The Conversation After The Show
When a theater is only open to the public for 15 minutes before and after a performance—and is otherwise closed and locked, with the public let in and, if necessary, kicked out—the question arises of how to make the performing arts a conversation, a participatory activity more articulated than active listening. Here’s a simple story of how that engagement happened, in a town of 7,000 people, in a way that I have rarely seen elsewhere.
I spent Thanksgiving visiting my parents in the small town they’ve retired to, a few hours north of San Francisco, on the border between wine country and redwood country. Their town has a fourplex movie theater that usually shows only least-common-denominator tentpole movies: X-Men, Avatar, Ice Age. On Monday evenings, the theater shows one screening of an independent film, or a less widely distributed studio movie: arthouse fare.
I went to the Monday-night screening of Buck, a 2011 documentary about Buck Brannaman, a horse-trainer who travels around the country teaching horse-owners how to raise horses without breaking them. We learn that Buck himself had a very rough childhood, and we see how this informs his own approach to horses.
Here’s what happened that night. An audience of 40 or so watched the movie. Afterwards, most of this group walked from the movie theater to the town’s art gallery, next door, where there was some wine, snacks, and a circle of metal folding chairs. After 10 minutes or so of mingling, we each took a seat in the circle. The two hosts of the evening, the same ones who booked the quality films on Monday nights in this small town, set the simple rules of conversation: we would go around the circle and each speak briefly about our impression of the movie, whether or not we liked it, what we thought. Then we went around the circle a second time, with any concluding thoughts.
The whole thing took about 20 minutes. The conversation was very good: some people had worked with horses, some related to Buck’s family, some shared broader observations; some compared it to the Herzog cave-painting documentary that had been screened the previous week.
Only afterwards did I find out that there were people in the room who were not otherwise on civil terms with each other. Outside of this room, they kept to themselves, or were on opposing sides at zoning hearings, school-board meetings, the standard places where private citizens share public space. Without this circle of metal chairs and the hosts, they never crossed paths except in conflict.
Here was a space for setting all of that aside, not just communally in a darkened theater but in a conversation. The movie itself had only done part of that work. The art was only part of the experience. If the lights had come up in the movie theater and, as usually happened, we had all filed into the street with those we had arrived with, the greater connection would not have happened, and the town and the lives of those who live there would be worse for it.
Much of the conference was spent discussing who Broadway should be attracting (in terms of both audience and industry), how Broadway could be courting said targeted audiences (largely capitalizing on social networking), and why theater. The why was most succinctly and quotably summed up by Gregory Mosher: “You can’t Google a broken heart. That’s what we need Shakespeare for.” A conversation about what the theater in the theaters should look like and what it should address was slightly less fleshed out. I wanted to take a minute to distill the what in hopes of continuing the conversation that was started on Monday.
from Ghost light: an introductory handbook for dramaturgy
By Michael M. Chemers
In some theaters, dramaturges have the responsibility of curating lobby displays. Such displays can take virtually any form, but many theaters have display cases or other hardware especially designed for this kind of presentation. It is an opportunity for the designers to showcase their work by displaying rendering and models, and audiences one to see these kinds of things because they convey a certain level of insight into the process usually reserved for insiders. This is another opportunity for the dramaturg to cultivate the ideal mindset in the audience. The display is a great place for exploring the production more deeply, for instance, by presentation information that doesn’t fit into the program notes or including visual research that enriches the audience experience (like charts, timelines, maps, photographs, and the like).Remember, the lobby display is something audience will probably confront three times: before the show, at intermission, and after the show. Consider how their attitudes and insights will change with each confrontation. Making a provocative lobby display requires forethought and creativity but can really pay off for the dramaturgy of the show. One example that stands out in my mind was the display at a 2007 production of a documentary-theater piece entitled In Their Own Words, which was set in 1900 and dealt with issues of Europeans immigrating to the United States. The dramaturg, Brianna Allen, had erected a tall board that posted in two columns quotes from immigration (and anti-immigration) activists from 1900 and from 2007; the reader was staggered by how similar the rhetoric was. Nothing could have brought home WTPN better.
Produced playwright at the age of 16. Critic. Polyglot. Scholar. Historian. Philosopher. Theologian. Translator. Interpreter. Social Critic. Activist. Trickster. Moral atheist. Not Jewish, he is a hero to Jews, but was also a hero to Nazis (after a bizarre fashion). Not Muslim, he remains one of the most sensitive interpreters of Islam in the Western world. Born a Christian, he considered it an article of his faith to question the very foundations of that faith. Rebel, lover, teacher, husband, father, and friend.
