by Michelle Moravec, author
None of the above turned out to be possible, for various reasons. The price of Scalar's ease of interface, "as easy as blogging" is some fairly inflexible parameters. The most attractive feature of Scalar to me, the ability to view the content of other pages when mousing over embedded page links, did not function in the comments view. Annotation of the media did not include the ability to anchor a text box to the media. While thumbnails can be attached to pages, right now they cannot be used as the display on the page in Scalar navigation views, confounding my desire for a visually driven interface.
Early reader feedback revealed to me that my desire to create a project that was productively frustrating had resulted in a project that was unnavigable. Ditto my project that looped rather than ran start to finish. Readers felt lost and wanted some sort of trajectory, even if they decided not to follow it.
Fortuitously, at about the midpoint of designing the project, I met Joan Saab, whose Searching for Siqueros
is a book length project authored in Scalar. She repeatedly advised me think about inhabiting the infrastructure that was Scalar, to ponder how I could do what I wanted by drawing on what Scalar does well.
I also got fabulous feedback from Alex Juhasz, my editor on this project, about how I might bookend the project with more formal structures that would allow the reader to become productively frustrated. I wanted the reader to click through rather than close the page in frustration. She suggested both the tri-partite opening, as well as this reflective piece on the challenges of working Scalar.
With Alex's structure in mind, and Joan's words echoing in my head, I reconceived the project. I realized that because Scalar is an e-publishing platform it is very much a-book emulating infrastructure. Everything from the white square set inflexibly into the page layout to the ability to define parts is reminiscent of reading a book. However, the more I played around in Scalar, the more I fell in love with the ability to pull in media in various ways on the page and to connect readers to externals sites. I decided to combine those two insights into the page design I've used here, a folio look with media, much of it created with digital tools, on the left (half) "page" and words on the right (half) "page." I have tried to strike a balance between pulling content in, and driving the reader out into the internet where I found the information for this project.
The ability to embed the output of various digital humanities tools worked beautifully in Scalar. Most significantly, I realized that I could create a temporal and spatial visualization using TimeMapper and embed that as an another navigation aid for the reader.
The feedback from people on Twitter proved invaluable as well. As I got close to the end, Shane Landrum suggested repurposing the menu to give the reader some basic guideposts. I created links to the "book ends" the start and finish of the project, as well as to the TimeMapper.
By Maggie Hobson-Baker, designer
Discussion of "Reflections on Working Scalar"
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