Thinking Instead of the Box

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Introducing Instead of the Box

By Dan Zollman


I'm excited to introduce Instead of the Box! IotB will, over the next few months, become the home of my blog on design (and other things), my porfolio, design resources, and my other miscellaneous projects.

After almost a year of concept development, design, and code-writing, I'm proud to finally have this running. Inspired by developers such as Kroc Camen and a little frustrated with existing web platforms, I originally gave myself the challenge of writing my own publishing system with PHP. My goal was to create a flexible but integrated website where I could write one or more blogs and put up any sort of project, web-oriented or not, I might start in the future. I began coding the current incarnation of the site backend in January, developing it mostly during breaks from school. Meanwhile, I followed a process involving needs analysis, strategy, information architecture, wireframing, and HTML prototyping in order to design the front end of the site. I agree with designers who have written that designing one's own website is one of the most difficult kinds of projects—I spent perhaps too much time agonizing over wireframes, but I ultimately found a direction that meets most of my goals. (I'll write more about that process in a future article.)

Over the next few months, I'll continue to build each section of the website. The website itself is currently a little more than an MVP (I'm co-opting the term "Minimum Viable Product" and replacing it with "Minimum Viable (web) Presence"), and there's still quite a bit of progress to be made on the site's design and functionality within the near future.

In the blog, I plan to write about a number of design- and design theory-related topics, certainly not limited to topics in web design. In some ways, the blog will be a continuation of my previous blog, Design and Innovation Daily, which I started in order to share highlights from the online design world that I follow through blogs and RSS feeds. DIDaily fizzled back in February when schoolwork started taking up too much time—but, even so, I had always intended to replace it with the present blog, in which I will focus primarily on original thinking and writing rather than "reblogging." Just as DIDaily transformed continuously throughout its three-month lifetime, I don't know what Thinking Instead of the Box will become over time, or whether I will end up filling up the three blog categories already established or find yet another new direction. For now, here are a few things I intend to write about:

Design – As I wrote on my "about" page, I'm fascinated by the intersections between design and social science, psychology, and business. I'll write about the implications of these relationships for the design process, and vice-versa—the implications of design theories and methodologies for other fields. In addition, concerning usability and interaction design, I want to explore the ways the ideal of direct manipulation could inform the design of new products and systems. Most pressing at the moment is the growing discussion in the online design community about the opposition between "incremental" innovation and "radical" innovation; I want to develop the argument that there is no such opposition and not even much of an inherent distinction between "incremental" and "radical" in the evolution of technology.

Education – Amidst the wealth of discussion about problems in education (in which there isn't necessarily much agreement), some perspectives address the nature of the model of modern education and its appropriateness for the 21st century. I'm going to take a similar (but not identical) approach to critiquing the common models for education in colleges. Looking at higher education as a designed system, we need to reconsider the values that drive the current system, the roles and purposes of universities themselves, and finally the strategies we implement in colleges and universities in order to fulfill their supposed purpose. I'm going to begin to address some of these questions, challenge our assumptions about the way colleges should be structured, and offer some ideals for effective and meaningful education.

Philosophy – One thread that will appear repeatedly in both of the above discussions is—I don't have a good way to describe this yet—the complex relationship between formalized systems and their contexts. Principles, systems, and institutions arise from certain values in certain contexts, but tensions and inconsistencies appear when the context is changed. I'm not entirely well-read in whatever area of study discusses this, and I'm sure that these ideas have already been covered; however, the topic of values-in-contexts is highly relevant to the search for more effective design and problem-solving processes. Along with that, I may (or may not) touch on the conflict between values and rationality as well as the idea that this conflict might be illusory. On the personal level, I'm something of an existentialist, so that might (or, again, might not) come into the mix.

Over time, in addition to the blog, I'll post more information about the web design services I provide, a portfolio, project documentation, and learning resources.

Finally, I plan to write a series of articles about this website that explain how the backend and publishing system work, the minor novelties of the front-end HTML and CSS, and some aspects of the design and development process used for the site.

In the meantime, this is what's next on the development roadmap:

For now, thanks for reading! If you're interested in seeing what's coming, you can subscribe by email or by RSS. Although you should bear in mind that most aspects of this website are incomplete, I'd love to hear your feedback on my work.

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