The Credibility of Design

I am looking forward to the course and the material we will cover. As I mentioned in class, I have some background in HTML/CSS and Javascript from my undergraduate time at Brigham Young University. I enjoyed the work I was able to do (here is a link to my web map) and wanted to continue to work in that field. My hope is that this course will be a great supplement to what I have already learned and will fill in the gaps as well as reinforce the aspects that I struggle with.

Beginning the course with design is great. As the readings articulated, the quality of the web design is directly correlated to the perceived credibility of that same site. The Stanford Web Credibility Project¬†articulates the high priority that the public places on design in reference to credibility. I found myself divided on their findings. As a historian, I was a bit frustrated that questions of credibility, the source and the context did not drive the public’s paradigm for web credibility. Misinformation can be shrouded by well done design. This prompted me to remember a conversation I had with my GIS and cartography professor during my undergraduate. When designing a map, the cartographer has to make a lot of decisions that affect not only the way the map appears but how that data is portrayed to the end user. There are design techniques that, when used in certain ways, can lead the end user to draw one conclusion versus another. My professor, half jokingly – half seriously, quoted Spiderman when he said “With great power comes great responsibility.” and then said “Use your powers for good.” Throughout my undergraduate experience, with every map i designed, I tried to be fair in the presentation of the data. The Stanford Web Credibility project ultimately led me to affirm even more my choice to pursue Digital History. I want to be able to¬†build websites that both are aesthetically pleasing and providing credible information.

I really enjoyed Jill Lepore’s article in the New Yorker “The Cobweb: Can the Internet be Archived“. I have used the Wayback Machine and have spent time reading about the efforts of the Internet Archive. More so, I am married to an archivist and book conservationist. We have had long discussions on digital vs. analog, degrading mediums of preservation, and technologies place and influence in the archiving field. Lepore’s piece did a great job of articulating the strengths and the weaknesses of the Internet Archives goals. It also highlighted the difficulty that is privacy and copyright. Longevity is an issue in both preserving the information as well as preserving the medium of the information. In Clio I, we read a fair amount on the topic of using digital sources (mainly websites) in your research and the issue of reproducibility. If I used a database that gave me access to 10,000 documents with OCR and arrived at conclusion A, and if another person looks in the same database which now has 15,000 documents with OCR and arrives at conclusion B, who then is correct? Beyond that, does this affect the arguments you are making as a historian. I found this topic to be extremely fascinating and presenting a whole series of issues and questions. is an interesting approach and attempt to mitigate the issue of websites in footnotes. I know I am planning on using the Internet Archive to “track” my own web site.

I am excited to be a part of Digital History. The possibilities are enormous and continually expanding. In some ways, I would agree with Stephen Ramsey in saying DHers need to be building something (blog posts found here and here). By default, the medium used by Digital Historians is visual. This should force our work to progress with the digital and take full advantage of all the digital has to offer. This class, then, will be providing us as historians, valuable skills both practical and theoretical. I am excited to learn, and just as excited to build.

The Credibility of Design
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3 thoughts on “The Credibility of Design

  • January 31, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Hi Jordan,

    I enjoyed your post and found your paragraph on the Stanford Web Credibility Project very interesting. It is true that well designed sites can lead the viewer to automatically assume that the information presented is true. I was reminded of Mills Kelly’s blog post “Making DIY History?” in which the students in his class created “fake history.” One of the reasons so many people believed that fake history to be credible is because the students were so thorough in their work, and the digital elements were well done. So having well-designed site that isn’t actually presenting accurate information is one time when web design can backfire, but at some point the viewer of that site needs to do their due diligence in determining whether the site is actually accurate, credible, and authoritative. The problem with leaving it in the hands of the reader is that not everyone has been taught how to ascertain those qualities.


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  • January 31, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    I agree that Lepore did a great job with her article on Internet archives, and really highlighted both the permanence and impermanence of the web. You also make a good point about the issue of longevity of medium. This has been a huge issue for archivists preserving various types of media files, and while there is no sign of the web being replaced in the near future, technology is moving so fast it is hard to say that this will stay accessible to the common user forever.


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