Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Memory Palace, V&A

Memory Palace is a curatorial experiment by Laurie Britton Newell and Ligaya Salazar. They commissioned London author Hari Hunzru to write an original short story that would be interpreted by 20 illustrators and designers, and presented as an ‘immersive narrative experience situated in a gallery in the Victoria and Albert Museum ... a walk-in book.’ The idea of an ‘immersive’ narrative that exists in space rather than on a screen peaks my interest. From a designer/illustrator’s perspective, this is an exciting curatorial model – although the designer/illustrator is not directly involved at the start of the process, by briefing a writer to compose an original narrative that will be visually interpreted, the importance of the visual communication is foregrounded. It is a creative process more familiar to children's books or comics that literary fiction, and an interesting shift toward a more collaborative practice to produce hybrid fiction.

My annotated room sheet

In a nutshell, Hunzru wrote a dystopian future in which a magnetic storm wipes out all digital technology. Due to our current dependence on this technology to record and store information, ‘memory’ ceases to exist, human knowledge is lost. Chaos ensues. A fascist regime outlaw recording, writing, art and collecting anything at all, hoping to push the human race back to a purely animal existence – a future anticipated by the term ‘The Wilding’. The imprisoned narrator is part of an underground sect, or ‘internet’ – the story is filled with often amusing misinterpretations of contemporary places, things and concepts. Known as the Memorialists, this sect have revived the lost ‘art of memory’ and strive to remember as much as they can of the past as a form of resistance. The narrator does his part to fight the regime by transforming his cell into a ‘memory palace’, a mnemonic technique in which you visualise a building/space and place the things you need to remember as ‘objects’ within that space. Before he is executed, he passes the information from his memory palace to a resistance spy, who will pass it on to other members of the sect.

The 20 designer/illustrators were each assigned a passage of the text and briefed to respond to it ‘freely’, incorporating as much or as little of the writing as they wanted. However the curators paired passages with practitioners carefully. For example, as designers of information graphics, Francesco Franchi and Stefanie Posavec were each assigned passages that establish the complex context of the fictional world, whereas passages heavy with dialogue were assigned to illustrators with backgrounds in graphic novels and children’s books.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Praxis and Poetics – Day 1

The Praxis and Poetics: Research Through Design conference held in Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead, UK, September 3-5 2013. The conference format was unconventional it placed emphasis on  practitioner research, by inviting participants to submit a short paper (4 pages) accompanied by a design object that forms part of their research practice. The inclusion of the design objects, rather than a standard 'long paper' format, convinced me to make the epic journey from Sydney in the middle of a teaching semester. Previous design conferences I've attended and in conference proceedings I've read, the limitation on images/video of the design research process and final design objects always strikes me as an insufficient way to articulate a research practice that involves making – these more traditional conference and publishing models are geared toward theoretical research where a few images may suffice, but explaining practitioner research requires more showing as part of the telling. The research objects were installed as an exhibition at the conference venue, available for viewing (and touching/listening/interacting with) throughout the conference. Jayne Wallace and Joyce Yee's introduction states: 
As designers, practitioners and researchers the things that we make and the practice by which we do so is central to what we do and who we are. […] Through placing an exhibition at the heart of the conference we aim to bring the materiality of the physical artefacts and media that we produce to the fore in the conference forum.
Exhibited were an eclectic collection of artefacts – 3D printing was ever present, as were garment with sections resembling architectural skins. I found many of the objects indecipherable beyond an aesthetic level without context – hearing about the research or processes they were a product of. For me, the design objects were most valuable as a retrospective reflective tool. Being able to touch and interact with the things allowed me to better understand the design process and outcome.

Below are more general reflections, followed by responses to specific presentations. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

The Literary Platform: working with books and technology

Sophie Rochester founded online magazine The Literary Platform in 2009, to report on ‘current thinking about books and technology and innovative projects that blend the two.’  The site is a treasure trove of projects – apps, digital publications, games and websites with a literary slant.

Alongside the magazine, Sophie formed a consultancy business, attracting a collection of like-minded folk with publishing backgrounds. TLP Collective work with: clients on digital publishing projects (publishers, developers, literary organisations and festivals); academic institutions and other organisations to research and run workshops around the impact of technology on writing and publishing (including Bath Spa University, Goldsmiths, Bournemouth, UEA and LCC, Faber&Faber, Random House, National Literacy Trust), and; on their own creative projects with funding from the Arts Council England and NALD.

A couple of their projects that resonate with my current research are:

Library 21, a 3-month research collaboration with The Reading Agency, funding by Art Council England, testing a proposition for in-library access to a variety of digital reading and reading-related content. More broadly, this project examines ways a physical public library can meet the changing needs of readers visiting the site. Although not designers, the research conducted in this project could be framed a model for how creative research (practitioner research, design research) could be valuable in a consultancy/service design capacity.  I'm eager to read the report, which will be publicly released in the near future.

The FutureBook Innovation Workshop has run as a half-day annually for three years, attracting around 100 people in 2013 as part of the Digtial Shoreditch festival. From the website, it seems as though the kinds of projects that appear in the Literary Platform magazine are presented live, by the creators. This kind of conference/seminar/workshop is what I’d love to coordinate as a Sydney Writers’ Festival (or similar) event. Opening dialogue between the publishing industry and researchers in universities or in parallel industries (gaming, web development, film, etc) doesn’t appear in a format like this that I am aware of in Sydney.

In a nutshell, they have my dream job (if you throw in some designing).

