Public Projects Update

(Reposted from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s DH Fellows blog. See the original entry here.)

I spent the Fall 2017 semester in the Public Projects Division. Since the end of the Spring 2017 semester, as well as over the summer, I have been primarily working with the Hearing the Americas team to complete an NEH planning grant. This digital project will explore the history of the early music industry by recontextualizing digitized recordings from the LOC JukeboxUCSB Cylinder Archives, and the Internet Archive’s Great 78 Project. Working on this project has been an excellent opportunity to connect my interests in music history and digital public history. I first conducted content research, reading through secondary sources on the history of the early recording industry and locating primary sources that can complement the digitized recordings. Drawing from this research, I created some sample content that reflects the kinds of information and pathways that the site will provide. This sample content included Music Trivia questions, which will give users in depth explorations of important artists, songs, or themes, as well as sample Omeka item pages that include artists, songs, and genres. In addition to textual sources, I also helped to compile a sample set of visual primary sources including advertisements and catalogs that will be included as content as well as guide the aesthetic design.

I then worked with Megan Brett to create user personas as part of the website design process. First, we identified a number of potential audiences for the website, including Music Fans, Musicians, and Music Writers/Record Collectors. From here, we developed a questionnaire to gauge the kinds of knowledge and expectations people might bring to the website. We first completed in-person interviews with potential users based on a shortened and open-ended version of the questionnaire. Finding people to interview at concerts and other music-based events proved difficult, but the conversations we collected helped us to form the longer-format Google Forum and provided useful feedback to shape the personas. The online survey utilized Google Forum’s option to create various pathways, which we used to separate questions for musicians from other persona types, and asked a series of questions about the user’s knowledge of music history, possible interests, and online behavior. We planned an outreach strategy to disseminate the survey on various social media platforms, utilizing hashtags like #MusicMonday and #MusicHistory to reach the widest possible audience. We initially expected a sample size of about 25 responses, and were pleased to greatly exceed that number, reaching 75 responses by the end of the first day and finally closing the forum at nearly 100 responses. All of the information we gathered formed the basis for writing five user personas including composite biographical paragraphs and bullet points that outline potential user behavior.

We sent this sample content and user personas to our designer, Kim Nguyen, who prepared wireframes and mood boards that reflected the potential information architecture and aesthetics of the website. Using Kim’s wireframes as a guide, I sketched out the potential pages of the website with sharpies and paper in order to do a round of paper prototyping. I represented each page of the the website on an individual sheet of paper, allowing for as many foreseeable pathways as possible. I then did prototype testing with people representative of three user personas: Music Fan, Musician, and Music Writer. In this format, the tester “clicks” through the website by pointing to the various options drawn on the page, and I would then switch to the page they selected to simulate a potential pathway. While working through these pathways, the tester also provided feedback about the organization of the website, their expectations about what they would hope to find on each page, and questions about parts of the site that seemed confusing or counter-intuitive. This allowed us to not only test out the information architecture developed over the last year, but provided some very useful feedback from people who had more distance from the project and were able to view the prototypes with fresh eyes.

I completed this semester by writing up user experience narratives that drew from the user personas and the paper prototyping. These narratives described scenarios in which people might find and engage with the website, highlighting content like Music Trivia, annotated recordings with musicological comments, and explorations of important artists and genres. All of this work will be included in the final collaboratively-written design document that will be submitted to the NEH in the Spring 2018 semester. Working on this project has given me insight into the process of designing a large-scale digital history project, as well writing and completing grants. Helping to write the user personas and user experiences for the design document was by far the most challenging part of this semester, but it has given me valuable experience in a style of writing not often included in graduate education.