Design and the Digital Humanities (Book)

A Handbook for Mutual Understanding

Designers and digital humanists have successfully worked together for over twenty years, but many people from both fields have yet to enjoy the many opportunities such collaborations represent. This guide prepares readers for working together, outlining disciplinary perspectives, lessons learned and practical exercises. 46 b/w illus., 33 charts.


This is an essential practical guide for academics, researchers and professionals involved in the digital humanities, as well as designers working with them. It prepares readers from both fields for working together, outlining disciplinary perspectives and lessons learned from more than twenty years of experience, with over two dozen practical exercises.

The central premise of the book is a timely one – that the twin disciplines of visual communication design and digital humanities (DH) are natural allies, with much to be gained for researchers, students and practitioners from both areas who are able to form alliances with those from the other side. The disciplines share a common fundamental belief in the extraordinary value of interdisciplinarity, which in this case means that the training, experience and inclinations from both fields naturally tend to coincide. The fields also share an interest in research that focuses on humanities questions and approaches, where the goal is to improve understanding through repeated observation and discussion. Both disciplines tend to be generative in nature, with the ultimate end in many cases of designing and creating the next generation of systems and tools, whether those be intended for dealing with information or communication.

The interdisciplinary nature of this book is both a strength and a challenge. For those academics and practitioners who have worked with the other discipline, this will be a much-welcomed handbook of terminology, methods and activities. It will also be of interest to those who have read about, seen presented and used the outcomes of successful design and DH collaborations, and who might be interested in forming similar partnerships.

However, for all they have in common, design and digital humanities also have significant differences. This book discusses these issues in the context of a variety of research projects as well as classroom activities that have been tried and tested. This book will provide both design and the digital humanities with a better mutual understanding, with the practical intention of working effectively together in ways that are productive and satisfying for everyone involved.

Design education has a long history, a presence in many post-secondary institutions, and a robust market for educational and practice-based literature. The Digital Humanities community, in contrast, is much younger, but rising rapidly, both academically and within industry. Both design and DH are collaborative disciplines, with much in common in terms of vision, but with confusing overlap in terminology and ways-to-practice. 

The book describes and demonstrates foundational concepts from both fields with numerous examples, as well as projects, activities and further readings at the end of each chapter. It provides complete coverage of core design and DH principles, complete with illustrated case studies from cutting-edge interdisciplinary research projects. Design and the Digital Humanities offers a unique approach to mastering the fundamental processes, concepts, and techniques critical to both disciplines.

It will be of interest to those who have been following previous work by bestselling authors in the fields of visual communication design and the digital humanities, such as Ellen Lupton, Steven Heller, Julianne Nyhan, Claire Warwick and Melissa Terras. 

This guide is suitable for use as an undergraduate or masters-level text, or as an in-the-field reference guide.  Throughout the book, terms or concepts that may not be familiar to all readers are carefully spelled out with examples so that the text is as accessible as possible to non-technical readers from a range of disciplines.

Dr. Milena Radzikowska designs, teaches and conducts research as a feminist, committed mentor and community builder. Her work in human-computer interaction is reciprocally informed by her passion for creating safer, more inclusive and compelling spaces, both digital and analogue.

Stan Ruecker is the Anthony J. Petullo Professor in Design at the University of Illinois. He is currently exploring physical interfaces for tasks such as analyzing text, modelling time and designing experience.


  • Selling the Value of Design
    1. The Epistemological Modes of Knowledge Production
    2. Change is scary
      1. i) Territory of Possible Engagements
      2. ii) Moving the Goalposts
    3. What expertise looks like
      1. i) Who are Designers?
      2. ii) Who are the Digital Humanists?
  • iii) What Expertise in Collaboration Looks Like
  1. EXERCISES: Meaning
  • Creating understanding
    1. Defining DH
      1. i) What do Digital Humanists Do?
    2. Defining design
      1. i) Is There Such Thing As Good Design? If So, What Is It?
      2. ii) Why Design Matters
  • iii) Critical Design
  1. iv) What do Designers Do?
  1. What is Publishable
  2. Case study 1: how design students define themselves
  3. EXERCISES: Form and text
  • Misunderstandings
    1. Terms from DH
      1. i) Text Encoding
      2. ii) Structured Data
  • iii) Federated Data
  1. iv) Linked Data: A Brief Historical Foray into the Memex
  1. Terms from Design
    1. i) Sketches
      • Types of sketches
    2. ii) Three Forms of User-Centered Design
  • iii) Design Thinking
  1. iv) Reframing
  2. v) Gestalt
  1. Claim Games
    1. i) Research
    2. ii) Projects and Research Projects
  • iii) Image
  1. iv) Text
  2. v) Prototypes
  3. vi) Metaphors and Other Figures of Speech
  • vii) Iteration
  1. Case study: what's a book?
  2. EXERCISES: Collections and territories
  • Meeting points
    1. Humanities visualization
      1. i) Why Graphical Representation?
      2. ii) Rich Prospect Browsing
  • iii) Proposing New RPB Principles and Tools
    • Principle of Participation
    • Principle of Association
    • Principle of Contexuality
    • Principle of Pluralism
  1. iv) A Critical Challenge to the Power Embedded in Prospect and Refuge
  1. Case studies: DH-based visualizations created by undergraduate design students
    1. i) BigSee
    2. ii) Structured Surfaces
  • iii) Results
  1. iv) What We’d Change
  1. Case studies: Decision Support Systems
    1. i) Descriptive Reflections
    2. ii) Design Z (Gears)
  • iii) Design A+1 (Bars & Sliders)
  1. iv) Design B (Lines & Dots)
  2. v) Analytical Reflection
  3. vi) Feminist RPB in Manufacturing DSS
  • vii) Critical Reflection Using Feminist HCI
  • viii) Reflection Using a Critical Design Framework
  1. EXERCISES: Data visualization and interface design
  • Working better together: interdisciplinary research in practice
    1. Developing interdisciplinary researchers
      1. i) Undergraduate Interdisciplinary Researchers
      2. ii) Masters-Level Interdisciplinary Researchers
  • iii) PhD-Level Interdisciplinary Researchers
  1. iv) Resource Needs
  2. v) Critical Non-Tangibles
  1. What is Respectable?
  2. Project management for interdisciplinary researchers
    1. i) Ways of Collaborating
    2. ii) Delegation vs Collaboration
  • iii) Cross Disciplinary Lessons Learned
  1. Managing people who are sensitive to their surroundings
    1. i) Designers as Paramecium
      • Tenacity, or Sticking it Out
      • Repetition: Same Shit, Different Pile
      • Comparison: One Person’s Poison is Another Person’s Nutrient
      • Community: A World of Paramecia
      • Changing the World
      • From Bad to Worse: What if the Choice is Between Greater Poison and Lesser Poison?
      • From Good to Better: Choosing Among Nutrients
      • Discontinuity, or Sudden Death
      • Unanticipated Side-Effects
      • Reality Check: Taking a Few Roughs with a Smooth
    2. Case study: Interdisciplinary research project charter
      1. i) The Project Charter
      2. ii) Most Recent Additions and Considerations
    3. EXERCISES: Planning
  • Our Journey Continues
    1. From the Digital to the Physical
    2. Design for Peace and Reconciliation
    3. Collaborative
    4. Design Concepts Lab
    5. Final thoughts
    6. EXERCISES: Intellectual territories
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