I was fortunate that Sophie and Joanna Ellis could give me an hour or so of their time during my too brief UK trip. The Collective work from a small space in Shoreditch, an area known for its tight clustering of digital design, programming and consultancies as 'Tech City' or with English humour, the 'Silicone Roundabout'. Sophie and Jo are engaged and engaging, we had a great conversation. It’s heartening to find people with fingers on the pulse in this area, though selfishly, also a relief to find they are working excessively hard and still feeling their way forward. This is uncertain territory, which also makes it fertile ground for creative research, and forging links between research and future practice. TLP Collective sit outside specific publishing houses, cultural institutions, or universities. This distance allows them to bridge the gap between current publishing practice and what it might be. Considering this a model for the Page Screen Studio, I left invigorated and confident I’m on the right track. We discussed collaborating in the future, initially the potential for an interview about Page Screen and for me to write up interesting projects for the magazine, and seconding finding a way to get Jo to Australia as part of a festival/event.


Street Museum and Soho Stories

While in London, I tested a couple of locative apps to get my head around ways archival material from the State Library could be published/made available off site – beyond the physical library and the online catalogue. There are too many locative apps to bother mentioning, I chose Streetmuseum and Soho Stories because these two treat archival material in a manner that seems relevant to the Visible Library project.

Museum of London's Streetmuseum app

Produced by the Museum of London, in collaboration with agency Brothers and Sisters, Streetmuseum allows users to "bring the past into the present" by superimposing historical photographs, postcards and paintings from the Museum's image archive onto present day London street scenes, using a smartphone. The app's interface is 'live', using Augmented Reality and Location-Based Services to direct users to nearby historical/cultural sites, where the user holds a smartphone up to a particular view and images from the Museum can be viewed in situ.

Screen grab from Brothers and Sister's YouTube clip.
The app has been downloaded over 350,000 times and is reported to have generated over £1.4m of PR coverage and tripled footfall to the museum. These stats suggest this is a profitable collaboration between the Museum and a design/development agency. According to Vicky Lee, marketing director of the Museum:
The partnership was mutually beneficial, generating media coverage for both parties and new business leads for the agency. Using images from the Museum’s collections meant that all the content was readily available so this kept costs down. Licensing agreements on certain images made it complicated to charge for the app, however it was always our intention to launch this free in order to reach the widest possible audience.
Directly outside my apartment, a red dot pops up to show Tolmer's Square is covered by the app. I wander into the square, following the street signs.

According to the blue dot (which is supposed to be me), I am not in the correct location. I keep walking, watching the blue dot lag and jump around the red dot. I do a full circuit of the block, walking painfully slowly through the square twice without seeing the red and blue dots align. This is not the rambling process of discovery and enlightenment I'd hoped for. When technology doesn't deliver immediately on a simple promise, my patience is short.  Frustrated, I give up and don't use the app again. The potential pros associated with this technology working 'live on site' are outweighed by the frustration of the technology not working reliably.
The demand for instant gratification is an important consideration for cultural institutions investing time and money in apps and other interactive media as a way of accessing and promoting their collections. It only has to fail once, or partially not work, to alienate the user.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Uncanny objects in Tasmania

Before heading home, I stop by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Newly renovated and reopened mid-March 2013, it's designed to embrace the tension between 'old and new', extending MONA's mission onto the mainland. I anticipate a brief meander, but find myself transfixed for three hours, leaving to avoid missing my flight.

I am first struck by the lightness of the unavoidable stuffed animal room. This is generally a favourite stop of mine at any museum, but the high ceilings, unusually light filled space and eclectic mix of creatures with supporting material make this one particularly delightful. The enamel coated mushrooms and 'how to' model of a bird mid-taxidermy (above) are examples of what I mean by 'supporting material'. The mushrooms in particular are beautifully crafted objects – precious, hyperreal and slightly other-wordly among naturalistic tree branches and stuffed birds. They remind me of installations from the Museumaker project (2009-11), in which museums across England were partnered with makers/craftspeople to "unlock the creative potential of museum collections ... to achieve long-term sustainable change in the way the historical is bout to life by the contemporary." (Council of the Arts website) In particular, Clare Twomey's installation of 3000 black ceramic butterflies, swarming over the walls, ceilings and other surfaces of Brighton's Royal Pavilion. The subtle juxtaposition of old and new is uncanny. It prompts me to look more closely – something's not right, but it's not immediately obvious. In this instance, it's simply the materiality of the mushrooms. The intense hue and soft shine of the enamel is subtly jarring in the glass-boxed world. I love it.

As I move further into the space, more uncanny juxtapositions arrest me. On the top floor, an the open balcony runs around the stairwell. The walls hold large glass cases, 3-4 meters high, each displaying collection of objects: Staffordshire ornaments, makers unknown, 1830-1900; maps of Tasmania (on souvenirs and packaging) 1900s; spears, clubs and arrows from the pacific region, makers unknown 1800s; Chinese artefacts from the Wongs collection, Tang Dynasty 618-907. Walking the circumference, I am transported across space and time. It is a fascinating snapshot of the collection. One case stops me.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

On Loving and Hating at MONA

As part of my current research collaboration with SLNSW, I visited the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania last weekend, to see The Red Queen exhibition and test the much-hyped 'O' app. Instead of wall labels, MONA has 'The O' – a smart device (iPod) with an inbuilt app that provides text, photographs, audio and video material related to each work. The O uses locative/positioning technology to sense nearby artworks. The user identifies the artwork by thumbnail image on the device and chooses to read/view/listen to as much or little information relating to the work as they like. The MONA website explains:
We don't have labels on the wall. We have the O. Use it to read about the art on display and to listen to interviews with the artists. It's free. Get one from the information desk as you enter the museum and return it as you leave.
The O delivers information in a way that enhances the visitor's experience of the gallery, facilitating access to engaging multimedia via a highly usable interface. It is the first system in the world designed to replace traditional artwork wall labels.

Screenshot of 'THE O' taken from

If you enter an email address The O saves your tour as you go – it remembers each artwork you view (based on what you click on the device) in the order you viewed it, and records your 'loves' and 'hates' (more on this later). A link to this data is emailed to you the following day, accessible from any computer with internet access. The result is a personalised catalogue of the exhibition as you experienced it, including access to the written and audio-visual "interpretive material", for no additional cost and with unlimited re-views You can also access information about the artworks you missed, or didn't click on at the time.

