Edward Tufte should come with a warning label. Since I took his course a year ago last October, I have been bitten by the design bug. I realized the depth of this obsession last night while putting together a projected syllabus for a summer course in the History Department. Just a simple word processing document, right? Wrong.
Before I knew it, I was agonizing over font choices (what is wrong with Times New Roman?), getting the spacing just right between the columns (ensuring that the document will have to be exported as a pdf file to avoid disaster), and designing a banner graphic (two versions: a large one for the front page and a smaller one for subsequent pages). And not just a pretty picture, but a semantically rich graphic, which made me think hard about the essential theme of the course before I could render it visually.
This is an internal document! It is only supposed to get the course accredited, but I just can’t send it in without some attention to its visual impact.
I wasn’t always like this. Until about eighteen months ago, I had two intense, but distinct, sets of aesthetic appreciation: one based in logic and one based in visual or written art. I have always been drawn to “elegant solutions,” whether in the relational algebra behind a third normal form database, a well constructed thesis, or a beautiful piece of code. I am also a photographer and the daughter of a novelist, so I prize an arresting composition of shapes or colors or words to convey thoughts and feelings.
My new found interest in graphic and informational design is starting to blend these two senses together. Particularly, as I seek to find more effective ways of visually rendering my research on information flows in the Early American Foreign Service.
I don’t know where this newfound interest is taking me, or my scholarship. I only know that, for now, I’m along for the ride.