Tag Archives: Ryan Blum-Kryzstal

Displaced persons refugge card from the International Refugee Committee. My grandfather, now named Bernard Kristall is listed here alongside my grandmother Klara, and my mother Malla (Molly). This was an ID card in a displaced persons camp outside Berlin a few years after the war ended.

Ryan’s Interface Critique: United States Holocaust Museum

For my interface design critique, I selected the United States Holocaust Museum. I selected this site because it functions within the fields of exhibitions, scholarly research, education, and advocacy which I thought would be an inspiring tool for us as we attempt to design a holistic interface for our class project.

Homepage of the USHMM site that shows strong photos, clear actions, and non-linear engagement.

Homepage of the USHMM site that shows strong photos, clear actions, and non-linear engagement.

When examining the interface design what strikes the viewer first is a relatively conservative website that is designed to serve a wide range of users, both young and old. The first picture one sees is a commemoration of the Rwandan genocide that occurred 20 years ago in 1994. The intention here is to broaden the visitor’s understanding of genocide, and draw parallels of human behavior within a larger historical arc from the Holocaust to the present day.  What I take from this approach to think about our class project holistically by making connections to each tributary that draws back to The New School. The UX principle of organization allows for any user to navigate throughout the site and engage into different tributaries at any time. There is always a means to dig deeper into the site.

When examining the USHMM site I look for clarity of design, key points of interaction, where my attention is drawn, and how the composition supports the narrative organization. At the top of the page, the navigation starts with: Site (to allow users to select from 15 different languages), Events, Hours, Directions, Support the Museum, Connect, and Donate. This top nav is one of the weakest aspects of the page. Hours and directions could have easily been integrated into one section, and it is not clear why the ‘Support the Museum’ link is different from the ‘Donate’ link.

Overall, the site holds a strong consistency in form and function. Each item remains fixed and users can always engage with another element without having to use the back button. In this way, the site feels like a journey that allows the user experience and user interface to flow.

Social media section that allows users to share content at any time to 5 of the major social platforms.

Social media section that allows users to share content at any time to 5 of the major social platforms.

Social media has a presence on the site, but it is not a core feature, and tends to be downplayed for the most part. Each page on the upper portion of the left-hand navigation has a button that is colored in periwinkle blue that says ‘Share’, where the options are email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yahoo.

What first strikes me is the dark background that allows the top navigation to separate the eye from the main focus of the page. Photographs are changed weekly focusing on specific ideas or topics, and the dark gray background in this central space pops most effectively. Beneath the photos there are arrows pointing left and right that allow the user to cycle through each photo. Each images is also connected to a specific story, and serves as a way to enter into the larger narrative of issues pertaining to genocide and Holocaust studies. There is nice balance between title text that highlights a current story at the museum, with a very legible paragraph that is laid out in the only serif font that pulls to eye to read.

Use of typography is very dynamic, and at times I find slightly confusing, but becomes more useful the more I engage with the site. To the right of the central images a clear navigation with tasteful typography and color that is gently highlighting specific words to draw attention without being garish. The menu to the right shows the following informational flows: Museum Information (that contains specific data about exhibitions and programs), Resources for Academics and Research, Resources for Educators, Resources for Professionals and Student Leaders. Each item has a clear arrow to the right of each word to engage the view to click.

Below the central images the words are much bigger and clue into how the museum organizes their core principles. Each word is punctuated by highlights of color in orange to bring attention to specific classifications within the period known as ‘the Holocaust.’ USHMM breaks up ways in which visitors can enter into this world with the words “Learn About” in white,  and “The Holocaust” in all-cap, colored in orange. “Remember” is marked in the same method, with the words “Survivors and Victims” in orange. Lastly, the words “Confront” are in white, and the words “Genocide and Antisemitism” are marked in orange.

Learn about "the Holocaust" as a specific period in history from 1933-1945.

Learn about “the Holocaust” as a specific period in history from 1933-1945.

This logic flow is very intentional and jars the mind at first in terms of how and why the museum chose to break up these distinctions into these three chunks. Then I thought about the target audiences and how these keywords challenge the visitor to make a choice in how to engage with the content.

Tributary covering the Genocide section of of the "Confront" portion of the site.

Tributary covering the Genocide section of of the “Confront” portion of the site.

Why would I want to confront genocide or antisemitism? Do these things still exists? If the user clicks on the words they will quickly discover that the site is not linear allowing any user to engage with contemporary issues surrounding conflicts in Syria in 2013-14, and draw connections to Darfur in 2003, Bosnia in 1992, or Poland in 1939.

Video detail section that is available from anywhere within the site.

Video detail section that is available from anywhere within the site.

Detail view of specific videos showing testimony from survivors of the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago.

Detail view of specific videos showing testimony from survivors of the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago.

Tributary covering the anti-Semitism section of of the "Confront" section of the site.

Tributary covering the anti-Semitism section of of the “Confront” section of the site.

What I find most appealing about this site is that primary actions, secondary actions, and next steps are all closely connected by how the typography and color work together to communicate direction. The site’s archival resources are the most transcendent, and the most personal for anyone struggling with putting the pieces of their family’s past together. The transcendence is less to do with the interface, but the effect that occurs when one finds what they are looking for. In my own experience researching using the archive, I found records that I never knew existed.

Victims database search engine at the USHMM site.

Victims database search engine at the USHMM site.

