Overcoming the Curse of Knowledge with Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration: Applying User Experience Approaches to Digital Humanities

Margaret Terrill
Southern Methodist University

Jonathan McMichael
Southern Methodist University

Rafia Mirza
Southern Methodist University

Community building in digital humanities (DH) is an undertaking which presents well-documented challenges. Inclusion and collaboration have been held as an ideal, as evidenced in Marin Dacos’ “Manifesto for the Digital Humanities,” which calls for “a community of practice that is solidary, open, welcoming and freely accessible” (Dacos 2011). But in reality, digital humanities, by the nature of the tools it utilizes and the online world it inhabits, has a very specific language and culture which can be difficult to break into. We believe that this disconnect between desiring inclusion and creating an environment conducive to it is fundamentally a user experience problem.

User experience (UX) is focused on building human-centered systems designed to maximize understanding. As a team which included both members with UX knowledge and members with DH knowledge, we were able to work together to implement design thinking to better translate the valuable expertise of long-time digital scholars into a framework that scaffolds instruction to allow students and researchers at SMU to enter the DH community.

This team will describe our methods, which utilized test cases, empathy mapping, and rapid prototyping to create an ecosystem of guides that provided several entry points for students and faculty at various stages in their personal research. In this way, we applied UX approaches to DH problems. We believe that this human-centered approach to expanding digital scholarship is the only way to enable the DH community to truly evolve with the ideas of its participants and rise to its academic potential.