Schiller credited him with showing the world how to use the theatre as the instructional podium of the enlightenment, “a public mirror of human life.”
Goethe said of him “there are many men as clever and as cultivated, but where is such character?” and “Lessing would not allow himself the lofty title of genius, but his permanent influence bears witness against him.”
Shaw called him “the most eminent of dramatic critics” who was reproached for “not only cutting off his victim’s heads but holding them up afterwards to show that there were no brains in them.”
Stanislavski listed him among the greatest influences in Western drama. Bertolt Brecht borrowed from him heavily. Brian Johnston credits him with a revolution in theatre that made Ibsen’s work possible. Hannah Arendt, in 1955, remarked that one component of his greatness “was the fact that he never allowed supposed objectivity to cause him to lose sight of the real relationship to the world and the real status in the world of the things or men he attacked or praised.”
Lessing took the best of whatever was available in the written or spoken word and combined it all to make something better. His impact is felt strongly in the theatre – we in the modern world still struggle constantly, and all over the world, to live up to his expectations. He was the first dramaturg, as we know the job today. He was a powerful force in the Enlightenment, a powerful voice in the liberation of the Jews in Germany, a crusader for human rights, compassion and understanding. His work played a significant role in the establishment of the United States’ much-treasured freedom of religion.
After the publication of his plays Die Juden and Nathan der Weise, a number of German Jews adopted the surname Lessing in his honor, out of gratitude. One of these was the grandfather of Theodor Lessing, who would become an outspoken firebrand who opposed the rise of Nazism, and lost his life for it.
Lessing’s 283rd Birthday would be January 22. To mark this day, dramaturgy collectives all over North America will be holding fundraisers in his name to support early career dramaturgs who wish to travel to the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas conference, as they have done for many years. I doubt that any other memorial would make him as proud – certainly not this ham-fisted eulogy I have just written.
Some free writin' in the neighborhood of a thesis topic
This topic has been in my head for a while — for sure. It’s obvious that theatre is a passion, next to design, and I love the opportunity to bring them together. I guess there’s also a connection to education that I gravitate toward — is it just education or is it pedagogy. Teaching young performers for so long (it’s been 10+ years at this point) I’ve been able to sit back a bit and think about why and how they learn. I think there’s something unique about learning in the arts—especially for those who lean toward the theatre.
So, this question of how and why people learn has been something kicking around while I’ve been directing too. The question asked by writers of “do my words make sense?” are also asked by directors. We’re taking our audience on a journey and the hope is that they are ready, willing and able to follow us. So many factors are at play; they could be in the wrong mood, not know enough about the subject or just not care at all. Isn’t there a way to help some of those things?
If they’re in the wrong mood, can’t we help to get them there? A theatre I worked at in Austin always had stuff in the lobby - kind of like the energy/look of the show was spilling out of the doors. It was great. And often it wasn’t educational. One show I remember in particular, Beehive The Musical, had this amazing collection of old record covers and whatever other early rock-n-roll-girl-group fun stuff the director had in his collection. The walls were just plastered and you were greeted by this onslaught of imagery—crazy colors, amazing photography, awesome clothes and hair… and, for a lot of the audience, memory. You were automatically transported to another time — a time appropriate for the show. You immediately knew you weren’t seeing two bums waiting for Godot, you were going to spend the next bit of time listening to awesome music.
It wasn’t educational at all. There’s nothing really to be educated about. The show was a celebration. And the lobby lived up to the celebratory mood.
I was lucky enough to work on a lobby display there—way before I was anything but an aspiring designer. The show was A Streetcar Named Desire. There wasn’t much time or money and I certainly didn’t have, at that point, any insight into what I was doing. It was called a “dramaturgical display.”
My understanding of “dramaturgical” came from shows I did at the University of Texas at Austin. When I was in The Love of a Nightingale (Timberlake Wertenbaker) a grad student came in a talked to us about life as a greek soldier. (It’s an awesome play, by the way…) They explained by we’d be wearing skirts as male soldiers. I think they gave us a packet of reading to help us better understand the show we were in and the people we were playing. Same thing, different subject matter, for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Always, sometime in the first week of rehearsal, we’d get this data dump of history from a grad student in Theatre History and Criticism—and it was called dramaturgy.
So, for Streetcar, I thought it would be a good idea to show some stuff about Tennessee Williams’s early life and make connections from his past to the lives of the characters in the show. The early designer in me knew that these black and white photos would need to be big—playing with contrast to compete with the visual space of the lobby. I knew they would need to be evocative and the shabby plantation homes and grimy streets of New Orleans didn’t let me down. It looked really cool, by my meager perspective. But I wonder if it did anything for the audience. I was trying to treat a serious play with a serious display but on reflection I realize that I wasn’t really saying anything.