Resources for educators from the main site right hand navigation.

Resources for educators from the main site right hand navigation.

There are resources here that include records from a wide array of databases. Unfortunately, most databases are scattered throughout the world, and most research has to be conducted directly with the museum librarians. USHMM site makes it very easy to submit requests and often replies occur within a least a month directly those who inquire.

An example of a scanned document from the USHMM archives that I was provided directly from the archivists at the museum while researching my grandfather, Bernard Kristall. This is a  page from a list of prisoners who arrived at Mittelbau’s subamp Dacha 4 on February 1, 1945. This was after my grandfather had spent over 3.5 years in Auschwitz in southern Poland. My grandfather is listed as prisoner number 108260, Berek Krysztal after number 358 on this page. The red lines are marking those who perished in the camp.

An example of a scanned document from the USHMM archives that I was provided directly from the archivists at the museum while researching my grandfather, Bernard Kristall. This is a page from a list of prisoners who arrived at Mittelbau’s subamp Dacha 4 on February 1, 1945. This was after my grandfather had spent over 3.5 years in Auschwitz in southern Poland. My grandfather is listed as prisoner number 108260, Berek Krysztal after number 358 on this page. The red lines are marking those who perished in the camp.

In conclusion, I think that the lessons our class can learn from this site is to have a clear sense of what our core topics are and to build a strong narrative around each tributary.  We should pick simple colors that draw the eye, not to overwhelm, but to focus. We should also choose clean and clear fonts that engage the viewer and limit the selection to two with creative balance in size, weight, leading, and kerning.

Public Programming has been occurring at The New School for decades.

Ryan’s Project Proposal

In James’ P. Walsh’s essay, Organizational Memory he asks, “…of what consequence is it to organizations that they are able to preserve knowledge of past events and bring it to bear on present decisions?” I think of this question when I meditate on the state of digital assets relating to institutional memory at The New School. Since 2012, the office of public programs resides within the department of communications and external affairs that oversees branding, public relations, website development, video production, photography, and marketing. I have worked within the communications office overseeing the management and organization of digital video content. The project option I have opted for in the Digital Archives Studio class is to facilitate the cataloging of videos following metadata best-practices that cover public programming and special events at The New School in order to make them more accessible. Public programming video content dates back many years at The New School, and there is a significant historical and cultural relevance contained for research and other pedagogical purposes.

ryan-metadata-fields

Screenshot of the Portfolio Software interface to manage content.

 The cataloging software I will be using to organize these videos is a proprietary software called Extensis Portfolio that is licensed and operated by the communications office.  Currently, the videos reside on a server managed by TNS information technology department, and most have been uploaded to the university’s YouTube channel dating back 5 years.  For example, over 150 videos pertain to the School of Media Studies.  Other videos are found going back 10-12 years when special events were on campus were called “webcasts”, and currently suffering from link rot at a now defunct New School website.

The form that the project will take is to generate a living database that can organize and catalog digital video content relating to public programming and special events to help determine what platform would best serve the content, and to aid the Archives and Special Collections in determining what has historical relevance for their goals. The project’s themes focus on preserving knowledge of past events through metadata, and digital video assets covering a range of topics that connect to any and all degree plans offered at The New School. I have chosen to highlight digital video content because The New School does not have a central repository that organizes this content in a holistic way, and there is currently no means of determining the next course of action for the institutional health of this media, or a means to determine the relevance it holds for faculty, students, and researchers throughout the world.

With feedback from the class, I will focus on specific content to help prioritize particular videos. By calling attention to this video content I hope to provide clarity and organization in service to the long-term goal of integrating public programming videos within the purview of the office of Archives and Special Collections to aid in their determination of the historical relevance this “born-digital” video content holds for archival purposes. I am planning on incorporating the PB Core metadata standard for cataloging and maintaining the information in the database. I do not intend to incorporate outside archival material into the project at this time, but I am open if other members of the class intend to. The database will be made accessible to the class with specific instructions. The project will continue into the summer with a goal of having all content cataloged by end of calendar year 2014. Note: this database is only accessible within The New School firewall.

The platform for execution will be determined collaboratively with the class. Depending on the style of the project, I will advocate that the class choose a platform that has the strongest amount of services, protection, and scalability. Thus, we must think about what happens to this site once the class ends? Who owns it? What are the long-term goals of the site? Recently, The New School invested in a service called EduBlogs located at that provides free, full-service, customer care for students and faculty to build websites using the WordPress CMS. There is a space here where the professor can generate a Class page. Since this project is about augmenting or strengthening the archival contexts at The New School, it makes sense to nest the online platform within that same boundary. I think it would be counterproductive to make a website that falls outside the domain of responsibility to The New School.

Working Bibliography:

  1. Jefferson Bailey, “Disrespect des Fonds: Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital Archives” Archive Journal 3 (Summer 2013).

  2. Scott R. Anderson & Robert B. Allen, “Envisioning the Archival Commons” The American Archivist 72:2 (Fall/Winter 2009)

  3. Alexandra Eveleigh, “Welcoming the World: An Exploration of Participatory Archives” International Council on Archives, Brisbane, Australia, August 2012.

  4. James. P. Walsh & Geraldo Rivera Ungson, “Organizational Memory” The Academy of Management Review 16:1 (1991):

  5. Robert J. Glushko, “Foundations for Organizing Systems” In The Discipline of Organizing (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 2013)