Kairos: Open Since 1996

As a plucky new faculty member I wrote a critique of an early design for the online journal Kairos. My article was snarky in form (I invoked Mystery Science Theater 3000) but serious in intent (“The overdesigned Kairos site perpetuates the myth that online rhetoric is necessarily complex and arcane,” with the earnest bold text in the original).

They hypertext theory of the early 90s celebrated the defamiliarization of linear prose and the de-centralization of the user experience, conveying the kind of disruptive optimism that drove the dot-com economic bubble. I don’t claim any special design savvy — I just noted the friction between hypertext theory and the way real-life users behaved when they started using the World Wide Web not to enjoy the novelty of a disruptive textual experience, but rather to research current events or and get their routine work done. As usability experts began making great strides in marrying the strength of appealing web design with the necessity of creating sites that people can use (instantly, without having to learn a new reading / navigation strategy for each site they visit), I saw a gap between the great scholarship Kairos was producing, and the frustrating interface Kairos was forcing on newcomers.

At any rate, back in 1999 the editors not only published my critique, but also published a redesign that, in one way or another, addressed most of the points I raised. During the revision process, I had the chance to add a brief nod to the new design, and developed some wonderful and long-lasting professional relationships.

Here’s what editor Doug Eyman has to say about the growth of Kairos. It’s one thing to start a new project; it’s another thing entirely to maintain it over years, staying at the forefront, encouraging and challenging all the while.

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 12.58.29 PM“Early webtexts relied mostly on HTML and still images; not many included audio or video. Several used frames (thank goodness that fell out of style! It complicated the code editing considerably.) We’ve seen a rise in the use of video and we’ve seen more Flash-based work (but we get less of that since we actively discourage its use for reasons of accessibility and our sanity as editors).” –Doug Eyman, quoted in Inside Higher Ed.

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