Nothing Alternative is Fixed in Time

Blogs are a type of early alt-lit, but that term is usually reserved for a genre of online poetry featuring memes and social media networks (also, it might be dead). It’s a form of online literature that is intrinsically, well, created and dealing with the internets. Calling it literature may be a product of its criticism… then again, I refer to design blogs as a form of design literature. But what is literature, other than writings published on a particular subject? 

The term “alt” may have been more useful years ago than today (same goes for alternative music), but nothing truly alternative is fixed in time.  

I’m spending the next few months combing through hundreds (thousands) of design blog comments, fittingly formatted over the past summer by my research assistant, doctoral student Connor Wilcox. Analyzing necessitates reading; positioning design blogs as a type of alt-lit provides an opportunity for graphic intervention to facilitate different readings. Without fixed margins or pagination, any digital text is also a raw material. In their study on graphical text deformation, Jacqueline Lorber-Kasunic and Kate Sweetapple explore visual text interventions using Herman Melville’s book Moby Dick. With their aim to “bring attention to the textual qualities eluded by conventional criticism,” they graphically adjust elements such as line length, leading, white space, and so forth, to generate a different reading of the text.  

Whereas Lorber-Kasunic and Sweetapple’s work focused on one lengthy text and a single author, my work with design blogs involves multiple authors, publication dates, and short texts. Nonetheless, reader comments, as a component of blog alt-lit, are also unifiable texts that — when stitched together across time and through events — together may provide snapshots of moments in graphic design history.

Part of this post is adapted from my paper “Design Debates, Reader Voices,  and the Histories within Design Blogs” in the forthcoming Design History Society 2021 Memory Full conference proceedings.

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