Fri, 09/18/2020 - 8:16pm Alice Staveley

This summer, Lily Nilipour and Khuyen Le, Stanford undergraduates working in English, Comparative Literature, and Symbolic Systems, worked remotely for Stanford's Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) to help the MAPP team think about a redesign of the website.  They did a fantastic job, and here is their blog post on the process of reenvisioning a site to help our viewers and users navigate it better.  Next phase for the MAPP team will be working out implementation. Stay tuned for exciting changes coming in 2020-2021!


 The interface for viewing an online archive or digital humanities project is essential to the way users interact with the project and its features, and especially if the project is meant to replicate or replace a physical archive. This summer, we spent five weeks devoted to redesigning the organization and aesthetic of the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP) website to make it more intuitive and user-friendly. These five weeks were spent critically thinking about the site, comparing it to other similar projects, and crafting a detailed and thorough guidebook for implementing our redesign.


We began by conducting interviews with each member of the MAPP team to gather everyone’s opinions on the current site and what they envisioned in their ideal redesign. The interviews highlighted the fact that we all shared the same general concerns about the current site, but each interviewee also brought to light many different, specific aspects of the site that we would not have thought to consider. Ultimately, we identified one major problem of the website: its organizational structure was non-intuitive and scrambled, and with this current structure many of MAPP’s most interesting innovations were hidden from or hard to find for users. 


To tackle this, we first made the decision to move the tab bar to the top of the browser screen rather than keep it on the side. Although the sidebar design was originally meant to imitate a “bookmark” and archive aesthetic, we found that it did not allow for ease of navigation or organization. By moving the bar to the top, we could break up the website’s categories into drop-down menus and thus increase the number of pages a user could access with just one click. Other sites that effectively use this model are the Modernist Journals Project and the Mina Loy Project


After this decision, much of our work consisted of reorganizing the tabs and creating new sub-tabs, and thinking through the layout of each separate page. Here we face an interesting challenge that is particular to a Digital Humanities project. Most of the previous work on the MAPP site has made use of technology as a method through which archival data can be examined. But the MAPP team not only wants to preserve the information in the archive: we also want to maintain the form and experience of being in an archive. How do we go about transferring the serendipity and circularity of archival work onto a website, the conventional design of which seeks to hierarchically categorize information to make searches as efficient as possible? 


We paid special attention to balance these two concerns in the new layout design. The new homepage features a “serendipity” button* that takes readers to a random page on the site. We continued this idea of serendipitous discovery by featuring random people, businesses, and works on the landing page for each of those categories. At the same time, the elements on each page are neatly organized into grids, and visualized whenever possible (for example, thumbnails of book covers or business logos) to aid users scanning through the pages. With these design considerations in mind, we want the site to be useful for visitors looking for a specific piece of information, as well as those who want to leisurely explore the archive. 


The original MAPP site contained a vast amount of resources related not only to profiles in the archive, but also modernist authors and their works. After carefully considering these resources, we concluded that they are too extensive to be housed together within MAPP. We decided to include resources that make use of MAPP, or are otherwise directly relevant to MAPP, in a new “Resources” section. For other materials outside of MAPP, we created a “Beyond MAPP” tab that features a search bar with filters for types of resources. The background of this particular page is a departure from the rest of the site. It features images from the outside resources we have in our database, in order to entice visitors to explore other sites that are also working on modernist authors and works. 


Now that the redesign for the site is conceptualized and visualized, the MAPP team will look for a web developer to implement the design, adapting the “Lookbook” that we created and which includes mock-ups for specific page layouts as well as detailed annotations about features and functionality.  Please feel free to take a look for yourself – see the following blog post by Claire Battershill – and contact the team or fill out this Google Form with any input you might like to have in the future look and functionality of MAPP.


*In the tradition of DH, which puts a premium on citational credit for inspirational ideas, the MAPP team thanks Catherine Hollis, UC Berkeley, for coming up with this idea – and its phrasing – at the 2013 International Virginia Woolf conference when MAPP gave its first presentation (before we even had a site!)