[-empyre-] Week Four - Design

Femke Snelting snelting at collectifs.net
Mon Jun 28 20:19:02 EST 2010

Hello David,

Thanks a lot for your questions and our apologies for such a delayed response ... This post follows discussions OSP had in French, Dutch and English; a slow process but it seems we need that kind of translation to cross different points of view.

> Femke I read your post on OSP with great interest as there is lots of
> resonance with what we are trying to do at OHP. I heartily agree that
> many benefits of free culture are found in the doing of it rather than
> simply in its products.

Yes, "doing" matters.

I think what fascinates us is how products, especially digital tools, co-produce an imagined practice. Free software offers many ways to engage with the construction of this imaginary. You could decide to contribute code, participate in a mailing list or file a bug. But the engagement can also take the form of a reflective process, since you can come into contact with every layer of a tool, all the way back to the source. So, we much liked Andrew Murphie asking "how these experiences are engineered on the way through, and how they might in turn contribute to an ongoing reengineering".

> You may be interested to know that we have been connecting book series
> editors with designers. Presently, this flows through the academy as
> the designers are usually colleagues of editors and authors. What we
> see here is incredible levels of engagement on both sides, as you said
> the 'hard lines' begin to dissolve. We'd very much like to expand this
> type of collaboration but at the moment we don't have a good way of
> finding designers and matching them with editors. I'd be interested to
> learn more about how OSP makes these kinds of connections.

I would be very interested to hear more about your experiences. OSP is obviously not working on any "industrial strength" projects, and it is a bit hard to speak in general about how these connections are made. Also, we are not “playing the academic game" so much, so we are not sure whether our experiences are applicable to interesting initiatives such as OHP.

However we are convinced that such connections can only be based on a mutual interest, and we are not surprised that for OHP it turns out to be often collaborations between people that were already in contact with each other. Since we work with extra-ordinary tools in a non-standard workflow, we look for partners that are interested in the nature of our research as much as we are in theirs; it often happens that we are asked to contribute with content or we even co-edit. Most importantly, commissioners or authors will need to share the risk of an experiment with us. It asks a certain intimacy between people to understand how content and form can articulate each other.

A few examples:
For the Master Networked Media at Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, we worked with graduate students on a catalogue. We had taught there before and knew these students well and because they were in-between designers and programmers, we asked them to each contribute a script that would change the size of a typeface, a series of images, the colour of the cover, the title on the spine. Some scripts interacted with the results of another student. We combined those scripts and generated 500 unique digital copies.[1]

For Tracks in electr(on)ic fields, a book we designed for Constant, OSP worked with the legendary TeX and LaTeX typesetting systems for the first time. It was interesting to witness how much TeX is formatted not only for a specific form of publishing (academic) but also how the software has an attitude towards what is proper academic publishing: very distinct preferences for certain structures, relations between images and text etc. Obviously we ran into many interesting troubles when trying to make a book that documents a hybrid non-academic research process.[2]

The last book we worked on, Openbaar Schrijver ("écrivain public"), consists of a series of love letters, or actually templates for love letters to be written during live-sessions. In discussion with the author we decided to make the whole book in OpenOffice and produce each of the pages with the help of a script. This constraint was very much in line with the concept of the project, but as the scripting needed to be done with the help of a barely documented library, we nearly gave up half way.[3]

> I'm also curious about your experiences with the FLOSS tool chain for
> book and journal production. A major stumbling block for us is that
> while a manuscript is in development it needs to round trip with MS
> Word. We just don't have the time to manage all the little
> incompatibilities. I'm thrilled to learn that OSP is working on open
> fonts as we can all desperately use more quality open fonts.

I think the nature of our practice is not so much about reducing incompatibilities. We actually look for them and try to figure out what they could mean. Our tool chain for books is an ever changing and eclectic mix of many smaller and larger utensils: Scribus, TeX, LaTeX, pdftops, psnup, OpenOffice, PoDoFo, Fontforge, Subversion, Inkscape, Python scripting, to name only a few.

As for fonts, again our interest is in the “doing” (or un-doing?) of typography. We work on distributed design systems in an attempt to get away from a traditionally centralised and hierarchical practice and test out how to engage all kinds of participants in the ultra-specialist knowledge of type design and encoding systems.[4]

Luckily, there are already many very useful Libre fonts available. Christopher Adams talked at Libre Graphics Meeting about “Elements of typographic freedom” and near the end he presents a selection of typefaces that might be good for journal typesetting, worth looking at.[5]

> Finally, I'd be interested to hear more about the publishing tools
> your working on; there's plenty to explore yet in this area.
> Currently, we encourage journals in the collective to use Open
> Journals Systems, a FLOSS journal management/CMS from PKP. Mat
> Wal-Smith of Fibre Cultre has been doing some very interesting stuff
> with WordPress. But again the creation/production part remains
> elusive.

 From the above you might have understood that 'exploring' is the operative word here ;-)

In discussion with designers and developers we are starting a series of prototypes for publishing tools that can work with "content streams" in more interesting ways. For us, traditional typography functions as a mechanism of productive resistance that can tease out content and "make legible" on multiple levels. When a text is available both off- and on-line, it is re-flowed endlessly but each instance is actually radically different but we haven't found ways to make this technological resistance (size of a database field, resolution of a screen, processing time, standard mark-up) equally productive.

So, a tool like TeX deals with flows in much more intelligent ways than html or xml, but as the sofware pre-dates the net, the experience of operation it is in reality actually surprisingly rigid.

Our concern with materiality and the (dis)appearance of the book is no nostalgia and applies to paper as well as to digital media. It is an attempt to "maintain a life of objects, making the world inescapable", as Pierre Marchand (artist / software developer and OSP-member) beautifully described it.

> One of the things I find most gratifying about the network nature of
> free culture is that without any sort of centralized coordination
> complete ecologies of access and exchange can and do arise. As Sean
> Dockarey mentioned in relation to AAAARGH and Public School, at some
> level it is about communities creating common resources., we look for partners that are interested in the nature of our research as much as we are in theirs; it often happens that we are asked to

Discussing last weeks' thread on Open Access, Pierre Huyghebaert played us an interview with grandmaster Jean-Luc Godard. Responding to the restriction of internet access in France if Hadopi laws would be implemented, Godard provokingly stated that "The author has only duties" ("L'auteur n'a que des devoirs")[6]. We enjoyed his turn of phrase!


[1] http://ospublish.constantvzw.org/works/500-printed
[2] http://ospublish.constantvzw.org/wp-content/uploads/makingof.pdf
[3] http://ospublish.constantvzw.org/works/valentine-scripting
[4] http://ospublish.constantvzw.org/nancy/
[5] http://river-valley.tv/elements-of-typographic-freedom-open-sources-of-extraordinary-design/
[6] http://www.numerama.com/magazine/16048-jean-luc-godard-le-droit-d-auteur-a-fusiller-tout-de-suite.html

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