Issue X

On Friday, we went live with Mandala Journal‘s Issue X.  At the time, I was in Gainesville, Florida, attending a THATCamp hosted by The University of Florida, and so unfortunately, I had to miss the launch.  But I did not want to miss the chance to share about the updates and design work I did for this year’s issue and get back to blogging about my web work.  Here it goes:

1. This year, I really wanted to work on cleaning up the code and transitioning the whole site to PHP.  I have learned a scary amount this past year, so it was actually a little painful to look back at the clunky, redundant, and poorly-structured code.  But cleaning it up, while monotonous, was refreshing.

2.  Shifting to PHP made it much easier for me to make consistent edits to common page components like the header and footer.  I developed a footer for the journal’s main pages and one for the contents (artwork, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry).  I also implemented two local style sheets, one for the main pages and one for the contents.

3.  I changed the masthead layout a bit this year, building it off of the archive page set-up.  I like the consistency this move provided.

Masthead for Issue X

4.  I love, love, love our table of contents this year.  Our editor-in-chief, wanted a simple outline layout, and I had a great time creating such a modest, clean page.

Issue X Table of Contents

5.  We did a lot with watercolors last year, and Christine wanted to see if we could find a way to add a touch of them to this year’s issue.  I developed a watercolor horizontal line that we feature throughout the issue.

watercolor footer

I’m really happy with how the site looks.  In a conversation at THATCamp about web design in the humanities, I talked about my experience working on Mandala.  My collaboration with Christine has been a really productive one.  What we’ve made is really a product of meetings, email conversations, ideas passed back and forth, her suggestions and my implementations.  There is really no way to point to something in particular and say that was Christine’s idea or that was something I came up with.  Instead, I believe the our combined efforts are more than the sum of our individual input.  Together, we’ve built something really great.

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ipoco Sneak Peak

For my latest project, ipoco (Islam and Post-Colonial Studies), I’m working with a professor and graduate student at UGA to create a web application. I’m on the development end while they are tackling content.  The plan is to expand the collaboration to students, other scholars, other fields and make the project multidisciplinary.  I’m excited to be involved at this point, at the get-go.

Right now, I’m having a blast creating PHP pages with inspiration from bootstrap templates and themes.  Once we get actual content on the site, I am sure the design will need to be tweaked and reconsidered.  But I love the recursive nature of the process, the constant drafting and tinkering involved, the shuttling between building, planning, designing, revising, and imagining.  I find that aspect of the work incredibly satisfying.

This week, I’m hoping to make some tweaks and tackle our annotated bib, resources, and contact pages (or one of those).  I’m also very excited to check out the podcast from Scholar’s Lab Speaker Series for an event this Friday: “Theories and Practices of Postcolonial Digital Humanities” by Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam.

Here’s a look at a few of the templates I have drafted so far:

Our Islam glossary page:

Islam glossary

 

Our authors table of contents page:

Authors TOC

Our individual author page:

Ind author post page

A Web-Letter: Retrospected.com

This Christmas, I wanted to make something for my parents.  I like to write letters, and they have probably received hundreds of cards and thank you notes from me.  But a letter would not be enough, and it didn’t seem like the right genre.  Basically, I wanted a way to share with my parents some thoughts and memories that I was having, little snippets of past moments, things said, feelings felt, that sort of thing.  And then I thought it might be a good chance to get all of my siblings involved, too.  My amazingly talented brother Brendan agreed to help build the site, and my sisters Allison and Claire offered to share memories and add to the site’s content.  Then the countdown to Christmas began.

The site came together beautifully, I think.  It was fun to see a vision I had come together in PHP. HTML, and CSS with the help of Git and Heroku.  Here’s a list of my favorite features:

1. Opening Screen.  Bren suggested we do something to make the opening a little different, and I am so glad he did.  So when you first come to the site, Dear Mom and Dad appears nice and big in the middle of the screen.  Then, using some cool CSS, the text slides up and shrinks and gains a comma.  A few seconds pass and the first memory appears.  I get chills just describing it.

opening screen for retrospected.com

2.  Changing Text.  While I love, love, love scroll effects, they didn’t seem appropriate for this project.  These thoughts that we wanted to share come in flashes, brief glimpses.  By clicking linked text at the bottom, the background color changes and a new memory appears.

changed screen for retrospected.com

3.  Slide-out modal.  I wanted a way to add some additional explanation to the site, a way to continue the letter.  Bren pushed the content to a modal and I worked in the slide-out feature.

modal for retrospected.com

Going into Christmas Eve, Bren and I had nailed down the code, but we still needed more content.  At Christmas Eve service, I jotted down a good seven snippets while Bren and Claire at home added a ton.  By the time we presented my parents with the site, we had amassed 67 memories.