How could I have been saying anything? I didn’t know anything about the production that was happening. There was no input from the director. And once it was running, the lobby was nothing more than a pretty prelude with a couple of interesting tidbits. There were missed opportunities for insight into the subject matter of the show. It was all surface. Surface just like the Beehive lobby was, but the difference here was that there was more to scratch than the top layer. We could have introduced the audience to information about spousal abuse, about family relations, about a dying society, about mental illness. Instead, it was all about how Williams lived in a house that became a model for Belle Reve.
To be fair to myself, the production itself didn’t really talk about that stuff either — it wasn’t an amazingly strong show. It meant well, but it treated the show like a masterpiece, like a show horse, not like a vital and alive piece of text that could have resonance and meaning for today’s audience. On top of that, the general audience at that theatre may not be interested in stuff like that. They may be more happy to simply say that they saw Streetcar without really participating in it. Some theaters there are semi-professional, but the audiences aren’t necessarily.
I think that a truly outstanding production of Streetcar, though, would have an amazing historical/philosophical/psychological/every-ical story to tell the audience and I bet some introduction to those themes beforehand would be good. AFter the show too. When I’m floored by a production I think about it for days, weeks. After seeing Caroline, or Change in New York several years ago I walked around the west side for hours trying to come to terms with what I’d seen. Not only had I been moved by the subject matter, the emotional story, the places where the characters went, but as a professional theatre artists I was taken aback by the sheer artistry and talent of those involved. I searched for people to talk to about the show. Not many had seen it, so I was definitely having to look far and wide. To this day I get the same thoughts in my head when I hear the music. It would have been really cool to have a moment after the show to hear with Tony Kushner was thinking. To get some insight. To learn about the history presented in the show. To learn about Jewish life in the south back then.
So I guess I use myself when thinking about who an audience is. If I like a show I want to know more about it. If there’s a theme that’s going to be over my head I’d like to be prepared. I find that this education can be fun — and it can make the evening more entertaining. Rather than having to play catch-up with some random piece by Sarah Ruhl, it would be awesome to have some help. And even if that’s just getting me in the mood for what I’m about to see.
The early reading I’ve been doing about this, starting with Wikipedia and then finally moving on to more complete sources like the American Dramaturgy Sourcebook (or something like that) has lead me to question the word dramaturgy. I’m not alone in that, thankfully. Each definition differs slightly. The one “complete” definition I found took about 200 words. My summation is that a dramaturg does everything from working with a theatre to choose a season, helping a playwright form a narrative or providing constructive criticism to the director during rehearsals. Also, there’s the whole thing about providing information and context to the performers. But no mention was made of anything like the lobby displays I remember from Austin. But it’s definitely in the purview of someone like a dramaturg. I don’t think I made up “dramaturgical display” on my own. So, the search continues for a critical/historical/analytic/or-even-fictional description of what I’m interested in.
Back to that — that time before you see the show (at the theatre - or even before you leave the house), those moments of intermission and after the performance — can dynamic media play a role in this… discussion. That’s what I’ll call it. A discussion. How can dynamic media foster a discussion between the watcher and the watched?
The concept of watching has come up in my brief and fresh reading about the philosophy of aesthetics… theatrical aesthetics in particular. It focuses on this idea of the watcher and watched - and how both parties have roles to play and need to know how to play them. The author told a story about seeing a mid-week matinee of Waiting for Godot in London’s West End. At the performance was a whole host of school kids on a field trip. They were not at all interested in the proceedings on the stage and, in fact, creating such a stir that it amounted to its on performance. The actors onstage, he said, were well-known as actors who were very famous and quite popular with young people and old [I’m guessing it was Robin Williams… but the author never stated.] But he wasn’t performing Godot for young folks, and the young folks didn’t know how to watch Godot. It’s not that people don’t or aren’t capable of liking the theatre, it’s that they don’t know how to watch it, to experience it. It’s become such a foreign thing for most people. Or, at least, the act of having live performers on a platform pretending to be other people for a couple of hours is a foreign experience… everything in the world is theatre. Most high school cafeterias would rival Hamlet for dramatic angsty outbursts.
