When digital humanities projects started getting going many years ago, one of the prized members of any project team was the person who could connect what the researchers wanted and what the technical developers had to do.
That person never really had an official title, but if you didn’t have that role, you tended to end up with horribly ugly sites that helped the research aims of at most two researchers, if you were lucky. Think of 20 search boxes on a screen with drop down boxes with over 50 categories to choose from.
It’s amazing to think how the universe of web design has moved on since then. You never hear the term ‘webmaster’ any more; there’s a spectrum of different tasks and titles (from user researcher to front-end developer) needed to convert user needs into gleaming digital product.
Any digital humanities project (or better still, centre) that wants to manage successful and lasting services over time needs those roles. And as expectations about what the web can deliver continue to increase, so does the need for anyone can create a loop between what the users want and do, and what the developers then build.
In large private companies (oozing in the cash that digital humanities projects can only dream of), there are separate roles for this. Undertaking user research, drawing wireframe outlines, designing graphics and ‘look-and-feel’, user interaction and then user testing and feedback.
Most public sector bodies are fortunate to have one person to do any of that. Europeana has been lucky to have Dean Birkett as part of that connection between what users want and how a website works.
Dean’s work is highly impressive, being able to understand user needs and quickly sketch and conceptualising ideas that can be passed onto developers. He’s heading off to do some free lance work and he will be sorely missed in the office.
Before he left, he mentioned some books that are key for bridging that gap between users needs and completed digital products. They aer useful for any digital project that wants to make sure it is delivering what its users want.