Scholars' Lab Blog //design to play
Blog //design to play

Full disclosure: I have not used coloring pencils in over a decade… that is, until we got down and dirty to brainstorm some possible designs for Prism last Tuesday. Word has it, there will be some transparencies and markers tomorrow. Funny thing is my first salaried job was as a caricaturist for the newspaper El Caribe in Dominican Republic. I remember sitting down with coloring pencils every night and cranking out a few designs before the 2am deadline. That was around the time when I was supposed to be an architect. El Caribe paid for my full tuition to go to architecture school. I know. Why did I drop? Short answer: I didn’t want to draw for the rest of my life.

Those pencils felt like old friends in my hands last Tuesday.

Full disclosure: I don’t highlight books. I use light pencil markings. Somebody must have instilled the fear of the biblio-gods in me early on because I even feel bad when I see someone else do it. I started highlighting for the first time with computers. Now there’s a place where I don’t feel like I’m defiling anything by coloring it up (I use Diigo, Word and Adobe Pro nowadays).

Until now, I never stopped to think about the kind of highlighting we do when we highlight web pages, doc’s or pdf’s. I realize right away that it is a very different activity from highlighting paper. For example, when was the last time you could erase highlighting from a printed article? Prism highlighters also seem different than your average random markup. I’m not only talking about the controlled vocabulary. Any organized researcher can device his or hers color system and use the tools available already to give meaning to their markup. What feels different about Prism is that you are being asked to play. Unless it is a reviewer trying to call attention to some text for you, highlighting is a very personal and solitary activity. Prism is nothing of the sort.

It is hard to say what the effect would be before actually doing it with the real thing when we roll it out, but I can already tell it will be a new kind of play. In a ludic spirit, I suggest we make the color palette big and bright, almost child-like: four circles below the text. The text should have nothing to the left, nothing to the right. The horizontal space of the text should be clear to keep the peripheral vision in check. When the pointer goes down to dip in the palette, I would like to feel the danger of wet ink over the text. Highlighting and painting combined into one? Me to play!

Cite this post: Alex Gil. “design to play”. Published October 17, 2011. Accessed on .