Taking off on this idea of “how we watch” - I want to figure out how to help our audience become better watchers. I’m not going to change the world and magically find a way for theatre to replace TV and lower the costs while raising quality across the world. But, I think there are some people who would really like Coriolanus if given half a chance. There’s a marketing question - how to get the butts into seats. There’s the kind of narrative question - how to share thoughts and ideas surrounding the show without giving too much away. There’s the programming question - how much is too much. There’s a pedagogical question - what’s the point where we don’t want to learn and we just want to be entertained. There’s the content question - what’s the stuff that needs to be shared. There’s the financial question - how much money does this cost. There’s the time question - in a time-strapped theater who wants to put this stuff together. There’s the design question - what’s the appropriate piece for a 30-minute pre-show, 15-minute intermission, 5-minute post-show and/or a before/after printed/online. And of course there are many many more questions surrounding each of these.
A local production of a Broadway-bound musical recently tried their hand at a dramaturgical display. It was sad. Two foam-core-mounted posters with lousy typography and pixelated image were hung in a corner behind the ticket takers. No one was able to spend more than five minutes looking at them. And they really didn’t want to. The content was actually not very interesting when considered with what the show is about. These posters were fairly dense biographies of the composer and lyricist. (Maybe the book writer too.) These were “posters” in format, but were really not much more than pages from a book blown up and hung. As I’m writing this I’m wondering if they were present only to fulfill a contractual obligation with the estate of the writers. Anyway, there’s a lot of history in and around the show and there could have been a really rich experience for the audience, even if only in a printed form. A look at race relations or the slums of the south could have made for a really interesting read before the show.
One time I was talking to a theatre about making a lobby display for a show. This was mainly because the general consensus was that the lobby looked a little ugly and could use some dressing up for a world premiere that was going to happen. Though nothing actually happened with our discussion, they got really excited about the idea of bringing the show into the theatre. Having the experience begin right when you walk through the lobby doors.
I don’t want to stop there. I think the experience could begin with the first time you read about the show. It doesn’t cost much money to run a conceptual twitter feed. (We’ll ignore time for now.) Sleep No More had wild success with a digital scavenger hunt leading up to the opening in New York. (Which had something to do with a fanboy attitude.) Someone is posting the works of Shakespeare line by line on Twitter. Characters on TV shows has rich and thorough existences online in various formats.
There aren’t necessarily specific technologies I want to explore. I’m more interesting in forming ideas - theories about how to engage the audience, and in particular using dynamic media to do so. And it’s not just because that’s the program I’m in. The opportunities here are great and it doesn’t have to cost all that much. So much is possible and it could be a boon to non-profit organizations.
Along with the idea of enriching the audience and helping them be better watchers I bet this study will also involve asking questions about marketing. If it’ll get someone to buy a ticket many theaters will try it.
Why else dynamic media in the lobby? I’m thinking back to that Streetcar lobby I worked on. It would have been amazing to create an experience that made you feel like you were sitting in New Orleans - or some sort of virtual tour of a decaying plantation home.
This is why I did my radio project in the first semester. As soon as I knew it was a narrative project I knew what the objective of the piece would be: to enhance the audience’s experience with a text. I didn’t want to give too much away, but I wanted to tell a little bit of the story, introduce a feeling of dread about the impending plague.
I’m gathering reading material - thankfully Matt and I have a fairly substantial library at home. And I’m looking forward to going through the Emerson library. This semester I hope to take a dramatic lit class to bone up on some analytic skills - maybe even building a list of topics to look at for specific projects. I want to use my connections at the ART to set up some interviews with their dramaturgy students. The Huntington has a fantastic resident dramaturg who I need to have a chat with. (Boston’s such a great place to be for this project - even if the theatre sometimes sucks, there’s a wealth of scholars available.) Over the summer I think I’ll be driving to Texas and hope to be able to schedule some interviews for the road. There should be fabulous people to talk to in Austin, Houston, Dallas, Cincinnati, Chicago, Atlanta, Philahelphia, DC… Hopefully I can get some introductions made in the next months and have a fruitful summer getting some opinions recorded.
I’ve returned to a little once-a-week job that I had in undergrad manning the reception desk at the ART. I hope to be able to snag some people and make some introductions. There are lots of folks here who I’ve love to hear from.
Was reading an essay by the (former?) dramaturg at Arena Stage in DC about dramaturgy and musical theatre. The essay was a great insight into the dramaturgical process and made me realize what a small part of the art of dramaturgy I’m referring to so I want to be cautious and careful about the language I use. I don’t want to upset any professionals. They do so much more than make lobby displays. This will probably form a major part of some of my early interviews.
This is supposed to be stream-of-consciousness writing and I think I’m doing a pretty good job of that. To quote Liz Lemon, “Pimple. Monkey butt.” I’m not accustomed to this kind of thinking in a prose format. I’m probably just not used to a prose format at all.
