Does good design lead to better writing and deeper engagement?
That is the question YWP will be pursuing over the next year as it begins a project funded by a family foundation to transform the design of our main youth-led site, youngwritersproject.org.
The key to our work is what we've learned about youth engagement and community building on the web for the last seven years -- B.F. (before Facebook) to now. The process for our work will be to shift from our usual procedure for web development -- user study/brainstorming >> feature changes >> prototype >> testing >> design tweaks >> iterative changes -- to one led by design: visual design (make it beautiful) >> functional design >> (make it engage beautifully) >> coding (make it work beautifully) >> prototype >> user testing >> tweaks >> iterative launch.
We are first gathering, mostly on an individual basis, visual designers. We are asking them to dive into the site (affectionately referred to by users as "cute and clunky"), help us present us visual ideas and guide posts. Our next step will be to lure some web heavyweights and great young thinkers to help us with hierarchy of uses and the development of some new ideas. Then comes reality: finding coding whizzes who can define the design and uses into something that looks and works in a way that it draws people in to explore, connect and create.
Our work has already begun. The results of our first design sessions has resulted in a major design change for our schools sites pictured here. As you can see, we are veering head long into simplicity of form and color. We still have much work to complete.
The aim for our work with youngwritersproject.org is to create a space with intuitive navigation and alluring construction that it promotes concentration and collaborative exchange, revision and creative risk taking. And, of course, that it helps youths become better writers against the backdrop of the YWP writing process: idea formation >> purpose >> draft >> feedback >> revision >> presentation to audience.
Digital technology has transformed the writing process. They typewriter was nice, but it was solitary; audience was secondary. Digital spaces allow a writer to gain information and focus on each step of the process. Writing becomes a living, breathing process. That is presuming that the digital experience is in a creative digital community that is respectful, articulate and, beautiful.