of thought. Marty Seigel’s PRInCiPleS and themes of design are one of many examples of a design process / criteria for good design that I have been able to easily apply to literature. Predispositions, research, insights, concepts, prototypes and even a strategy may all play a role in a pre-writing exercise. All literature is ‘user-centered’, where the user could be either authors or readers. ‘Transparency’ is a major goal through the use of vocabulary, creating settings, characters etc. Literary ‘imaginativeness’ may be at its peak when unique arguments are formulated. Grammar and the flow of an argument play major roles in the ‘ease of learning’. Good books have also often been revised through a process of ‘continual redesign’. It may be perceived as a ‘craft’ and always involves ‘tradeoffs’. The most common literary tradeoffs I encounter these days are in the use of vocabulary. Thesauri are very handy for that.

Pre-writing is a technique we are all familiar with through the process of design. Design is arguably the most difficult part of writing. For those in design school, we know the significance of a powerful ‘design argument’. Similarly, we now emphasize literary arguments through the process of pre-writing. For the ‘first stage’ of pre-writing we are exploring our design space, and the ‘chaos to order stage’ may be perceived as enhancing our space based on constraints. Although we have been presented with some foundations for effective pre-writing, I am sure we are all using our own design techniques in order to create unique pre-writing arguments.

In addition to those literary techniques presented (e.g. sketching, separating out paragraphs, etc.), which design techniques have you found effective for pre-writing?

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6 Responses to Literary Design Process

  1. Pingback: from chaos to order, the creative process in writing and design at David Roedl | Human-Computer Interaction Design

  2. Overall, I think there is a lot of benefit to comparing interaction design to other forms of designed communication, such as poetry. But we also need to be careful not to get too carried away. So, for example, you wrote:

    ‘Transparency’ is a major goal through the use of vocabulary, creating settings, characters etc.

    Yet it has been convincingly argued that poetry does not aim for “transparency,” quite the opposite in fact. By calling attention to “coincidences” of language, rather than meaning, poetry is deliberately opaque. By coincidences of language, I mean features like rhyme, meter, alliteration, etc. Poetry is constantly calling attention to itself as specially crafted language, not as an invisible vehicle for meaning. Take a look at Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18”:

    Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
    Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
    And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
    Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
    And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
    And every fair from fair sometime declines,
    By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
    But thy eternal summer shall not fade
    Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
    Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
    When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
    So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
    So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

    The rhyme scheme and rhythmic pattern (iambic pentameter) call attention to the language, at times even obscuring the “meaning” as you try to disentangle the language and put it back in a “normal” order. Yet the song seduces, too; it is a music that laps like small waves against your consciousness. More important than the narrator’s love for his girl is the fact that this is above all a poem, a work of art, which transcends the girl herself (“So long lives this [poem]” the girl shall live in its “eternal lines”).

    We’ll talk about transparency as a design objective later in this semester, so this is just a prelude!

  3. I guess what I was saying indirectly I should say more explicitly: It seems to me that while “transparency” is a legitimate design goal for certain kinds of interfaces (especially ones where performance, efficiency, and accuracy matter most), I can imagine interfaces that take the opposite approach, where opacity is a desirable goal, because it makes the experience of the interface more aesthetic. Video games would be one logical place, but also museum kiosks, and really any interface where the process of using the interface matters more than the product resulting from it.

  4. Adam Shahrani says:

    Thank you for the elaboration Jeff. Transparency here is based on the purpose of design. In some poetry, the purpose is to emphasize rhyme or rhythm, and to keep font or line breaks transparent. Others may really emphasize the breaking of lines more than the rhyme and try to convey meaning in them. Another purpose may even be ambiguity. Purposes are limitless.

    Transparency as a concept is critical in every design because every design has a purpose. The purpose may be to sensually experience some medium or not to pay attention to it. Emphasizing transparency automatically means that we also emphasize opacity. Otherwise, what is it that we are trying to see through transparent lens? Unfortunately, superficial interpretations of transparency have dominated a former wave of HCI. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

  5. Excellent points. So the only thing I would add is we all need to watch out for equivocation, which is using words in more than one way without clarifying which one we mean. In this case, it seems to be “transparency,” a traditional goal of HCI that it seems Adam is trying to add more nuance to. I agree with that project! So then it’s a matter of being careful to define special vocabulary.

    Of course, in a blog I don’t expect everyone to be perfectly clear in defining all their special terms; hopefully, participation in the blog itself will lead all of you to clarity with regard to special terms and concepts. Nice thread, Adam! 🙂

  6. jimmypierce says:

    @ Jeff – I absolutely agree and am glad to hear this brought up explicitly:

    “I guess what I was saying indirectly I should say more explicitly: It seems to me that while “transparency” is a legitimate design goal for certain kinds of interfaces (especially ones where performance, efficiency, and accuracy matter most), I can imagine interfaces that take the opposite approach, where opacity is a desirable goal, because it makes the experience of the interface more aesthetic.”

    The focus on “transparency” in design and HCI always bothered me a little bit because it seems to undermine certain set of design goals, such as engagement, reflection and the aesthetics of opaqueness. The focus on designs that make things “easy” is important. Actually, I would say it is crucial to any good design — not everything can be a reflective task…some elements of a video game and museum kiosk need to transparent in order to aid in reflection. Adam said pretty much the same thing (only much more eloquently): “Transparency as a concept is critical in every design because every design has a purpose. ”

    hmmm… i haven’t really said anything new, have I?

    Ok. Here’s a thought. Are we seeing a rise in designs where the experience of using the design matters more than the products that created it?

    One might predict such a trend simply by looking at the properties of new media, in particular, the notion that digital products are easy to reproduce. If value is dependent on scarcity, then digital media and mass-production are a challenging the value of products. Now, only the process of creation is unique and scarce.

    THis is also related to a quote that I love from manovich: “the cultural technologies of an industrial society — cinema and fashion — asked us to identify with someone else’s bodily image. Interactive media aks us to identify with someone else’s mental structure.” Again… old media is focused on products..new media is focused on process. While i think that this trend may be partly due to the cheap and infinitely reproduceable nature of new media (at least in theory), I also think this has to do with other properties of new media that manovich talks about (e.g. variability and modularity) .

    And to add a different perspective….new media may also be challenging the idea that products are defined in terms of scarcity. A single personal computer is valuable…but millions of computers hooked up together creates even more value, increasing the value of each individual computer.

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