I’ve been thinking about what kinds of projects I could work on. I am trying to push my studio and elective projects into this realm - if nothing else I’m choosing dramatic literature as something to respond to. Starting small is definitely where I am. The technology needs are going to be particular to the content of each project. I’m not the type of designer to start with the product first. When looking at a show like Three Sisters I would have no idea what the lobby would look like. I like that part of the challenge: creating the question and finding the route to the answer. I’m a big believer in that process. I really believe that it’s how I’ve found success with design work in the past. So, it’s all about creating opportunities for myself in the real world. There’s only so far I can take this work in the studio — and really I can’t test any of these ideas in a vacuum. I have to start talking to friends in local theaters about upcoming shows and seeing if they have any interest in my working with their dramaturg to build some experiences. Since no one has any money (least of all myself) the start of this may be web-based. Audience outreach kind of stuff. Maybe there would be some interest somewhere. The folks I’ve spoken with already seem to think it’s all a pretty good idea, but we haven’t gotten down to actual planning. Maybe a college production would be a good place. I should start, though, by figuring out who is doing any sort of dramaturgical display work already. From what I’ve seen no one is. At least as far as I can tell.
Some places, like the ART, put out reading materials. ART has a publication called “Guide” — used to be “ARTicles” — that has articles, images and other general “stuff” to go with the shows. It’s not exactly full of content - it’s mostly ads - but it’s an effort. I’ll try to learn about the history of this publication. Lisa Rosowsky worked there many years ago - maybe she’ll have some info. On top of the ads, the publication is co-produced with The Weekly Dig. I’m sure that’s an enormous help in offsetting the cost. Dig probably prints it in exchange for the sale of ads. That type of partnership is smart. But overall I find the piece is trying too hard to be a magazine. The dramaturgical audience outreach in one issue is about wine pairings. It’s related to a production about Schubert in which they serve wine. I guess it makes sense. But, I’m as disappointed in this “education” as the people who came to the show expecting some real insight into Schubert but instead felt they were at a wine tasting. At least the article is true to the production.
It’s hard to put an “end” on this. I would like to recap or conclude in some way but I have no clue what I’ve actually written. So… I’m going to try my hand (again) at articulating what I want to propose:
The art of theatre lies in the hands of those in the seats and those on the stage, the watchers and the watched. As the act of playgoing has become less and less a part of our culture, the art of watching is quickly becoming lost. What role can dynamic media play in helping teaching how to be an audience? How can dynamic media become a way to prepare to watch something? How can dramaturgs use dynamic media and design to reach their audience? How can marketers take advantage of this new media to engage an new audience or retain existing ones? How can these things things be accomplished on a tight budget, remaining accessible for smaller theaters? What type of engagements would be of interest to an audience? How much learning is too much for an audience who is there to be entertained?
Tweaking the New Year
DesignNotes by Michael Surtees
A couple years ago after reading a post from someone that visited the Empire State Building once a year on New Years Day I decided to follow the same tradition. Just like last year and the year before that it gave me a focused opportunity to reflect on the past year and decide what I will do for the remainder of the new year.
Looking back it was like no other. The biggie was Gesture Theory. We worked with more people, released better products and ultimately we we’re in control of our direction based on our experience. It wasn’t always easy but it was with all the other experiences that lead to the confidence that when things weren’t working out as they should be, things would still would work out.
I’ve always maintained that no two days in NYC are ever the same. That still holds true but I also am starting to focus on a couple things each day that can move the needle each day. Small tweaks to the unordered routine will make this post next year interesting to read.
How to Write a Ph.D. Dissertation
E. Robert Schulman and C. Virginia Cox
In this paper we demonstrate that writing a Ph.D. dissertation can have many benefits. Not only do you obtain extensive typesetting experience, but afterwards you can have your frequent-flyer literature addressed to “Dr. Your Name.”
Chapter I: Introduction
Ph.D. dissertations (e.g., Schulman 1995a; Cox 1995) are commonly believed to be comprehensive compendiums of the original research done by a graduate student in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.² In reality, the Ph.D. thesis is usually a number of disparate chapters whose most important feature is not the thoroughness of the experimental description but rather the width of the margins. In this paper, the second article in a series on scientific writing that began with Schulman (1996a), we will discuss the phenomenon of the Ph.D. thesis.
Chapter II: Preparing to Write
There comes a time in the life of every graduate student when she or he realizes that another two years of graduate school cannot be endured. Even though a year spent writing your thesis will be filled with frustration and angst, it will end up being worth it in order to escape school forever.
Remember the following phrase: “No one will ever read your thesis.” You’ll hear this phrase a number of times as you finish up, and it’s vitally important that you believe it to be true. The phrase is important because without it you would be tempted to work on your thesis until everything is perfect, and you would never finish.
