I’ve posted the home page and the second two pages of my Final project, and they are on the blogroll for review during Tuesday’s class. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, I won’t be in class on Tuesday as I am currently attending a work-related conference in Vancouver BC. My intentions are to add the final pages after I get the class comments and also add a communications link. The project is still the same Kam Zero subject, but the appearance and functionality of the site is miles better than it was during the first assignments. I removed the horizontal menu bar (which contained links to my other assignments) and put that in the Nav sidebar under the Topics links. I think that makes for a cleaner design, similar to what Bill Andrews did on his site. I kept the same header and footer throughout the pages (though these are different than the Design assignment images) and this isn’t so much of a cop-out as it is a device to save space. I think I’m pretty close to my limit for uploading material on the Mason cluster. I haven’t deleted anything from previous assignments since I wanted to show my progression, but the penalty is space limits. In any case, enjoy the site. I will try to update it once more before Tuesday but I will only change some details. I would like to add at least one more page as I already have the material, but I probably won’t.

I’ve uploaded my final version of the Design Assignment, and it can be accessed via the blogroll at right. I made a rather lengthy post about it two entries ago (April 6 entry) and all of the material about color, repetition etc is still the same. At Paula’s suggestion I did make some changes between then and now, and they are as follows:

I re-validated my HTML and CSS files and though they are now both valid I have still been unable to delete the text decoration on the HI697 assignment nav bar. Paula suggested that I start a new CSS file from scratch, but I first tried to clean up my original CSS file through the validation process. There were a lot of errors and the cleanup was a good idea but there are still some style mysteries.

I put a nice new footer at the bottom, in fact it’s probably big enough to be the masthead. I also adjusted the text in the masthead to reclaim some dead space between text lines.

I added links to the W3C validation sites, though I’ll have to say that the CSS validation procedure is a lot less obvious than the HTML.

So that’s it for my explanations. Now it’s up to the assignment to speak for itself.

Epiphanies in the Myst

April 12, 2007

MystifiedTuesday’s class was probably one of the more stimulating I’ve had since I’ve been involved with GMU, but not because I felt like I did well. After more than half a semester of HI 697 I still feel like I’m a half-step behind the rest of the class, and tonight was no exception. I spent the majority of the preceding week working on my Design assignment, and wrote a lengthy blog entry about what I did and why. As it turned out, the discussion topic was Myst. I didn’t think we would really get to that for another two weeks (at least that’s what the syllabus says). However, I had loaded the game and spent enough time playing it to get the gist of what the discussion was about. In fact, about 30 minutes into the class, I had an honest-to goodness epiphany. Someone made the observation that the game is like a primary document. You spend a lot of time on things that may not be important, and sometimes you miss what’s right in front of you. Other times, the game mechanics can aid or even distract you from the game context. But when you immerse yourself in a game with an unfamiliar context, it’s like you are suddenly dropped into a research project on a subject you know nothing about. You have no prior experience or preconceptions – all you have are your basic, generic research skills. We aren’t reviewing games themselves as potential teaching tools, we are looking inside them to find out what makes them so compelling and trying to see if we can harness whatever attributes those are and use them to communicate history. In other words, it’s not about the game. It seems we could have been told that up before we started beating our heads against the wall playing Myst, but I guess the epiphany wouldn’t have had as much impact if it had been fed to us.

I stand by my earlier opinion that HI 697 is the hardest class I’ve had since I started at GMU. We’ve had to learn computer coding, graphical design and information architecture in one semester, and any one of these subjects is complicated enough to justify its own class. I came in without some crucial foundational elements and have been playing catch-up ever since. My self-esteem takes a beating just about every week, but I will say this – I’ve learned more “new stuff” in 697 and been challenged more than in any class since I left the Navy. This class demands full-time student attention and a lot of communal work with fellow students, neither of which I’m in a position to do. But on the other hand, I can’t deny that I’ve learned something. The difference between my first CSS assignment and my Design assignment is considerable. It’s been painful and I’m not going to lead the class in grades, but I guess a painfully learned lesson stays with you longer. Like the epiphany about Myst, I guess it’s not about the grade.

Dealing with Design II

April 6, 2007

I’ve posted my first draft of my Design project, and it can be accessed through the blogroll. It would make a really good CSS, Type or Image assignment but those are water over the dam. I have the same basic alignment that I started with, but I’ve tried to make the following adjustments:

Color: I modeled my scheme after a sight I found called Eyewitness to History that featured a scheme with a wrapper color similar to the Kam Zero’s color, with other colors muted enough to be easy on the eyes while still giving a 40’s impression. I’ve been going through my CSS file trying to purge it of unnecessary colors and coding.

Repetition: I used the 1942 Report font in my headers (it’s what’s in the title), which requires the use of images as opposed to typing. I did use bold, but the font has some stylistic noise to it which also bolds so there isn’t much difference in clarity between regular and bold. I would like to use a letter at the start of each paragraph, but I find this clashes with the pictures I usually have leading off. I’ve also used the same gold color for both my portfolio links and my nav blocks.

Alignment: I used a basic two-column arrangement, which was modeled after the Macfly fluid example.  The alignment of the header edges with the nav and maincontent is intentional – in fact it took quite a bit of experimentation to get it to line up that way. I wanted to have a newspaper-ish look to the page, but it’s more a suggestion than a real style.

Proximity: I’ve placed my images left, right and center depending on which way the picture subject “faces,” so that they point toward the center of the page as opposed to away. I thought I would place them depending on whether they are contemporary, modern or landscape respectively in each paragraph where they are discussed, but that is too subtle a scheme and would probably run contrary to more basic conventions. Once I get the navigation sidebar under control, I would like to have it stay in place while the reader navigates down the page.

Dealing with Design

April 1, 2007

We're hit, Skipper!The next hurdle for the intrepid students of the HI697 class is the Design Assignment.  After being damned with faint (if any) praise on the Image Assignment, I feel like I need to come up with a major save to salvage any sort of a grade out of this class.  In keeping with the rest of this course, our design assignments have to show our abilities in information architecture, aesthetics and scholarship.  While being ostensibly the least important of the three, aesthetics ends up taking the most time and receiving the most emphasis.  We are to “recreate a historical period through color, font and other attributes of design.”  My period is December 7th 1941, my setting is Hawaii and my event is the Pearl harbor attack.  Accordingly, I’ve found and downloaded a font called 1942 Report.  I’ve redone my banner / masthead to include the profile of Diamond Head and a washed out Japanese flag behind it.  I’ve revised my color scheme to use the Kam Zero’s original color, but I still have a lot of work to do.  My laundry list includes trying to find some menu “buttons” that reflect the period (good luck with that one), changing the main content font to look more 40-ish, and oh yeah trying to develop an architecture that presents the information logically and compellingly.  In that respect, I’ve been playing with the project information in other sites for a while and I know what I want to do…now it’s simply a matter of ramming that intent through the Dreamweaver barrier in the fast-dwindling time remaining in the semester.