Projects as a Scholarly Genre: Readings 1-3 for 2/24

What exactly is a project? By most business standards today, it could be seen as any sort of plan or operation enacted to achieve a specific aim. For scholars, however, the answer becomes much more involved.

For example, the authors of Digital_Humanities outline how the field of Digital Humanities fits within the broader scholarly work of people in the humanities. The excerpt works through various sets of questions aimed at dispelling typical misconceptions about digital humanities. This spans from fundamental questions about the field, to questions about digital humanities projects, institutions, the evaluation of Digital Humanities work, methodology, outcomes, advocacy, and much more. Ultimately, this piece works to fit the work of academics in Digital Humanities within the more traditional scholarly field, going so far as to argue for the ways that Digital Humanities work builds upon the goals of most academics as a more successful option, for example, the use of post print tools in digital projects.

The other two primary readings work through a structured process that follows the creation and execution of a project, rather than answering questions. Daniel Brown’s Communicating Design focuses primarily on documentation, or specifically, deliverables, “a document created during the course of a web design project to facilitate communications, capture decisions, and stimulate innovation.”(1) In outlining the different types of necessary documentation that often remain an integral part of project creation and execution, Brown gives readers direct insight into the best practices for working on a web-based project. The book is exceptionally practical, carefully organized, and clearly written, making it easy to understand even for readers with little experience in the field of web design and/or web project creation.

By contrast, the IDEO’s “The Field Guide to Human Centered Design” offers some similar advice for project research, conception, and creation. However, it’s primary offering is more rooted in their self-defined philosophy of human centered design. By their definition, human centered design is “believing that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones like poverty, gender equality, and clean water, are solvable. Moreover, it means believing that the people who face those problems every day are the ones who hold the key to their answer.” (09) Furthermore, those who call themselves human-centered designers are “optimists and makers” who work by 7 mindsets: Empathy, Optimism, Iteration, Creative Confidence, Making, Embracing Ambiguity, and Learning from Failure (10).

The IDEO field guide offers a clear and well organized guide for project processes, from initial inspiration and research, to ideation, iteration, and implementation. In some places, their philosophy seems very centered in the suggested practices (see: the importance of interviewing and immersion to the inspiration process, emphasis on iteration and fast prototyping to allow many rounds of feedback ). However, in others I personally cannot help but feel the advice feels more like your typical workplace project policies than something specifically “human centered” (see: synthesis of ideas through insight statements/how might we statements, integration of feedback, road mapping for implementation of a project).

Ultimately, the contrast of Brown’s book and the IDEO guide had me questioning: how important is it that we, as public historians or those involved in digital history, root our work in a broader philosophy or outlook? Brown and the Digitial_Humanities authors offer us a set of protocols for project creation that offer professionals a guide to prove their work as thorough and legitimate. The act of thorough research, peer review, etc. is what qualifies one’s work to be defined as a successful project based on the concepts laid out in their books. However, for IDEO, it also seems essential that members on their team ascribe to their philosophy to be part of a human-centered design process.

In the future, do you think it would be valuable, or even necessary, to have your team decide on a communal philosophy for project goals, actions, and execution? Or rather, do members only need to agree on a standard of work, as set in Brown’s book? Looking forward to your thoughts on this question and many others below and in class this week!

2 Replies to “Projects as a Scholarly Genre: Readings 1-3 for 2/24”

  1. Hi Sajel– In response to your questions, I think it is absolutely necessary for teams to be on the same page for communal philosophies on project goals, actions, and execution. Otherwise, I wonder if it would be very difficult for a team to achieve a unified project at the end. Without a communal philosophy, different aspects of the projects could become disconnected or pieces of a puzzle that don’t fit together. Digital projects, whether in humanities or otherwise, should have a unified feel, in my opinion. The end result is much more polished and professional.

  2. Sajel, your questions made me think about our practicum projects this semester. We have been tasked with crafting a big idea–a communal philosophy if you will and I think that has been a very useful guiding principle in our work so far. As we are working on our projects, the human centered design concepts are ideas we should keep in the back of our minds. I know many of the projects are working with specific communities and should be designed with them in mind. As a broad question to the class, how can you implement the 7 concepts into your practicum?

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