(Image credit: Flickr user lunita lu)
Say “It’s good enough for the thesis” to yourself several times a day. Tell yourself that you’ll correct all the mistakes when you turn the various chapters into independent scientific papers, even though this won’t happen (see Schulman 1996aand references therein).
Chapter III: Your Thesis Committee
Your thesis committee should consist of between four and nine researchers in and outside of your field. Each committee member has a specific duty.
Your thesis advisor has the most important job: to reassure you that you don’t have to do many of the things you’re positive you should do. She or he will likely say, “It’s good enough for the thesis” fairly often.
You also need one committee member who will insist on more mathematical rigor, one who will demand that the thesis be made more concise by getting rid of all that irrelevant math, and two or three to say that you should do all the things your thesis advisor told you didn’t need to be done.
There should also be at least one committee member who will never read the thesis, and who will therefore ask only general questions at your thesis defense. The other graduate students who attend your defense will often bet on which professors read your thesis. Be prepared to determine the winner (note that it is not considered sporting to participate in this game yourself).
Try to set a defense date early so as to give your committee ample time to schedule conferences, vacations, and/or elective surgery for that day.
Chapter IV: Producing the Thesis
Legend has it that doctoral students in ancient times used to produce their dissertations using a device called a “typewriter.” While there is some archeological evidence for typewriter use in the past, many researchers doubt the plausibility of such claims (e.g. Schulman 1995a).
(Image credit: Flickr user urbanmkr)
These days, dissertations are produced using word processing programs such as Word or Word Perfect, or computer typesetting systems such as TeX or LaTeX. The former will give you practice in drawing by hand all the symbols that aren’t supported, while with the latter you have the opportunity to craft new typesetting definitions to satisfy your university’s dissertation policies. For example,
Be sure not to choose the wrong method of producing your thesis.
Chapter V: Writing the Thesis
The Ph.D. thesis usually begins with a pithy quote, after which there will sometimes be a dedication to one’s parents, life partner, and/or pet tapir.
Following this is probably the most important part of the dissertation: the acknowledgments section. This is the only section that everyone who picks up your thesis will read. They will happen upon your dissertation in the library and flip through the first few pages, looking for a juicy acknowledgments section. This is your chance to make obscure references to secret loves, damn various faculty members with faint praise, or be very mysterious by having no acknowledgments section at all so that everyone wonders what you’re hiding.
After the acknowledgments should be the various tables of contents, denoting the page numbers on which the reader may find every section, subsection, subsubsection, figure, table, appendix, footnote, and semicolon in the thesis.
Next comes the first thesis chapter, the introduction, which is judged on the basis of how far back in the past you start. Although the introduction is supposed to enable someone with no knowledge of your field to read and understand your thesis, this is an impossible goal. Instead, simply reference sources such as Rontgen (1896), Galileo (1610), Aristotle (-350), or other similarly ancient researchers. The idea to get across is that your work, being based on the work of great scientists of the past, must be truly worthwhile. Even though these works have little to do with your research, your committee isn’t going to look up the references.
After the introduction come chapters that describe what you did, where you did it, when you did it, why you did it, and how much more work has to be done before you can obtain definitive results. This last point is usually discussed in the concluding chapter.
Chapter VI: The Thesis Defense
Remember those dreams you used to have about going to class and finding out that there was a big test that day for which you hadn’t studied? The thesis defense is worse, because you find out that although you studied very hard, you didn’t study the right things.
Your committee members aren’t going to waste their time asking you about your research, because you know more about that than anyone else in the world. Instead, they will ask questions that are really about their research or–if they are in a particularly punchy mood–about fundamental mathematics.
The fun part is that at most universities the first part of your defense is open to the public, so that your parents will probably want to come and videotape the event.
(Image credit: Flickr user chnrdu)
Chapter VII: Rewriting
Your thesis defense was tough, but you survived. Your committee members have signed a piece of paper saying that they are satisfied with your dissertation as long as your thesis advisor is happy with the revisions you make. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make everything perfect! Remember the phrase from Chapter II, “No one will ever read your thesis.”
Once your advisor is happy with the revisions, take one unbound, unperforated, paginated copy of your dissertation, two copies of your abstract, one extra copy of your title page, the signed evaluation forms from your committee members in a sealed, notarized envelope, the receipt proving your payment of the Thesis Publication Fee, your diploma application, and proof of your doctoral candidacy enrollment to the Bureaucratic Office of Records, Education, and Dissertations (your requirements may vary; void where prohibited).
