Christine and I met up for the first time on 2 July. We arranged to meet in the Leeds Museum café and sat down with coffee and sunshine to begin our collaboration. The plan on that first day was to go through the concept I brought to the table and the various ways in which it might be realised. I was keen to get involved with the Creative Exchange programme in the first place to see if the kinds of ideas I had in my head were in any way realistic or manageable. I’m currently preparing a large application to the AHRC for a long project that would have at its centre the construction of a database of production history of Harold Pinter’s work in the UK. Thinking ahead to the next stage, I began to wonder how all that data and all associated metadata could be manipulated, presented, configured in different ways for different audiences. One output I imagined was an app that might, amongst other things, recognise Pinter’s dramatic texts and offer contextual materials and digital objects, pulled from the database and other sources. Meeting with Christine was an opportunity to talk through this and other potential features of the imagined app, to think about its architecture and functionality, and to get a pragmatic and realistic grasp on what is possible.
As well as just talking, we captured thoughts on paper, and Christine began to sketch a series of images in response to the ideas as we tried to clarify what such an app might look like. It was useful to ‘think visually’ as we progressed, and to keep in mind how to construct a simple interface to access a potentially large amount of data.
One refreshing aspect of the conversation was Christine’s ability to focus on the imagined users’ experience, and to ask sometimes challenging questions about what people would want from the app. I learned to appreciate that design needs to start, in effect, from user demand and desire, rather than from a set of stuff we might just offer a set of users digitally. It was useful also to concentrate on the different types of user I had in mind – scholar, student, theatre audience, theatre practitioner – and think about how different routes through the data would be charted by different user interests or needs. How do we accommodate all those routes within a simple interface. What is the ‘front page’, as it were, of the app?
In just a few hours, an ill-defined concept came into shape in my head, as Christine asked questions and sketched out possibilities. I photographed all the sketches and uploaded them to my Evernote account, to access and share later. Over the following week, we would think about how we could flesh out the ideas captured in the sketches, and set an ambition to mock up some app screens as a next step.