UX Thoughts: A Confession

I confess to feeling overcome with visions of design at the start of a project–especially a digital project. Launching these blogs has been a comforting detour. I’ve been enjoying the instant gratification of “trying on” site designs that WordPress offers. Our Mitford Project will not have the comforting support of a content management system (CMS), at least not at the start, because I don’t want to be struggling with rigid structures and predetermined choices in site design that might crimp our style with coding. My hope is that we’ll never actually need a CMS—-even though we do anticipate a massive website. I’d like our site to be purely under the control of our project team, and not at the mercy of a product designer’s corporate style.  Designing for an appealing UX (or user experience) can be very difficult: a good CMS can of course streamline the process, but really they are not to be trusted—-and I am determined to make a go of a site design myself. To do this well we will need to be very clear about what we’re representing from our coding projects, and how we expect our viewers to interact with our site.  The more help I have on this matter the better—-provided I can think this through for myself and not surrender to a prefab system.  My readers, do you have thoughts on this vexing subject?

But I did enjoy designing these blogs once I found my way to images that would personalize and distinguish them. The background for this site is adapted from a wonderful colorized illustration of Drury Lane Theatre of August 1808, which I found on wikimedia commons. The commons site reports that it was “published as plate 32 of Microcosm of London (1808)”. I ran it through Photoshop to enlarge it for the site, and then experimented with some of Photoshop’s filters to stylize it. I decided today to try out a different but related background of Regency era Covent Garden Theatre for the Digital Mitford blog, the same I used for our Facebook MRM group.

Why the early 19th-century theatre interiors? Need you ask? They are glorious spaces in which to be writing and reading, are they not? More to the point, these blog images connect with the Digital Mitford project: Mary Russell Mitford achieved remarkable success with staging historical tragedies in London’s Royal Theatres (Drury Lane and Covent Garden) in the 1820s, and studying her plays in the past year has opened a fascinating area of interest: How did playwrights negotiate with theatre managers in the 19th-century to produce plays? How did women playwrights negotiate and network with powerful men who were both celebrity performers and actor-managers in the 1820s Royal Theatres?  Writing for the London theatres, I’ve learned, necessitated some measure of compromise and serious tension, as a famous actor-manager (like William Charles Macready) could agree to perform a  play (like Mitford’s Julian), and then proceed to recommend (demand?) significant alterations of parts. The Royal Theatres were for Mitford a setting for some of her most remarkable accomplishments, boosting her fame (if not her fortune) in the 1820s, and they are also a site of great interest in the negotiation of control over texts—-a hot point of textual alchemy generated in nerve-wracking frictions between actors and authors.

As I think about site design and editing tasks ahead, the sight of the Royal Theatres suggests to me a fascinating challenge: Particularly when editing Mitford’s plays we will need to code multiple versions and begin documenting the differences between manuscript and published play post-production. How we present these differences matters and will demonstrate our editorial approach to vexed and dynamic texts. We shall surely have more to say on this subject on the Digital Mitford blog!