Currently, my research and scholarship is taking shape in three specific directions: scholarship which focuses on the development of interfaces and user-testing, the creation of digital art and design experiments, and client-based design work as ZahabiDesign.
Interface development and user-testing
The first direction of my scholarship has explored the development of human-centered online interfaces that might help college-students better conduct academic research using a concept called information-triage. This research brings together my interests in interface and interaction
design, information science and design, and how considering the limitations and affordances of human cognition can facilitate more human-centered design. The work includes the development of several speculative interface prototypes and IRB approved user-testing studies that I conducted with students in 2012. The designed prototypes use metaphors to create interactive systems and interfaces that allow users to more easily understand concepts and navigate through search results.
These efforts have resulted in publications and presentations, including a chapter in an edited book, a public presentation at the prestigious Human-Computer Interaction International conference, and the publication of the paper presentation in the HCII conference proceedings. Most exciting, I have been invited by the Interaction-Design Foundation to write a single-author peer-reviewed, academic book about the design and history of online search interfaces. The book draft will be finished at the end of 2014, and will be published through the organization’s website soon after.
In addition, I submitted a proposal for a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant in January 2014, to fund this line of research on a larger scale. While I was not awarded the grant, the feedback from reviewers was very favorable and the organization has urged me to apply again with a revised proposal for the next funding cycle. Future goals for this line of inquiry are to refine and reshape my prototypes, develop working interface designs, and conduct more user-testing on a larger pool of subjects.
Design of digital art and creative experiments
Much of my other creative work focuses on the more poetic and ambiguous side of search, and includes several versions of a piece called An Exquisite Morass. The initial version of this piece was shown in the WSU Department of Visual Arts and Design biennial faculty show in 2012, and presented at the WORDIMAGE/IMAGEWORD conference at the School of Visual Arts in New York City in October of 2012. The piece uses search results culled from Google as the raw material for the creation of patterned image tiles and typographic compositions, which are then displayed through animations and an interface. The theater department utilized artwork built upon this idea for the WSU production of The Comedy of Oedipus in 2013. In collaboration with the director and her design team I created digital tiles featuring images related to Egyptian past and present found through online searches. These images were projected onto the set in time with dialogue and action in the play.
An additional variation of this work was created in the summer of 2013 for a curated show called Non-Text: An Exhibition of Text as Image at Eastern Michigan University; the exhibit also travelled to a gallery at Eastern Illinois University. This version of the work features framed prints and typography made on a 3D printer, and explores how we perceive information that was once digital when it is re-rendered in a tangible and physical form.
In 2013 I was invited to attend the OpenBook Workshop at the Parson’s Center at Lake Ann, Michigan as a funded participant. This ten day workshop serves as a crucible in which designers and artists come together and interrogate ideas surrounding books, texts, writing and design. The instructors—Jon Sueda and Everett Pelayo—asked participants to create artifacts based on a moment in time and playing with the form of an encyclopedia. In response I created Xylophobia: A Compendium, meant to evoke the feeling of being lost in the dark. The pages of the hand-bound book are french-fold; the outer pages are covered in dark and saturated images, effectively hiding the text inside. The viewer must slice open the pages to find this internal content—in effect, the book must be broken in order to fully engage with it. The final artifact explores the irrationality of fear through the surface of the outer pages, and the ways that fear can be intellectualized and made rational through the images, text and diagrams on the inner pages. The piece was included in an exhibit, Chasing Papers, at Eastern Michigan University, and published in the OpenBook Project book, a collection of critical essays and documentation of the workshop experience.
My most recent piece, An Unreasonable Longing, continues my exploration of information found online through the design of a digital interface and hand-bound book showcasing a curated collection of Ladybird Johnson’s home movies. This piece examines the construction of time and history, mixing together visual moments culled from the archive, and strives to explore simultaneousness, juxtaposition, and the nostalgic and cultural implications of memory. Frames of time are presented as animated GIFs within the interface, and as stills within the printed book. Viewers are forced to skip through time—the pages and screens are compressed time-frames presented in a non-chronological way. The work is currently part of the WSU Department of Visual Arts and Design biennial faculty show, and I plan to submit the piece for inclusion in other venues starting next semester.
My training as both a writer and a designer has led me to create work that moves between poetic, ambiguous, and experimental; and analytical, rational and straightforward. I enjoy testing the boundaries between these poles, as well as the countless shades of gray between them. Future projects will include an interrogation of the visual and tangible nature of code, an exploration of the art and design practice of curating content from online sources, and more experimentation with materials and media.
Client-based design work as ZahabiDesign
My professional design work as ZahabiDesign spans twelve years, and has included web design and programming for an international scientific organization, publication design for architecture projects, and logo/identity development and print design for an annual design forum. I have also served my department by designing and developing promotional materials and a new website for the Shaw Gallery (part of the Department of Visual Arts and Design), and by designing posters and helping to revise the website for the department itself. This work allows me to stay connected to life as a working designer, keeping my skills sharp and practiced, and giving me countless examples and stories which I share with my students in the classroom.