The team who developed The O for MONA have since formed the company Art Processors, to market the system – called the 'Enso Platform' – for other museums and galleries. This platform was used to create the Curio app at the SLNSW. Therefore, the purpose of my visit was to record my experience using The O on site at MONA, to reflect on ways the Curio app might be used at the Library. I took extensive notes in my journal, which I've transcribed below.

I arrived on the MONA ROMA ferry, sitting on a sheep.
Pulling into the island, sandstone wall, the couch I chose.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Hybrid exegesis / Avian Titled Literature


Last year, Kate Sweetapple and I created an installation for the UTS Library. We suspended 30 altered books in a 'flock' down the Library's central stairwell. Each book represents a novels with a bird in its title – One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Flaubert's Parrot, Love Amongst the Chickens, The Eagle Has Landed, etc. To give the work context, we designed ten posters that were mounted on the stairwell wall. One poster is a Book Spotter's Guide to Avian Titled Literature; it lists the title, author and call number of each book in the flock, so library patrons can find the book on the shelves. The other posters are quotations taken from nine of the books – each poster displays a passage from the book where the titular bird is mentioned. These poster give a taste of the narrative prose of each book, and demonstrate how differently the way the birds are referenced in each book. We hope the posters will inspire patrons to check out the novels in the library, to remember that libraries are a space for search and discovery.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Books Still? Week 2

A cut-up I started in 2011 and have not yet finished.

Three workshop exercises to get us thinking about reading, and designing for readers:

1. Dictionary page cut-up:
Take the two dictionary entries provided, cut all the words out and rearrange them to create a new entry. Use all of the words and punctuation marks. Layout and paste down the new entry onto an A5 page, considering the page composition (positive and negative space, how the arrangement of elements affects the pace of reading).
Further resources:
  • Tristram Tzara's Dada Manifesto, particularly instructions on making a Dadaist Poem.
  • Jeff Noon's manifesto 'How to make a modern novel', published in The Guardian, arguing that writers should borrow techniques of film makers and musicians: jump cuts, freeze frames, slow motion, remix, scratch, sample.
  • Graham Rawle Woman’s World, (shown in class) particularly the 'making of' with annotated pictures of process, including experiments he didn't use in the final work.

Books Still? Week 1: brief and tap-essays

Since 1975, the International Society of Typographic Designers has run an annual Student Assessment competition, with a series of set briefs. This year, I'm teaching a 3rd year Visual Communication project based on the 2013 'Books Still?' brief, which proposes:
Working with content that you have selected you are asked to develop an editorial design project that considers how we read in the 21st century. Choose a format that is appropriate for your subject matter and your target market. It could be a high quality printed publication, a screen-based interpretation or a combination of these. Current developments in publishing should be considered such as printed books, apps, ‘Print on Demand’ (PoD) hypertext links in digital formats … .

Possible content could include genre publishing such as crime, literary fiction, Illustrated books, thriller, science fiction, film, history, classic novels, short stories, or your project could move beyond book design into the broader arena of editorial design to include journals, newsletters, newspaper supplements.
I have restricted my students to working with non-fiction, and set three text options to choose from: a series of recipes from Mark Crick's Kafka's Soup: A complete history of World Literature in 14 Recipes; an excerpt from 'The Art of Fiction No. 36', an interview with William S. Burroughs by Conrad Knickerbocker for The Paris Review; an excerpt from Gabrielle Carey's forthcoming book Young Man of Dangerous Tendencies

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Interactive book covers

In November last year I posted about the possibility of designing digital book covers using animated gifs, as a way to address issues associated with thumbnail-size covers on Amazon and other online book sellers, where consumers increasingly browse books. This morning, a post on Design Week describes an 'interactive book cover' for A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Published by Canongate, art director Rafi Romaya collaborated with creative agency Big Active. The book is being released simultaneously as an ebook, audio download, hardback and paperback. The 'interactive' aspect of the physical book cover involves Blippar technology (augmented reality) – using the camera on a smart phone/tablet, you can link to audio/visual material, via the Blippar app. Canongate and Blippar are touting this as the first time the technology has been used for a "fully interactive book cover". View a demonstration of how to 'blip' the interactive jacket here and find out more about Blippar here. My first and admittedly pedantic reaction is that the book cover is not "fully interactive". The smart device is the interactive bit, the book is just a book. There is a sticker you can peel off, which is technically an interactive element. The interactivity you reach, via smart device or the website, is a very short animation (around 15 seconds) – it's slickly produced and rich in imagery, but resembles a Adobe tutorial exercise in layering – and  links to additional material (paratexts) – author interviews, and social media conversations (this appears to be a Facebook page where members will be part of a virtual book group). It feels to me like smoother version of a QR code-reader (Wikipedia definition, if this is foreign to you). Although I find this fascinating as a case study for future publishing models, it also leaves me uneasy.

The Design Week article quotes Cate Cannon, head of marketing at Canongate, describing this publishing model as an exercise in branding:
‘The animation and design translates across our digital outdoor advertising, our website and all our editions, creating a brand identity for this novel that is enriching, engaging and progressive.’
Screen grab from Canongate website.

