The Importance Of Design

We often overlook the importance of design. Interior designers make a decent living invoking and developing trends for homes and workplaces, fashion designers develop the clothes we wear, and direct the trends for better or for worse. The design of cars and trucks leads to better aerodynamics and gas mileage on the roads. The bottom line is that design as a whole- scientifically and aesthetically- advances us as a society and culture.

Overlooked, is the design of websites. A while back I was killing time on the Wayback Machine- an initiative to preserve websites through all the advancements and revisions over the years as technology advances, needs change, and our mastery of the internet improves. We have gone from bulky, Times New Roman text-filled sites with cheep graphics to streamlined masterpieces that bring us the world in real time at our fingertips (seriously- I can watch DirecTV LIVE on this laptop I am writing on right now.)

Steve Krug, in his writing of “Don’t Make Me Think” hit the nail on the head. When we are on a website in the present day, we do not read, we simply scan the page looking for what we want to see. It’s the idea of instant gratification and getting the results we want, when we want them.

Given the excitement of the current political arena with the upcoming elections (and as a Political Scientist, not a Historian, I am playing to my strengths here people), I believe we can compare and contrast elements of web design with Politico and Real Clear Politics (RCP). What I love about both of these sites is that they have staff writers, draw upon other publications and commentators, and analyze political polls. Furthermore, for the sake of being transparent, both sites are more or less transparent and fair to the political spectrum and are universally regarded as such by peers.

First off, I prefer RCP over Politico hands down. On the main page without scrolling, I can see the latest political headlines, op-eds and polling. It’s like an election dashboard from the heavens. The site is very easy to navigate and is interactive when drawing electoral maps. What makes it difficult is that there is sometimes insufficient information on a given race which in the aggregate of determining the swing of the election, makes it hard to make a conclusion that doesn’t draw mainly upon electoral history.

Politico has more of their own staff members and has more original content than RCP, but their layout is more spread and sometimes invokes more looking around for what I want to read. That said, the layout is easy to follow despite being more expansive. Politico also sections headlines in groups such as Congressional, Policy, International, etc.

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Going back to that whole “creativity thing”… I am not creative when it comes to titling these posts. But I admitted that so it’s okay right? I’m starting to think about the “walking tour” that will be the project for this class. Who, What Where, When and Why are the questions today, I believe.

I believe we are targeting, in the macro sense, anyone interested in the history of the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Area. Need I get more specific, tourists, students doing research for an assignment, new-comers to town to name a few micro-audiences. The City of Fargo has a tour they put together in 2007… I’m sure it is very well done and for the most part, still relevant today if all the sites in subject are still in tact. A group named “Fargo Underground” also has a walking tour that can be found via web search. A local developer has what they call a walking tour to advertise the new projects they are doing to the city.

As I think of ideas for a walking tour, what I believe the obvious landmarks come to mind… The Fargo Theatre, the Hjemkomst Center, There are landmarks at all 3 universities that I believe should probably be covered. There’s that Dairy Queen that put Moorhead on the map when Harry Smith covered it for NBC News… Plus I can get a Blizzard when I go there… That would be tasty. We’ve got that Woodchipper from that movie named after our city that was largely filmed in Brainerd and Minneapolis, and the Fargo Walk of Fame that used to be down town is now housed right next to it. These are just a few of the obvious locations that come to mind… Will add to this post if and when I think of more.

We’ve Come A Long Way

The year was 1997, I was 5 or 6, and large cow-spotted boxes arrived at our front door. It was the latest model from Gateway 2000, my family’s first home computer. It cost some $3,000 and it came with what quickly became my favorite thing in the world- a CD-ROM of “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiago”. In 1998, it was becoming “the thing” to have a home computer. It didn’t have internet, at first, and my dad bribed a computer programmer from work to come over one night and hook it up. We felt we were living the high life operating Windows 95.

That computer finally died about 3 years ago. passed down to the basement for me to do school work on when my parents upgraded (to Windows XP… Oh-la-la!) and then passed down to my grandparents when I bought a laptop in High School. Just a blip on the technology radar in the grand scheme of things. Learning the history of the internet is fascinating to say the least. One can easily image search for images of the first computers… behemoths that took up entire rooms that could barely do a small fraction of what my watch (yes, my watch) does now. Beyond that, the idea that along with those early computers, the idea of the internet was an idea as early as 1957. Fascinating. For the record, my father was 2. To think that some 60 years ago, scientists were working on a way to connect digitally. From Arpanet, to the TCP, to advancing past radio waves to a more secure and dependable network- the work, the trial and error, and the progress that has been made over the years is nothing short of tremendous.

