Thursday, 14 January 2016

"Try again, fail again, fail better"

So! I promised it would happen, and it has happened. I did yet another poster, and promised I'd say some more about it. Here it is:

The things I want to say about it are:

1. I don't like it.

2. I don't like it, firstly because I didn't have enough time to do it the way I wanted it to. This is partly because the call for posters came so late (mid-December) that it was a tall order to get something ready in time - a sentiment most people seemed to agree with as there were very few submissions in the end. But within that limited time available I also did not spend long enough planning the actual execution. Lesson learned: unlike with text when, once you have your plan or your bullet points, writing them up into real prose doesn't actually take very long, visuals require much more effort and input to take them from plan to execution.

2. How did this lack of time influence the downward spiral of this poster's design? I had in mind a vast expense of whiteness with very little text, in which my black and white hand-drawn cartoons would stand out really starkly. I was quite taken with this idea of a clean, modern, two-tone thing which would massively stand out in whatever crowd of posters would end up surrounding mine. But it turns out that when you scan cartoons drawn on white paper the background is almost grey. I think I may be able to fiddle with scanner settings and do this better, but I didn't have time then and it wasn't the only problem. Anyway, I decided that as B&W was off I'd switch to colour. At that point I panicked a little and went for a blue background and a colour scheme based on my university logo which is blue and orange. But the result looks really pedestrian and unprofessional. Wrong blue! Not enough time.

I then realised on top of that that I did not have the skills to draw, in Microsoft PowerPoint, the 'family tree' style linkages between cartoons that I wanted, possibly with a superscription for each arrow/link of one word or very concise sentence to indicate what kind of hierarchy or link we were talking about. (Something like 'why this matters' or 'to put this in context'). Nor had I allowed myself the time to look up how to do what I wanted. So I also ended up putting in more text than I wanted to.

What I think could have saved this all was to follow, after scanning the drawings, the procedure outlined on the blog I linked to in my last post. Something to do with using Inkscape to make the drawings into line-only entities separate from their background - does that make them vectors in the jargon? (Apologies, I am not a graphic person.) That wasy I could have imported them onto the white background and everything would have looked different. Not sure I have the heart/time to make yet a third version of this research strand in poster form, but the Inkscaping is a skill I really want to master.

3. My own view of this poster was a lot more negative than that of the audience looking at it at the conference.

I've never drawn so much traffic before, with a good number of people stopping to chat about both content and execution. And the intended laughs materialised too! Everyone seems agreed on the challenge of distilling ideas into very small visual or textual bites. The general sense was that having both my posters up next to one another gave people a really good insight into this strand of my research, but most people weren't sure that having just the cartoons poster alone would have given them as much, so that probably does count as a part-failure. But scholarly discussion was fostered, so not a complete one! Many more people than I expected related to the theme of abusive governments and subjects categorised by government and then treated in a certain way. People are still being labelled today according to processes against which they have very limited power to protest: refugee versus migrant was one that came up the most. Also of interest were the power structures and mechanisms which attempt to combat or, on the contrary, cement this powerlessness. In my case, Roman citizenship was one way of making sure you had some legal footing and clout to appeal to violations of your rights, though even there (my argument goes) all that goes out the window when faced with a state which doesn't want to honour these defences and elides status differences through sheer application of force. In the same way, access to modern technologies nowadays can be both liberating (think of the role of Twitter in the Arab Spring) or controlling and repressive (think of CCTV).

Thanks to Heather Isaksen for the inspiration in her own right, and for introducing me to the work of Hugleikur Dagsson.

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