 Above is the suite of formats the book comes in. I got to this page by clicking the FREE EBOOK button. You can get a free ebook, as long as you buy the physical book. The copy reads:
Do you ever think that you'd love to just buy a book once, but be able to read it in paperback in the bath, or put the hardback lovingly onto your bookcase, or pick up where you left off on your Kindle on the tube? This bundle is a tiny step in that direction. The hardback is a thing of much beauty – a spineless wonder that lies flat whilst you read it, with a peelable red sticker on the front and stunningly designed end papers that reveal more of the hidden front artwork. The eBook means you don't have to lug it away from home. Our offer gives a free eBook plus £5 off the original hardback RRP, at a special bundle price of £15.00.
Yes, I do love to buy a book once, but I also just want one book. This many options seems unnecessary for a novel. If this was a reference book, or a publication with audio-visual content, or a stack of extra images/material accessible in the digital format, I can see the value of multiple versions. Romaya (art director) is quoted by Design Week: ‘The multiple format release model recalled the experimentation which has taken place in the music industry in recent years, while publishing is working through equivalent changes.’ For me, the difference between having music accessible in different places is different to having a book accessible in different places. I can do other things while I listen to music. When I read, especially a novel or other long form work, I have to focus. If I was engrossed reading the physical book but had to rush to work, would I continue reading on a tablet on my commute to work, then return to the physical book when I came home? Would jumping between the print edition and a tablet edition affect my experience of the story? It obviously affects my physical experience of reading – tangible sensations of handling the page/screen, the way light is reflected into my eye, the weight of the object, the bulk of the object. But would it affect the way I engage with the work, in the same way I engage with a film differently when I see it in the cinema or at home on a dvd?

But the unease I feel is more than my resistance to reading long texts on screen, or mild anxiety that there is already so much STUFF in my life, do I want to receive five versions of everything I buy? It also has to do with the 'brandification' of books. I'm aware that this seems hypocritical, coming from a book designer. Obviously, I think covers are an important marketing tool. When a cover is effective, it attracts readers by communicating something of the context of a book – what kind of book it is, where it sits in the market, but an effective cover also reflects the world of the book – it evokes a sense of the narrative and writing style. To me, a book cover is about more than creating a brand for a book, it's about being respectful of the content. You can't judge a book by it's cover, but you also can't judge a cover unless you know something of the book. So without having read A Tale For the Time Being, I can't pass judgement on the cover or animation in relation to how well they evoke the world of the book, or position it in the market. There is no element of the design I object to. But there is something, that I am struggling terribly to articulate, that leaves me uneasy about this. And it comes back to the problem at the center of my doctoral thesis: this feels like a gimmick. If I had bought this book, followed the process of 'blipping' the cover (which for me, would include downloading the app) and ended up at the website with a 15 second animation, an interview with the author, and a link to a Facebook page, I would be disappointed, and possibly angry. There is an awful lot of fanfare, for very little payoff.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Faraway Cutouts

Inspired by Sandra Kaji-O'Grady's 2007 exhibition 'Cuts and Scores' in the DABLAB Gallery at UTS, I ordered a few pianola rolls from eBay. Sandra's exhibition blurb describes her work as: "new compositions that explore the relationships between musical systems, spatial order and chromatics through strips of colour meticulously interwoven with old pianola rolls." My interest was less in musical systems or colour and more in threading strip of written text through the roll to create cut up poems. At the time, I'd been cutting out chapter headings from a book Triumphs in Bird-Life while collaging into the book (it's an unillustrated volume, I was adding some birds), and thought they'd make a great piece on their own:

Chapter headings cut out of Triumphs in Bird-Life

Turns out these text fragments are too small to fit into the pianola roll, but I liked the idea and started playing with text from other books. Then I did nothing for a couple of years, until a friend commissioned an artwork as a Christmas present for her partner, whose favourite childhood book was The Magic Faraway Tree. I found a copy in a second hand book store and got cutting. I didn't mean for it to become smutty – but I'm not convinced Enid Blyton was as surprised as I:

To the left is the full artwork, framed.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

On Reading

For some time, I've been confused about what I love and what I fear. I thought I loved books, but what I actually love is the experience of reading. I thought I feared the 'end of print', but what I actually fear is the end of reading in a way that is private, insightful, and mine to own.

My confusion has been in mistaking the thing – the printed book – for the experience it makes possible. It's easy to become distracted by the tactile pleasure of paper stock, the subtle smell of ink on a page, the familiarity that develops with my copy of a favourite book and other fetishes common to bibliophiles. These material concerns are important because they add a sensory dimension to the reading experience, but they're not the heart of the matter. As a publication designer, material and graphic elements are my concern – presenting an author's work in a readable form. In my professional work I focus on designing the tangible thing, but I am always mindful of the purpose thing in the first place: to communicate to readers – preferably, in an evocative and meaningful way.

What I love about books as objects is the anticipation of what's within. I was drawn to book design because I wanted to make beautiful things, but also because I wanted to work with great content. What's most important to me – as a designer and educator – is design that responds to the needs of the reader. I own an impressive collection of beautiful books, but I don't love any of them unless the content takes me beyond the surface of the book and to the world within. This is not to say that book design is meaningless or superfluous. But the surface of a book is such a transient part of it. This goes some way to explaining why I shifted from commercial design to academia – a desire to be involved in developing the content as well as designing its material incarnation.

Coral alphabet

I took some time off in early December for an unplugged week in Fiji (no phone, no internet). With little else to do but wander on the beach, I accidentally found an alphabet of coral pieces. Except a Z.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Digital Serials – a new space for illustration?

Amazon Publishing has introduced Kindle Serials, a format for publishing original content (previously unpublished work) in episodes. From the site:
"Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes. When you buy a Kindle Serial, you will receive all existing episodes on your Kindle immediately, followed by future episodes as they are published at no additional cost. Enjoy reading as the author creates the story, and discuss episodes with other readers in the Kindle forums."
They aim to have 15 titles published by the end of the year. Arthur Kelbanoff reports that Amazon Publishing is also releasing previously unpublished work by deceased authors, starting with Kurt Vonnegut. A collection of six short stories and an unpublished essay titled 'Sucker's Portfolio' is priced at $2.99. As soon as I finishing typing this, I'm buying it.