And as this technology has advanced, so has our ability to be creative on the internet and share ideas. As you can see, I am far from creative in the design sense… The standard layout of this page seems to work for myself (your results may vary) but as Tina Seelig’s TEDx Stanford talk describes, there are so many ways to think more creatively- that the contents of a trashcan can really be a trove of ideas and innovations provided we have the correct mindset. The ideas of invoking culture, resources and imagination into practicum not only makes us think differently, but allows us to push the outer limits of progress and innovation.

Creativity, is relative in definition. For the sake of my argument, I am a DJ for a local radio station. Part of my job is to take stories, condense them in a way I can explain them to the listeners in 30 seconds or less with a punch line, non sequeter or other tag that is informative, funny, interesting, or on a slow day, gets us to the next song and stops the bleeding. Somehow, I write this off as creativity. Others? Some can go to Hobby Lobby and find a number of things to create with random stuff they find for 50% off. Others, can take a pile of lumber and paint and build something truly amazing. Hell, someone somewhere designed this Swedish fashion-forward desk I am writing this at right now. All of these things are creative in their own right… It’s all in how creative you think of creativity.

Changing History

In 1999, Edward Ayers wrote on the the pasts and futures of digital history. I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Ayers could have ever predicted the future of the internet- going from dial-up modems, primitive browsers and interfaces, to an idea that the internet has connected the world. Even writing before the current Millennium, Mr. Ayers discusses that History is the best discipline for the ideas of digital technology, and that having digital archives are a manifestation of new thinking. In hindsight, some 15 years later, I believe we can look back and say not only that he was correct, but that the digital age has matured and advanced beyond wildest predictions of the 1990’s. Today, we can talk to people around the world, face to face, in real time, sharing ideas, and challenging theories. Even beyond that, we can preserve information even more readily than ever before.

But now, the question is, where do we go from here? the advancements to get us to where we are were largely predicted correctly. But as we relish connections via social media, skype, we sit here and think? Does this get any better? do we advance any farther? We know the answer is yes, but what is the next innovation? How will it make connectivity easier and learning and sharing better?

I think that Steven Mintz gives us a good idea in his writing of “Interchange: The Promise of Digital History” in that there are stages of the evolution. We have passed through stages 1 and 2, and are now in stage 3.0 of blogs and wikis. Yes, even blogs are advancing knowledge of being able to share and challenge ideas. It takes the predictions that were introduced by Ayers and we now have the stages and levels that are making the evolution into realities. And, for what it’s worth, Mintz for his part even speculates stage 4.0 of the evolution talking about a constructionist understanding of learning that takes us beyond where we are now with blogs, wikis and shared knowledge.

We are continually evolving, and getting better. Through digital history, we are able to go further back, and develop a deeper understanding by advancing forward and continuing to share knowledge and build on theorem and ideas- which makes us wonder, what will the next big idea be?

Hello world!

History doesn’t repeat itself- but it does rhyme.

At one point, not too long ago, I wold have balked at the idea of being back in the classroom this fall. But alas, if we understand one thing from History, it’s that plans often do not go as planned. And with that said, I am back, working on my Masters of Education at North Dakota State University.

That said, I completed my undergrad at NDSU, earning my B.S. in Political Science in the spring of 2015. I love the principles of politics, and look forward to teaching those principles in the schools very soon. When we look at the historical standpoint of politics, despite what the media says, History isn’t exactly repeating itself with the 2016 Presidential Election, but there are elements that we have seen before historically.

Which begs the question- why do we think historically? The answer, I believe is subjective at best. However, I believe we need to think historically to understand where we came from to understand where we are going. From a political historical standpoint, to answer the question of how we ended up with Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton as our nominees, we need to think historically to come to a conclusion that it was a snowball effect of a number of things that lead to voters wanting change. We think historically to build on the ideas of the previous generation of leaders- to improve the ideas, and create newer, better ones.

We often hold a higher regard to forward momentum when compared to the historical perspective, but without learning from History and thinking in the historical mindset, are we not bound to make the same mistakes as the previous generation? As this semester progresses, I will seek to explore the idea of invoking the historical perspective to not only preserve history, but to open up ideas of how history is shaping where we are now, and more importantly, where we are going.