The folks at BORED will take a ruler to every page in your thesis, making sure that all the margins are correct and insisting that you go back and redo them if even one page is wrong.
Chapter VIII: Distributing Your Thesis
You’ve passed the format check, and it’s time to make a hundred copies of your thesis and distribute them to departmental libraries all over the world so that everyone in your field can read it. Your advisor should pay for the photocopying and postage (see Schulman & Cox 1997 for a detailed justification).
Try not to think of all the errors lurking in your thesis as you address the envelopes to Professor Famous or Doctor Influential. You want to publicize your dissertation as much as possible so that prospective employers will at least have heard your name.
Some journals will publish brief summaries of your dissertation (e.g. Schulman 1995b; Schulman 1996b), but be warned that these journals may want you to format your summary quite specifically. The requirements for the mini-Annals of Improbable Research are particularly restrictive; it can be difficult to summarize five years of work in five lines of text.
Chapter IX: Conclusion
(Image credit: Flickr user Mr.Tea)
Congratulations, Doctor! You’ve escaped from graduate school and can now have your frequent-flyer literature addressed to Dr. Your Name, complain when forms only list Mr/Ms/Mrs, and smirk when surgeons whine about all the people with academic doctorates who are making the title meaningless for medical doctors. Go out and make the world a better place.
Aristotle, -350, On The Heavens, Athens, Greece.
Cox, C. V. 1995, Ph.D. thesis, University of Michigan.
Galilei, G. 1610, Sidereus Nuncius, Venice, Italy.
Jerius, D. H. 1992, Ph.D. thesis, University of Michigan.
Kaplan, J. M. 1996, Ph.D. thesis, Stanford University.
Rontgen, W. C. 1896, Nature, 53, 274.
Schulman, E. R. 1995a, Ph.D. thesis, University of Michigan.
Schulman, E. 1995b, mini-Annals of Improbable Research, 1995-08, 4.
Schulman, E. R. 1996a, Annals of Improbable Research, Vol. 2, No. 5, 8.
Schulman, E. 1996b, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 108, 460.
Schulman. E. R. & Cox, C. V. 1997, Annals of Improbable Research, Vol. 3, No. 5, 8.
1. There is no note 1.
2. One does not actually need to include any philosophy in the thesis unless one is getting a Doctorate of Philosophy in philosophy, and even in that case the philosophical component can be minimized (e.g., Kaplan 1996).
My Favorite Font Sources: A Shortlist of Trusted Foundries and Retailers
My Favorite Font Sources: A Shortlist of Trusted Foundries and Retailers
Most fonts are licensed when needed, selected specifically for the job at hand. But when my (less font-addicted) friends are seeking versatile, workhorse typefaces for future use, I send them this list.
Hoefler & Frere-Jones
Process Type Foundry
MyFonts — As a retailer with a very liberal acceptance policy the quality of type available at MyFonts varies widely. Here are my personal recommendations (rated 4 stars and above) as a start.
FontShop — The foundries represented at FontShop are more carefully curated, but there is still dreck through which to wade. I can’t link to my picks until the site’s Favorites function is shareable, but the Bestsellers, Award Winners and Underused lists feature some of the best stuff.
Of course, there are dozens of reputable outfits that make and sell good fonts. It’s almost irresistible to list every little foundry I love, but most of them are available via one of these outlets and a set of links longer than the one above is often more overwhelming than useful. Think of this list as a shopper’s starting point for building a lasting typographic toolset. These sites offer most of the best fonts available, and — crucially — present them well, too.
The focus here is on downloadable desktop fonts for print use, but some of these shops offer webfont versions as well. For now, my webfont-specific shortlist is simply: Typekit, Webtype, Fontdeck.
Speaking of typeface recommendations, our very own Typographica.org reviews are also a good introduction to a few of the best new typefaces. After an unforgivable two-year hiatus, we’re wrapping up the 2011 edition now.
The Myth Of The Sophisticated User
Smashing Magazine Feed
As I sat in my local co-working space, shoulder-deep in a design problem on my MacBook Air, I could hear him. He was on the phone, offering screen-by-screen design recommendations to his client for the project they were working on. When this acquaintance of mine arrived at the subject of a particularly hairy task flow, he said, “Well, these aren’t going to be very savvy users, so we should probably put some instructions there.” He followed this by rattling off some dry, slightly too formal line intended to clear up any confusion about the page.
Image Source: Robb North
It was an act that reflected his apparent belief that some savvier type of user is out there who would immediately understand the screen and could live without the instructive text. I cringed. I’ve heard the same suggestion on far too many phone calls, and it’s been wrong every time. To shed light on my reaction to it and to illustrate why such a suggestion is problematic, let’s consider a quick tale of two users.
