We feel honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to co-conceptualize, design, and realize this exciting new journal with Jan Cohen-Cruz. When Jan approached us in 2010 with an idea for a peer-reviewed publication for Imagining America, the ideas flew. How could new electronic publication formats allow broader distribution and public engagement with arts, design, and humanities projects? How could the journal grow into a rich public archive of material on the subjects and values embraced by IA? How could an e-journal-as-digital-archive help deepen meanings of works within and between its issues? How could creative uses of information systems foreground the social, cultural, disciplinary, and often political diversities, multiplicities, and complexities inherent in the work of IA's constituencies? How could the journal contribute to the re-imagining of the peer-review process for evolving forms of creative work and scholarship? And, as many interested individuals and collaborators would ask us in one form or another, "what color should it be?"
This final question - as we moved from the squishy experimental phase of design conceptualization, through strategic design and management, and finally to directing implementation of the infrastructures and interfaces that are shaping this journal - stood as a placeholder for a certain understanding of design, as an aesthetic project or a styling exercise laid on top of networks of systems, actors, and relationships. For us, one of the most important aspects of design is the very structuring of these networks; rather than overlaid on top of them, aesthetics arise through the craft of their creative manipulation.
The development of Public has offered us incredible opportunities to engage design as a public act within an online interactive medium. As an e-journal, we had a gamut of examples to choose from: from seriously dry compendia of PDFs to experimental (some inspiring, some not quite functional) new media forays; from academic (and academically styled) journals to mass-media magazines. We have sought to position Public strategically and creatively in response to these various examples: as a robust, dependable, peer-reviewed e-journal with an experimental attitude in a publicly engaging interactive media format. We see this journal's online presence as an example of what Monica Fleischmann and Wolfgang Strauss have called a "participation space," where "performative interfaces provide experimental access" (2006,18) to a space of creativity. We hope that Public's own performative interfaces - its data visualizations, participatory tagging, and interactive interface to its articles - engage you personally, and bring you closer to the mission of Imagining America.
Public's online format allows us to publish works in a variety of media, expanding the traditionally visual medium of print to a multisensory and time-based domain, where aural works can be experienced beside interactive expositions, and three-dimensional design representations can be interspersed with linear or networked textual pieces. Rather than strict word lengths or file sizes to delimit our submissions, [See our submissions guidelines here.] we asked contributors to consider the duration of the experience of their work, seeking to keep interactions with all of the media in Public on roughly parallel terms. By making visible the value of many forms of creative work and scholarship, we hope to foster experimentation and support exciting scholarship and practice that might not otherwise be published. As IA has made significant strides in advancing recognition of the value of public scholarship within the academy, Public seeks to contribute to the recognition of the value of multi-media work within its various communities.
Part of the journal's founding mission is to embrace multiple audiences across disciplines, sectors, and organizations. Design plays a significant role in the creation of the shared languages that support such a broad aspiration. Whether in the crafting of narrative tone, the use of cultural representations, or the embrace of visual and graphic style, the forms of our communications frame audience expectation and interest. Public seeks to meet the academy's expectations for scholarly publication at the same time as offering all of its publics an accessible entry point for advanced scholarly work. Or, vice versa, Public seeks to present a reflective and thoughtful body of scholarly work to a broad public at the same time as meeting the standards of academic review. (Even the order of these considerations in a sentence carries weight!) We've chosen an exciting hybrid form, somewhere between online magazine, academic journal, and interactive archive, to do so. We want to remind our viewers, however, of the significance and impact of our design decisions. Consider three alternate stylings of this very editorial - linked below. On one hand, the style and layout of these words matters greatly; on another they may be seen to matter little: the ideas contained in each article can be recast or reframed by their visual presentation, but the concepts brought forward by their contributors remain the same.
In other ways, we have leveraged the archiving or repository aspect of our electronic presence into a central theme. Contributions are presented as much in relationship to each other, within and across issues, as they are as serially issued autonomous works. Public's online interface highlights not only what we understand to be the primary content of published work, but also the behind-the-scenes information that is maintained about the work. Together, these two kinds of content - the knowledge in the articles and the data about the articles - form a more holistic representation of the creative work contained within. The so-called "meta-data" allows the discovery of connections between works that may on the surface appear quite unrelated: a digital humanities piece on civics lessons in the 19th century might appear alongside a civic plan for a 21st century urban greenbelt, and this latter essay may lead a reader directly to an artwork on transforming a public green. The data behind our published works - and the very visible role it plays in the public face of the journal - forms a critical infrastructure that models the cross-sectorial, inter-disciplinary public knowledge that forms the intellectual foundation of IA.
Public foregrounds its informational infrastructure through an exploratory set of data visualizations. A print publication's table of contents and index are conventionally understood visual orderings of the 'data' it contains. They help us access the potentially large and complex body of data by visually associating page numbers with chapters, articles, or terms. The electronic archive's equivalent to the table of contents is an interactive data visualization, facilitating multiple forms of relational indexing based on a participant's interactions. This first issue of Public offers two visualizations in addition to the more traditional table of contents. [Open the information visualizations in a new window here.] The visualizations complement a conventional search function, and are meant to encourage alternative explorations of the implicit connections among the contributions. These visualizations will remain, in one form or another, over the life of the journal. As Public's body of published material grows, these visualizations will reveal increasingly deeper and differently inflected meanings among the diverse works in its archive.
Finally, these visualizations constitute a curatorial role; as designed frameworks through which one experiences the journal's contents, they help construct meanings and relationships in different ways, building upon and highlighting the multiplicities, diversities, and pluralities that are at the core of the work of our contributors. We see many opportunities to substitute or expand upon the two visualizations that anchor our first issue, and call upon our many constituencies to consider other ways of experiencing the growing archive towards the fostering of public knowledge. We offer an open call to web developers and programmers to inquire about or submit visualizations for inclusion in our journal. As an open-access publication built on open-source software we encourage public participation in the future of the journal.
With that, we just wish to echo Jan's warm "Welcome." It has been an exciting adventure getting to this first issue. We hope that you enjoy.Work Cited