Protyping Digital Texts

Like many other writing instructors, I assign eportfolios in my writing classes: electronic collections of texts that include various projects and reflections. When assigning eportfolios, one of the ideas that I emphasize is that the eportfolio should be “web sensible” (“Postmodernism, Palimpsest, and Portfolios” 745). Because of any number of textual features, it should make sense that the eportfolio is digital. Form should complement content through features like: [1] multiple and clearly delineated navigation schemes; [2] the use of visuals; [3] internal and external links; [4] semantically meaningful links; and [5] attention to how uploaded texts will display (e.g. PDFs in the browser, .docs downloaded and displayed in Word, or JPEGS displayed in a photo viewer) to name several.

To help students compose their eportfolios, I ask them to sketch out their eportfolio before they begin putting it together and while they are adding new sections. Through those diagrams, students give and receive feedback to one another on their ideas. In their diagrams, I ask them to take stock of their eportfolio’s contents, sketch layouts, consider how their pieces might best fit together. The key idea is that they are creating a kind of experience for readers, and designing that experience through web conventions offers a way for them to connect to readers in a way that supports the purpose of their eportfolio — whether that purpose is professional (such as those portfolios included in FSU’s Digital Symposium) or academic like this project.

In the photo slideshow that follows, I provide different prototypes for this project. In the first version, I considered using a snippet of code called jquery Masonry — a Pinterest-like design that uses boxes which scale up and down. In this design, all of the pieces of the site are always visible. And per my thinking, it is a form that suggests modular content — content that can be plugged into different contexts. Because the project began to take share in ways that were not as modular, I considered a second version that more closely resembled a blog. Like the first version, the main screen would include multiple boxes with titles and snippets. But unlike the first version, the second version I considered emphasizes image more than text, has a menu, and its articles open to their own pages.  Because the second version felt too much like a blog, I decided to use this design.

This practice of sketching — what I am terming prototyping — is a practice offers ways of imagining how people will see and interact with a text based on the textual and technical conventions included or excluded in the prototype. This way of attending to audience — I suggest — emphasizes a value of the maker movement, creativity, which David Gauntlett defines as both a process and a feeling:

Everyday creativity refers to a process which brings together at least one active mind, and the material or digital world, in the activity of making something which is novel in that context and is a process which evokes a feeling of joy. (76)

As a process, a feeling, and per the “Frameworks for Success,” an approach, prototyping is an approach to composing that can help readers design texts with certain kinds of textual reception in mind.