In the 17 and 1800s novels were published as serialised 'pamphlets', usually in volumes of three. Illustrations were commissioned by the publisher, to display in bookseller's windows, advertising the new installments – see the illustrations of William Hogarth, George Cruikshank and William Thackeray. These illustrations often made it into complete edition of these novels – as frontispiece illustrations or illustrated plates scattered in the text. Perhaps this is an opportunity for illustrators to work with literary fiction, reinventing the tradition.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Animated gifs for digital book covers

I chaired a Sydney Writers’ Festival panel this year on book cover design. Stephen Banham (founder of Melbourne design studio Letterbox) described designing the cover for his latest book Characters so it was graphically bold, and easily recognisable where most people will buy it – online. Below is a screenshot of the book at icon size from Banham's site, and a larger image taken from imprint magazine's review of the book:

What appeals most is that holding the book object, or at least seeing a larger screen version, the slight misalignment and texture from the printing is revealed – an element of delight still awaits the viewer of the printed book.

I've been in conversation with a UTS colleague Chris Caines about the potential of using animated gifs as digital book covers. Current eBook software seems to skip the option to develop a 'cover' and take readers straight to a title page with the title and author appearing as text on a blank or flat colour background. Digital platforms (whether it's a digital book store viewed via computer or an app 'library' on a tablet) could easily offer what great book covers achieve so well – an evocative and engaging image that sets the mood and tone of the book. I'm not advocating a noisy and visually complex animation attached to every ebook. But there is space for play – to experiment with how visual language could draw a reader to a book, and add to the mood/tone of the work as a whole – again, this is what great book design does.

The Waste Land for iPad

As screen technologies advance, the possibilities for publication design expand. In particular, publications for digital tablets are changing the way information is organised and presented as a ‘text.’ An innovative example is an edition of T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ for the iPad, produced by Touch Press in 2011. The edition takes a primary text – the full poem – and presents it simply: classically typeset in a continuous scroll, with a basic menu to navigate the poem’s five parts. However, the primary text is packaged with an archive of paratexts: snippets of video commentary show writers, actors, theatre directors, musicians, academics and publishers discussing Eliot’s life and work; a highly produced performance of the poem, filmed specially for this edition; readings by famous actors, poets and Eliot himself in 1933 and 1944; a facsimile of Eliot’s original manuscript, hand-edited by Ezra Pound; and a gallery of photographs and other images with annotations relating them to the poem. The reader can dip into this readily accessible archive of paratexts to elaborate the poem, in a variety of ways. Rather than trying to replicate the feeling of a print book, this publication offers moving image, audio and images that enhances and extends the original poem.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Future of newspapers, reading online,

As I get my head back into a focused research space, articles and other things I'm reading keep triggering me to write. I tapped out the following on my iPad in response to an article in the weekend paper – as I start writing, the response to the article leads to clarity in what I'm thinking about more broadly. I started blogging again to encourage this free writing process.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Elaborate books: research presentation

In October, all full time staff in the Faculty of Design and Architecture presented current research projects in a one day symposium. My presentation was titled 'Elaborate Books: alternate approaches to disseminating design research', the abstract follows:

Research Question / Area
How could emerging formats (ePublications, apps, hybrid books, enhanced archives, print/digital hybrid editions) be used to disseminate design research?

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Great eBook Debate

The site was set up to relaunch Isobelle Carmody’s popular but out of print novel Greylands as an eBook. The site hosts events and a wealth of content, but is only live for a month. One section is ‘The Great eBook Debate’, where each day in the month a guest librarian, writer or scholar is invited to post about an issue or topic related to ebooks and libraries. Conversations through the comments streams are encouraged, and lively. There are some great summaries of the issues libraries face from the candid perspective of librarians and scholars, using layperson language.

NLA’s Academic Librarian Rebecca Kemble (‘Ebooks and Libraries’ posted 19 July 2012) describes the ‘popular certainty’ that the internet would lead to the death of the physical library as a fallacy similar to the idea of the ‘paperless office’.  She also explains the requirements of Legal Deposit – basically publishers and self publishing authors have to deposit a copy of any print work published in Australia with the NLA, and they are currently campaigning to have the terms of Legal Deposit altered to include electronic materials.

Of the launch site itself, this is an interesting paratext that is designed to draw readers in to the primary text (the eBook itself) through a range of discussion and extra material. Like a literary Happy Meal. Carmody says:
“It was always one of my personal favourites among the books I have written, for reasons you will discover here, as the days pass, but it was out of print. Now books have always gone out of print and authors have always accepted they must, unless they rose into the heavens as classics. But in this brave new world of eBooks, there is no longer any need for any book to g out of print. Cyberspace is the library of the infinite.”

Monday, 26 April 2010

Thesis available to download

My thesis is now available to download as a (rather large) PDF here.

Feedback would be great, but no grammar or spelling mistakes please (unless you're prepared to publish the thing). Best of luck to those still in the process – life is unimaginably better on the other side.

Friday, 18 September 2009

What does a design thesis look like?

A few people have asked me whether my thesis has 'pictures' in it. Above are two double page spreads to show how I've used images. The top spread shows how they are used as 'quotations' – these are scanned in pages from Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Other images are from my process work – this bottom spread is from the appendix in which I describe the 'Sundays' exhibition I produced (to think through semiotic language).

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The end is here

I have three copies of the final thesis sitting next to me, and am just waiting for the person whose desk I have to drop them on to arrive. Thank you to all who gave me feedback and encouragement through this blog – it has been an invaluable tool for my research, and I can't recommend using a blog in this way highly enough.

As sanity slowly seeps back in and I realise what I have just accomplished, I leave those of you in the process of completing a thesis with some comments you should be prepared for in the final stages of writing, to avoid a sociopathic outburst:

Haven't you finished yet?
Calm down, they're probably trying to make a joke.

70,000 words ... how do you keep that interesting?
There is no response to this, and we both know why.

