My new outfit: Greenhouse Studios | Scholarly Communications Design at the University of Connecticut

Looking down the page, it seems I haven’t posted here on the ol’ blog in nearly three years. Not coincidentally, that’s about when I started work on the initiative I’m pleased to announce today. It was in the fall of 2014 that I first engaged in conversations with my UConn colleagues (especially Clarissa Ceglio, Greg Colati, and Sara Sikes, but lots of other brilliant folks as well) and program officers at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation about the notion of a “scholarly communications design studio” that would bring humanist scholars into full, equal, and meaningful collaboration with artists, technologists, and librarians. Drawing on past experiences at RRCHNM, especially One Week | One Tool, this new style digital humanities center would put collaboration at the center of its work by moving collaboration upstream in the research and publication workflow. It would bring designers, developers, archivists, editors, students, and others together with humanist faculty members and at the very outset of a project, not simply to implement a work but to imagine it. In doing so, it would challenge and level persistent hierarchies in academic labor, challenge notions of authorship, decenter the faculty member as the source of intellectual work, and bring a divergence of thought and action to the design of scholarly communication.

A planning grant from Mellon in 2015 allowed us to explore these ideas in greater depth. We explored models of collaboration and project design in fields as disparate as industrial design, engineering, theater, and (of course) libraries and digital humanities. We solicited “mental models” of good project design from diverse categories of academic labor including students, faculty members, archivists, artists, designers, developers, and editors. We visited colleagues around the country both inside and outside the university to learn what made for successful and not-so-successful collaboration.

Greenhouse StudiosThe result of this work was a second proposal to Mellon and, ultimately, the launch this week of Greenhouse Studios | Scholarly Communications Design at the University of Connecticut. Starting this year with our first cohort of projects, we will be pioneering a new, inquiry-driven, collaboration-first model of scholarly production that puts team members and questions at the center of research and publication rather than the interests of a particular faculty member or other individual. Teams will be brought together to develop answers to prompts generated and issued internally by Greenhouse Studios. Through a facilitated design process, whole teams will decide the audience, content, and form of Greenhouse Studios projects, not based on any external expectations or demands, but according to their available skills and resources, bounded by the constraints they identify, and in keeping with team member interests and career goals.

Stay tuned to see what these teams produce. In the meantime, after three long years of getting up and running, I plan to be posting more frequently in this space, from my new academic home base, Greenhouse Studios.

Black, White, and Red

Steering partners and clients toward simpler web designs is one of the greatest services we can render. In consultations and collaborative projects, I often find myself advocating for less, less, less. This is especially true when it comes to color schemes—historians aren’t easily put off their beiges, navy blues, burgundies, and parchment textured backgrounds. I do not have any design training, so I have just as often been frustrated by my lack of appropriate and convincing language to explain that when it comes to color, less is often more. Until now.

airjordanLast week I met a design professor who gave me the words. “When we are teaching color to design students,” he said, “we always tell them to start with black, white, and red.” “You don’t have to stay there, but any time you stray from black, white, and red, you should have a good reason.” “It’s no accident Coca-Cola, Marlboro, and Santa Claus are the world’s most recognizable brands.”

To this list he added the highly stylized opening titles of the fashion setting television show, Mad Men. I immediately thought of Nike Air Jordans, and the covers of Time, Life, Newsweek, and The Economist. I’m sure there are many others. Black, white, and red just work. Please feel free to share additional examples in comments.

[Image credit: ididj0emama]