I bought retrospected.com for my parents.  The site is theirs for two years.  I hope in that time we keep adding to the content, and I hope they continue to visit it, to return again and again to the moments they made and continue making possible.

Consulting Gig for Thotfully.com

Over the past month, I’ve been doing a little consulting work for/with my brother.  He just launched his first website, and I am so excited for him.  The site is Thotfully.com, and it is a terrific service to help users keep track of and celebrate special days with the following features: calendar display, text reminders, gift notes, and even gift ordering directly through the site.

Thotfully.com

Personally, I am really drawn to a web application that puts technology to work to make people a bit more thoughtful.  There are plenty of programs and sites that boost productivity, and plenty that inspire creativity, but here’s one that can brighten days and strengthen bonds between people.   That’s good.  Plus, when we put important, special moments and events that we want to remember in our Google calendars alongside our meetings and deadlines, I think the proximity can be troubling.  Even with color-coding, all events in a Google calendar seem to get flattened into calendar items, dates or meetings or submissions we need to attend to and then cross-off.  But by archiving birthdays and planning ahead for festivities on Thotfully.com, we can be reminded that these dates and moments are different.  They are thots – a term I like because it seems to capture the essence of automated thoughtfulness well, to remind users that the site supports cyborg thougthfulness, computer and human user working together towards  a kinder, better tomorrow.

So what did I actually do as a consultant?  A couple of little projects that we orchestrated with the help of Trello:

1. Draft and refine the site’s copy.  There’s not a lot, but I worked on the text that displays on the home, about, and FAQ pages.

Here’s my favorite:

copy sample

2.  Expand gift options.  Brendan had a few staples, and I worked to find a few more featured gifts, like Happy Socks.

3.  Provide feedback on site layout, design, and functionality.  Basically, this amounted to a bunch of conversations with Brendan and a few emailed list of questions, concerns, and ideas I had.  From these discussions and suggestions, Brendan implemented the calendar, revised the gift notes’ field, added gifts, etc.  It was fun to see him take a suggestion and run with it.  He is very talented.

calendar

Brendan just blogged about this adventure here, and I agree that I learned a lot in this process, too.  I really appreciated getting to think about words and how they are used on the web.  That is, how can we capture the essence and ethos of a site in as few words as possible?  How can we explain site features in a way that makes sense and isn’t too terribly dry?  What needs to get said and what can just be expressed as an icon?

But the most important lesson: I hope I get the chance to work with Brendan again.

Flashback: Mandala Journal Home Page

Flashback: Mandala Journal

I worked on the Mandala Journal home page until the eve of the launch party last April.  I wanted and knew I needed to get it right.  Christine, our editor-in-chief created the amazing watercolor image, and Brendan, my amazing brother, helped me with the header (and its responsiveness).  I really like how the different textures come together (yes, I could scroll through subtle patterns all night!), and I think the layout offers a welcoming and informative introduction to the journal.

Panels, Panels, Everywhere

I tackled the journals last night.  I put panels up and worked on making the layout consistent.  Here’s a look.  Some of the changes are really subtle, but I think they make a big difference.  Panels and using them to lay out and layer content seems to make a lot of sense.  The design element combines the organizational ability of containers with greater mobility, responsiveness, and flexibility.  Good stuff.  Of course, there is still more work to do, but it is nice to have a working draft of these pages.  I’ll take that.

Before:

old journal index screen

old journal edit screen

old journal response screen

After:

new journal index screen

new journal edit screen

new journal response screen

Two more reflections: Coding and UI work really satisfies my desire for cleanliness and organization.  Now, my closets are suffering because of it, but at least they have doors.  And I’m currently in the middle of Cory Doctorow’s Makers, and besides blowing my mind, the novel is making me really grateful to have this opportunity to make something.  It’s thrilling, really.  Like, I-stay-up-until-two-in-the-morning thrilling.

Now, onto notes.