The look that accompanies how's it all going?
On part fear you will start to cry, three parts fear you will actually try to explain it. I'd like to point out I wasn't reduced to tears, but I'm pretty sure I bored a couple of people to death a couple of Saturdays ago. Sorry about that.

You look REALLY tired.
I've never understood why it's not ok to tell people when they look fat, but it's fine to tell them that they look awful. Nevertheless, it's probably true, so just try to smile so they don't think you look awful and you're miserable.

Right, the person has arrived, I'm off to submit, then sleep and drink, whichever happens first.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Thesis brain

I bumped into my friend Tobias who described feeling, in the final stage of his thesis last year, like one part of his brain got bigger to finish the thing, and so the other part had to get smaller. Yes. What he said.

Monday, 3 August 2009

analysis – critique

It's been two months since my last post, in which time I've been working like a dog to get the thesis finished. I'm aiming to submit on the 31st of August, and using the logic a friend once used to travel to India – if I tell everyone I'm doing it, I'll have to follow through because repeatedly explaining why I'm not there is more hassle than just doing it (thanks, Drew).

One fairly major distinction I still need to clarify, and I'd love some feedback, is the distinction between analysis and critique. At the moment, I'm rolling with the idea that analysis is the process of breaking something apart to see how it works (taking a graphic device, like a photograph, and examining it as an image, but also a device in the context of the novel), whereas critique is making an evaluation of the effectiveness of the device. My issue is this – is critique an intrinsic part of analysis? Maybe, rather than critique, I really mean the articulation of critique ... but is that just a more complicated way of saying critique?

Again, any help here would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

On Reading Graphic Novels (differently)

I stumbled across this blog post by Rick Kleffel this morning, I don't have time to comment on it properly, but it's a great essay on the differences between reading conventional and graphic novels, and the author's hesitation to move from the familiarity of text boxes to the relative chaos of comic format:
But damn it, it's the words and pictures that threw me at first, even when I wanted, I really wanted to read them. You see, as I pick up a graphic novel to read, I'd just speed through the words and glance at the pictures, applying the same reading sensibility to the graphic novel that I did to the typeset novel. That style of reading renders the graphic novel into an annoyingly vapid and underwhelming reading experience. The pictures then lack the fullness of illustrations and the words lack the richness of a novel. The experience won’t gel correctly if you read graphic novels like novels.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Rief Larsen's lost images

Rief Larsen's new release, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, includes drawings, diagrams and graphs, attributed to the narrator and protagonist (T.S. Spivet, a twelve-year-old genius cartographer) and produced by Larsen. I haven't got my hands on a copy yet, so I can't comment on the success of the integration, but of great interest is that on, Larsen discusses his motivation for integrating the graphic elements:
"I initially wrote a draft of The Selected Works without any accompanying illustrations. After reaching the end, I still had that tingly feeling that usually means something is missing, and so I thought about it for awhile and realized that in order to really understand T.S., we actually need to see his drawings laid out on the page. T.S. was most comfortable in the exploding diagram or the annotation or the bitchin’ bar graph; this marginal material was where he would often let down his guard and reveal something he wouldn’t otherwise in the main text."
Larsen also provides an annotated list of "lost images" – graphic elements he produced but decided against including, with reasons why. A film director is allowed, in 'special features' additions to DVDs, to include 'lost scenes' for the dedicated to access, why not the novelist?

NOTE: I got a copy and I had to take it to my parents house so I didn't start reading it (NO reading, only writing) because it's a beautiful thing. I can't wait.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008


Here's the link to an interview I did a while ago over email - I was surprisingly articulate (and characteristically belligerent). Again, I still don't quite understand how I can write an articulate email but not type an articulate paragraph in a word document:

Friday, 22 August 2008

Tips from Dunleavy

"Authoring and thinking go together. You will very rarely work out what you think first, and then just write it down. Normally the act of committing words to screen (or pen and paper) will make an important contribution to your working out what it is that you do think. In other words, the act of writing may often be constitutive of your thinking. Left to ourselves we can all of us keep conflicting ideas in play almost indefinitely" (26)

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

State of Play

So the writing was going well, and I was giving myself smug pats on the back for having produced about 45,000 words (which I knew needed heavy editing, but stuff was being committed to paper). Then I stopped, took a step back and realised my argument didn't work. In fact, I was making about four arguments, and slipping in and out of all of them in different chapters. My chapter outline looked so neat and achievable on a digital A3 diagram, but when I started writing, it went horribly pear shaped. I knew it, but it took me months to accept it. As a smart man used to comment when I was labouring over piece of awful artwork: "there's no use flogging a dead horse."

So. I had a little cry, raged about a bit, drank a lot of wine and now I'm ready to start over. As Kate suggests, a metaphor is a helpful way to understand the bigger picture. And so it goes like this:

I'm standing in a fully stocked kitchen, but I don't know what I want to cook. Cooking by putting everything I like into one pot will not produce an edible meal. The ingredients have to be selected because they 'work' together. Once I decide what I want to make, there will be a lot of unused ingredients, but that's ok, I can use them to make something else later. (Or they might go off and I'll just have to throw them out). Everything I need is here, I just have to choose a recipe.

As I was staring at my keyboard and thinking it's ok, it's ok, it's ok, the computer spoke to me ... surely I can't be the first person restarting a writing project who has noticed these keys, telling me what to do:
Either that, or this is the point the psychologists will flag as when I "crossed the line".

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

the value of practitioner-researchers

Reviewing Jobling and Crowley's Graphic Design: Reproduction & Representation Since 1800 (1996), Victor Margolin ends with this criticism:
They are too ready to sacrifice design at the altar of an all-consuming capitalism, unlike Twyman, Meggs, and Hollis, who, as practitioners, convey in their writings a passion for graphic communication that is missing here. There is no reason why we can’t have critical analysis and a passionate engagement with the material. But that is another project.
This sounds like an argument for practice led research to me.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Media, mode, materiality

I think I had a go at this before, but I'm going to do it again. One of the issues working across disciplines is defining terms. As mentioned previously, my main problem is the word 'image': to a novelist, an image is created in the mind of the reader; to a designer, an image is an original artwork or reproduction of that artwork (where artwork could mean photograph, drawing, digital image, etc). Media, medium and materiality pose similar problems, but this time from art and communication theory. The media could mean the press, it could refer to paint or clay, it could distinguish between print or digital. Materiality could be form or it could be content. Ugly, I know.