A Tale Of Two Users
First up is the type of user who my acquaintance thought he was trying to help. Let’s call him John.
John is a guy with little experience using the Web beyond the typical. He pays a few bills, Facebooks a few friends, buys the occasional bauble, but he has found himself having to use this fancy new internal Web app as part of his job, the one designed by the person in my co-working area.
At the next desk over is Jane, a tech-savvy user who spends nine hours a day doing one thing or another on a variety of screens — her laptop, her phone, her tablet — and whose hobby is loading up on as many apps as she can find. She’s never met a problem the Internet couldn’t solve. She has chops, and she loves to use them.
When John approaches this complicated Web app, he knows a couple of things: that he has to learn to use the thing in order to do his job, and that he often struggles to understand the complicated interfaces that seem to come at him from every direction these days. He’s not excited about having to cope with this one, too.
Jane, on the other hand, is a “producer.” She gets things done, and she pushes this app’s buttons without hesitation. The list in her to-do app has a hundred things on it, and doing work on this app is just one of a slew of tasks whose ass she’ll kick before even heading out for lunch.
John and Jane both see the same screen, but they see different things there. Their understanding and familiarity with it are not the same; their confidence in conquering it is at different levels; and different psychological factors are at play when they interact with it. For John, the pressure is in figuring out how to do this part of his job so that he can get back to nervously doing the others. For Jane, the pressure is in cranking through this so that she can devour the next item on her list.
Now comes the part that too few people who make design decisions realize: while John and Jane have different problems and are different types of users, their needs are identical. In short, they both want to get the hell off this screen. John is unconfident, and Jane has other things to do. They both need the screen to make sense. They both need the task flow to be obvious. They both need to just get past it.
So, which user was my acquaintance helping by adding instructions to the page? In truth, the answer is probably neither.
The only reason a line of instruction would help John is because the screen was designed for Jane, whose vast experience helps her decipher the purpose, benefit and flow of this task. And that’s exactly the problem. Jane, though perhaps more likely to work her way through the screen with some success, has better things to do than struggle with it. She may have more technological experience, but she’s in a hurry. Besides, a poorly designed screen can make Jane feel as much of a moron as John feels. Her experience means nothing against a screen that wholly fails to explain itself.
John is less likely to recognize design patterns or to be able to parlay his previous experiences to this one. Jane is more likely to recognize patterns, but only if they’re used in ways she’s familiar with or can quickly adapt to (although weak designs are weak usually because established design patterns have been misused). John’s lack of confidence pitted against a tough design might kill his desire to ever work with it again. And Jane, despite being ready and willing to fight through it, will not be any more loyal after the battle.
In short, Jane is just as likely as John to walk away from this screen frustrated. And no line of instruction will compensate for a bad design.
Frustration Is Frustration
Despite hearing it all the time from designers and executives alike, the notion that tech-savvy users will be more amenable to difficult interfaces is, in a word, crazy. Yes, some users, when asked, would prioritize user control over ease of use (and vice versa: unconfident users would prioritize ease of use over control), but does this mean that the tech-addicted among us will more readily understand an unclear message, tolerate a poor task flow, or swear by a product that they themselves have trouble using? Heck no. Complexity can be managed, control can be beneficial, but frustration is never a good business strategy.
It doesn’t matter how savvy your users are, better design benefits everyone. Having a proficient audience is no excuse to slack off. You’re still designing for human beings, and human beings, one and all, have better things to do than try to make sense of a weak design.
You’re A Jane
If you’re reading this, odds are that you’re a Jane. You are a tech-savvy, confident user who jams those buttons down like there’s no tomorrow, fearlessly marching your way through whatever task stands in your way. When was the last time you had the time and willingness to put up with a poor interface from a company that thought it could get away with it because you’re an experienced user? When was the last time you liked it? When was the last time you recommended an app with such a design?
The next time you’re designing for John, remember that you’re also designing for the Janes of the world, too. Their to-do lists will be the better for it.
US Interstates as Subway Map
Many of you may know that I’m a big fan of subway maps (I’m a geek, I know). So I couldn’t help but share this great subway-inspired map of U.S. interstates by designer Cameron Booth.
One of the Greatest Ads of All Time
This vintage LEGO advertisement has been making the rounds lately but I couldn’t resist sharing it here too. It’s refreshing to see an ad that’s aimed at young girls in this way (no pink, glitter or princess paraphernalia) , but unfortunate that we haven’t seen this sort of thing in decades. The smile on this little girl’s face just makes me so happy…