Design Process for Nanotechnology Timeline

In my Visual Culture and Design class at Georgia Tech, we were assigned the task of creating a timeline communicating some aspect of the history of nanotechnology.  The very first stages of this process were finding information about nanotechnology from various sources.  There are two earlier blog posts that show some of the initial stages of this process.  Another part of the process was writing an essay on two presentations of nanotechnology in various media.  That essay is also posted in this blog.

Several ideas presented themselves as possible ways to present a historical piece on nanotechnology.  There were several nanotechnology timelines available online, and there were some definite points of agreement among them to suggest that certain events had special significance for people doing research in this field.  So it seemed that a fairly straightforward, solid piece could fairly easily be constructed from a collection of facts beginning with Feynman’s lecture in 1959 up to the present day.  Then I noticed that another story could be told, namely that this effort to create new artifacts with nanotechnology was a global phenomenon, and I considered representing that by showing places on a map of the world where these ideas were developed.  Indeed, one of the other students in the class elected to tell the story in this way.

For me, the design process is a kind of recollection.  To do history, one is engaged in a process of recollection.  It is a poetic reconstruction of past memories to produce truth.  One could say that the memories are the matter and the artifact produced is an object in which the form of true history inheres.  This would be a Platonic construction of the process.  I would say that the process has a more Vichian structure, because there is a poetic process of making truth from memories.  Vico in his autobiography says that  “Chance furnishes what I need.”  Often the materials necessary to produce a poetic work seem to appear at just the right time.

A couple of weeks ago I happened to visit the mathematics department in Skiles.  I cannot say why I felt that it would be interesting to go downstairs for a change, but I just did.  And I found a timeline hanging on the wall that was designed by Charles and Ray Eames outlining the history of mathematics.  We had just discussed their work earlier in the week in class, so I thought it would be worth studying the work of two masters.  So I decided to see if I could emulate their design.

My husband and I were supposed to have dinner that weekend with some neighbors who are Israeli, but the dinner had to be postponed.  There were several emails going back and forth about changes of plans.  I remembered a few months ago our discussion of the book, Startup Nation, and began to wonder if there was any interesting information about nanotechnology in Israel.  I thought this would be a great way to narrow the scope of the research and really begin to produce something more like a news essay on a topic that is important but not necessarily well known.

At church on Sunday morning the minister read and discussed Psalm 1.  This was a favorite of mine for many years, probably because I memorized it when I was in the third grade.  The imagery of this Psalm really captures something important about what it is like to cultivate a spiritual connection with God.   In verse 3 the Psalmist says, “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper”  (King James Version).  The spiritual connection is like water to a tree; it is a source of life and constant renewal.  Without cultivating this connection, one is not able to bear much fruit.  But those who do cultivate this connection by meditating on God’s law experience productivity and prosperity.

So I looked at the Eames diagram I had drawn, and saw how the blocks could be like fields of an orchard, and the timeline itself could be like a river, and buttons could mark important places by the river where people were experiencing productive work in nanotechnology.  My first design looked like this:

View draft.

Perhaps the metaphor of the tree is rendered a little too literally.  Also, it was not clear why I put numbers on the trees.  I had to explain that this was not what I intended the final product to look like; it was just a beginning representation for the sake of discussing the idea in class.

I noticed certain members of the class seemed to have a special sensitivity to how to present information visually, so I asked for some advice.  With a second iteration on paper and a more muted design in Illustrator, I discussed my design further with Carl DiSalvo.

I settled on a design that abstracted to a certain extent from themes that appeared in the first iteration.  Boxes were added at the bottom/foreground to present company logos and some information about their products and sales figures.  Instead of trees, bars were presented to show the growth over a period from 1982-2005 of eight Israeli companies expressed in terms of sales figures.

The final design can be seen at the following url:

View timeline.

The best part of the design and implementation process for publishing this timeline was the experience of students helping each other in the DM computer lab Friday afternoon. THANKS GUYS!!!


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