Rather than trying to clarify this mess, I'm just going to state how I'm using the terms through an example.

1. An original pencil drawing on paper. The media is drawing (it is made by the act of drawing), the mode is visual (as opposed to verbal), the materiality is lead on paper (the surface it exists on, how we access it). It is a drawing.

2. When that original drawing is scanned, the media is now digital (it is made by pixel data), the mode is still visual, but the materiality is screen (pixels appear on the computer screen). It is a digitized drawing.

3. When that digital version of the original drawing is reproduced in a book, the media is now print (it is made by mechanical printing), mode is still visual, materiality is ink on paper. It is the reproduction of a drawing.

Anyway, the main point is that I can change the media or materiality and I still call it a drawing (though qualified with original, digital or reproduction). However, if I were to change the mode, and 'interpret' a drawing verbally or perhaps musically (ekphrasis), the it ceases to be a drawing and then becomes and interpretation of a drawing.

Does that make ANY sense? Maybe I have media and materiality mixed up? And is that actually faulty reasoning because the difference between a 'reproduction' of a drawing and an 'interpretation' of a drawing are not actually that different? I have a feeling like this is either quite important or absolutely irrelevant (which is a micro/macro feeling to the entire PhD).

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Timo's blog

As if to rub in how self-absorbed I've become in my own research, I only realised TODAY that Timo, my fellow PhD candidate and partner in Postgrad Room high-jinx (which mostly involves laughing at ourselves, each other and stuff on You Tube) has a blog he's been running for 18 months or so. Well worth a nose around.

Post-it of the week

Spelling it out isn't coming so easily (I've never been a good speller, ask my Mum) but the saying no thing is surprisingly liberating.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Pistols! Treason! Murder! (gimmicks)

I recently met Jon Walker – a research fellow in history at Sydney University – whose unconventional biography Pistols! Treason! Murder! The rise and fall of a master spy was published in Feb 2007 by Melbourne University Press. The book is described as a biography of both person and place: Gerolamo Vano, one of the original spy masters, and 17th Century Venice as a city of espionage. Of particular interest to me is the inclusion of "playful comic strips, transcripts of imaginary conversations and a bar-crawl around contemporary Venice." (from the book's blurb, as listed on Jon's website) Several papers given about the book have referred it as "a multimedia assassination". [what's the difference between multimedia and multi-modal?] Jon worked in collaboration with illustrator Dan Hallet to produce these graphic elements. The original manuscript included just four illustrations (which didn't end up in the final version – Jon decided they were not up to scratch) and his editor at MUP requested more of these. Jon scripted what was to go in the illustrations, and Dan produced them, sometimes closely following the brief and sometimes pushing it. In conversation, Jon discussed that the text editing process was rigorous, but although the illustrations and graphic elements were endorsed by the editor, they weren't actually edited - allowing the author (and illustrator) greater freedom of expression with these elements. Were the visual devices not edited because the editor didn't know how, or because they were seen as less meaningful?

By email, Jon also explained that although MUP were supportive of the non-written elements and never questioned the value of using four different typefaces, other editors/agents were not so supportive: "By contrast, conversations I've had with other editors and agents about the possibility of overseas editions are almost always prefaced with remarks like, 'I wish you'd done it as a 'proper' history book. We'd have to get rid of all the pictures and the weird typefaces ...'."

Jon's book was nominated for the NSW Premier's History Award in 2007 and was described as 'our first true work of punk-history'. However, it has also at times received the same criticism as the fictional works I'm looking at - that the typo/graphic elements are 'gimmicks':
"The book is not helped by a motley collection of gimmicks such as comic strips and imagined conversations between invented 'historians. It's all rather confusing, but perhaps that's what Walker intended?" Paul Collins in the Herald.
Referring to the non-written material, most online sources seem to do as I have done above - regurgitate the blurb text that the book includes "playful comics strips ...", word for word. My defense is that I haven't actually read the book yet, as soon as I do I'll update the post. Perhaps it could be overlooked as time saving (lazy writing), or perhaps – again – reviewers are unsure how to tackle a description of the function of these elements?

In an interview with UK magazine Computer Arts Dan Hallett [click on Dan's name to see portfolio of illustrations from Pistols!] describes the intended function of his illustrations: "I want my work to tell a story or stimulate a thought. It is all about communication, even if the message is not always specific."

Jon questions the conventions of historical research and writing through his work. The abstract to a 2003 article published in Rethinking History:
This article attempts to do a number of things: Firstly, it describes the assassination of a priest called Giulio Cazzari in Venice in 1622, using the reports of a spy named Gerolamo Vano as a principal source. It confronts the distance between the experience of death and the representation of death, and explores possible connections between our understanding of death and our understanding of time. It uses formal experimentation and deliberate anachronism (inspired by Futurist literature and photography and the graphic novels of Alan Moore) to dramatise these themes. It does not, however, contain any detailed discussion of seventeenth-century espionage or diplomatic culture, or much in the way of context. This omission is itself part of an implicit argument about the nature of historical knowledge: i.e. that a meditation upon time and death is a natural and appropriate subject for a historian and that archival documents can be used as raw material for such a discussion. Historians should have the courage to ask questions that have no answers (in other words, metaphysical questions). Rethinking History, Volume 7, Number 2, June 2003 , pp. 139-167(29)
Jon's next book project is an illustrated novel. Watch this space.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Exploiting Borrowed Emotion

...was an idea I picked up from one reviewer's description of the still from Casablanca at the end of The Raw Shark Texts. I've come across it again in a review of Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Too much in the middle of what I'm doing to store it anywhere else but here:
In a blurb to this book, Salman Rushdie writes: ‘Perhaps the highest praise I can give is to say it completely earns the right to take on the World Trade Centre atrocity. The powerful emotions generated feel deserved, not borrowed.’ Most of the time, I felt the opposite. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close offers, along with many local pleasures – Safran Foer is a writer of considerable brilliance – a narcissistic realism, in love with it own gimmickry. By the time you get to the end, and flip backwards through the pictures of the falling figure to restore the victim to the top of the skyscraper, as Oskar wishes, you may feel a good deal of the emotion has been borrowed and not quite deserved. Adams, T. 2005, ‘A nine-year-old and 9/11’, Guardian (Books), May 29
*note use of 'gimmickry' again

Idea of 'borrowing' emotion relates back to the postmodern idea of all texts being fragments of other texts - existing within the continuum of all literature (including film and other media) - we can't help making comparisons and drawing on our past experience to interpret the work at hand. Why not exploit that?

A review of Mysterious Flame (Umberto Eco) states:
In the Eco-ian universe, books aren’t merely stand-alone islands to be traversed in linear fashion; they are nodes in an exponentially expanding extranet. To read one book, you sometimes have to pass through several others, accumulating countless references and subtexts along the way. Ng, D. 2005, ‘Eco and the funnymen’, Village Voice, vol. 50, no. 27, pp. 32

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Vonnegut's doodles...

An essay by Peter Reed on Kurt Vonnegut's website ( ... reprinted from Volume 10, Issue No. 1 of the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, 1999 Florida Altantic University) says of the felt-tip pen drawings that appear scattered throughout several of Vonnegut's novels:
“the drawings earn their place in the novel, and must be seen as integral to it. Some make graphic the ludicrous disparities that often exist between words as signifiers and what it is they signify. Others simply function as embellishments or even punch lines of jokes. In their almost child-like simplicity of line they have a certain ironic propriety in a novel where the central event is an arts fair. Above all, they are part of-and draw attention to-the seemingly naive, even adolescent, perspective by which Vonnegut deconstructs and demystifies American culture and society in this novel."
The word integral is important - again, these drawings aren't visual 'gimmicks', but part of the text. They serve a function within the text that goes beyond reflecting/reinterpreting the writing. Vonnegut called them "felt tip calligraphs".

Thanks, Wikipedia

About a year ago I made a bet with another researcher that I could reference Wikipedia a couple of times (legitimately) in my thesis. It was a joke at the time, based on the look of horror when I told someone that I understood Phenomenology because I'd read the Wiki entry on it (also meant to be a joke, although not entirely false).

Anyway, turns out I can win the bet. Online searching has become a valuable tool for my research – primarily, using the "similar to this" function. For instance, the function on Amazon which suggests if I like a particular book, I may like a list of similar books based on other people's buying history – I have located a number of examples I wasn't aware of using this. Also, on Wikipedia, looking at the suggested links has lead me to some interesting classifications of other similar types of literature, such as:

Thursday, 27 March 2008

visual communication or design?

I've started writing (it's much more difficult than I anticipated, but that's probably not surprising to anyone but me) and I think I need to start blogging again to store some of the issues as they arise.

Today's quandary is whether I use the term 'designer' or 'visual communicator'. Clearly, consistency is key. Initially, I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I am explicit in the introduction-ish section that in the context of this research, I am concerned with print design, but if part of my argument is that visual communication design partly straddles the Humanities and partly straddles Design, is using 'design' weakening my argument? Visual Communications is just more wieldy than Design in a sentence (however, it will possibly significantly pump up my word count).

Monday, 17 March 2008

Cutting off a limb

After a productive meeting with Kate and Naomi at the end of last week (my supervisors - I find combined meetings are really useful at planning stages), I finally have a chapter plan and (relatively ambitious) time line. Until now, I had the research divided into two parts:
  1. Theory – descriptive/analytical: history of illustrated fiction, describing the phenomenon with a typology of devices and taxonomy of their functions, which would lead to;
  2. Practice – speculative/experimental: a series of workshops and projects exploring the potentials for this way of working to affect the reading experience.
About half way through the meeting, I put an X through Part 2. It was a big moment - I wasn't sure if I felt a bit sick or excited (relieved?). This doesn't mean I'm cutting out the practice component, but that I have to stop thinking of the practice as an entirely separate entity to the theory. Because there is so little consensus on what practice-led research is/could be, it's difficult to determine what is just practice and what is practice-led research. I had a go at defining this a while ago (talking specifically about process, not necessarily design outcome):
I'll come back to this later, it's obviously inadequate.

I have always described the research as practice-led (I identified an issue in practice - while working as a book designer I noticed novels with images in them appearing more frequently but could find little written about this). I have described some of my methods as practice-led (the current exhibition of books experimenting with different typo/graphic devices, the mapping investigations and courses with both writers and designers I'm running at UTS and through the NSW Writer's Centre). I have always intended to mount my argument as piece of visual communication design - arguing that word and image combine to communicate something unique in words alone is illogical.

But for some reason, none of these elements seemed 'enough' to constitute a practice-led research degree. Is this because what I'm doing is so ingrained, so logical to me as a designer, that I don't think of it as design? Or because, as a print designer, my work looks like the research process anyway (working on paper as opposed to, say, a furniture designer making a chair)? My favourite question when I tell people I'm undertaking a practice-led doctorate is "what percentage is going to be practice?" Well, clearly if a drawing is worth a thousand words, so if I did 80 drawings I wouldn't have to write any words at all.... How is it possible to put a percentage value on practice? Is a table worth more than a chair? If the book I'm designing is the thesis itself, how do I 'count' what I've designed?

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