Collaborative Codex: Design Team Group Reflection

Cory’s Medieval Twist on Tech Tower


The modern MS codex project set itself apart from other class projects in the sense that it truly required the collaboration of the whole class. The four teams have been like cogs in a well-oiled machine and it has been a wonderful experience to work with each other to create something as magnificent as this manuscript. The project has been incredibly engaging, especially for our design team, which remained actively involved with the other teams as the manuscript was being created. While it was quite challenging to come up with our original concepts and agree on a final design in such a short amount of time, we effectively managed to fulfill our tasks through good communication and organization.

Continuously consulting with our fellow classmates about how they envisioned the manuscript and what features they wanted to include in the final artifact was a key factor in our success. By taking into account many of the ideas shared by our classmates and making use of the resources given in class, including information about how medieval manuscripts were made and how modern books incorporate advanced digital media, we were able to create three very different, but successful concepts based on the following themes: traditional, contrasting and modern.

Each member of our team authored one of the aforementioned concepts; two of us, Andy and Cory, worked on the modern concept, which was the most complex design. Annette developed the traditional design concept, while Olivia focused on the contrasting design concept. We wanted to make the concepts range in complexity regarding their implementation, as we took into account the schedules of our fellow peers. So, if there was a significant amount of time available, they could execute the more complex modern design. If that was not the case, they could choose to implement the more straightforward traditional or contrasting design concepts. We also wanted each concept to have a range of different features to give our classmates a wide variety of options to choose from.

The Traditional Design

The first concept presented was the traditional concept. This concept is traditional in the sense that it incorporates the typical characteristics of a conventional book. At the same time, it does emulate a typical medieval manuscript through the cover and some of the fonts used. The cover would have been made of cardboard covered in gesso or paper-maché. To give it more a medieval feel, it would have been maroon-colored with four golden leaf vines framing the four corners of the cover. The title would have also been painted in gold and made to resemble medieval writing. It was recommended that some protruding ridges be made in the spine of the book to add to its medieval look. The book would have been tabloid sized to allow for the incorporation of the maximum number of essays possible.

There was great attention to detail regarding the design of the inside of the book, to ensure that the other teams would have a very clear idea of how the book could potentially be organized. Originally, a suggested title page, acknowledgments page, table of contents, and layout of the essays were presented with the traditional concept design. Inside the book, the back of the first page would have contained any copyright information while the second page would have consisted of the title page. The title would have been typed with a font resembling medieval writing, and any other information, such as the names of the editors, would have been typed in a conventional font (e.g., Arial or Helvetica). The third page would have been an acknowledgements page used to acknowledge everyone’s contribution to the project and to thank everyone for their hard work.

The acknowledgements page would have been followed by the table of contents, which depicted the order in which the essays could have been presented. The table of contents consisted of five main sections: the introduction, Chaucer as a writer, the medieval era (as portrayed by Chaucer), courtly love, and the conclusion. The transitions between these sections would have consisted of a short prompt about the general idea presented in each section. The section following the introduction would have focused on how Chaucer worked as writer and introduced a bit of the history about scribes in the Middle Ages through some of the selected essays. The section focusing on the medieval era would have contained essays about any of the shorter poems involving Chaucer’s opinion on the social and political conditions during his time. The section preceding the conclusion would have included any relevant essays about any of the poems involving romance in the Middle Ages. These sections were chosen after careful consideration of the main themes the editors wanted to highlight in the manuscript.

The Traditional Design ‘Grid’ Layout as Designed by Annette

While our team and the editors did not talk about significant details regarding the layout of the essays and images, a particular grid was introduced in the traditional concept to give one idea on how the content could be organized. We suggested that this design use a two-column grid in which poems and essays could be typed using conventional fonts. The pages containing the essays were designed so that the left columns could be used to include images or handwritten marginal notes. Moreover, in an effort to continue incorporating the medieval character of the book, the titles of the poems and essays would have been typed in a font resembling medieval writing. Everything would have been printed on regular, manufactured paper. Overall, the layout of the content was made to be very simple and conventional. Again, this first design concept was supposed to be easy and fairly straightforward; it also meant to give everyone a general idea of how the book could potentially be organized.

The Contrasting Design

Olivia’s Contrasting Design Table of Contents Layout

The second concept was the contrasting design, which took ideas learned from medieval manuscript-making and modern books. To place most of the reader’s focus on the content, the cover design was meant to be very simple and conventional. Moreover, the incorporation of traditional handwritten script brings a certain medieval feel to the manuscript, so the poems would have been transcribed using something akin to medieval script. For the modern side of the design, creating a font based off of someone’s own handwriting would have provided a nice contrast to the uniformity of medieval script. This idea was inspired by the in-class lecture about the value of handwriting. The table of contents was designed to be divided into sections for topics such as romance, history, and society. The number of sections was limited since it would have been difficult and cumbersome to include all of the essays. For transitioning purposes, the contrast design included a summary page that links to prior and following topics for the essays, to ensure a certain level of cohesiveness.

The selected poems and their corresponding essays would have been included on opposite pages from each other: the poem on the verso and the essay on the following recto. Just as with the traditional design, to save space, the essays would be printed in a columnar fashion. To include more modern elements, the essays would have QR codes, located in the margins in between the columns, that would link to the collaborative class blog. The use of QR codes was heavily inspired from class discussion on modern forms of communication. This design concept also introduced the idea of using different kinds of paper in the manuscript, an idea that was introduced in class. While this might have complicated the fabrication process, it would accentuate the contrasting nature of this design. Finally, the contrasting design concept considered a somewhat modest size for the manuscript:  8.5” x 11” with a portrait orientation. This size seemed appropriate, as 8.5” x 11” handmade paper would seem to be easier to make than other unconventional sizes. The contrasting design concept was made to be moderate in complexity and included a greater variety of features than the traditional concept design.

The Modern Design

The last design presented was the modern concept design. This design concept used elements representing modern technology and elements that reflected our class’s connection to Georgia Tech. We focused on 3 different design areas in this creation: the table of contents, page layout, and the cover of the book. As seen in previous designs, these three elements were crucial components in providing a strong conceptual ideal for the other groups.

Andy’s Title Page Layout Featuring the ‘Timeline’ at the Footer

The first section presented for this design concept, the table of contents, was designed in a non-traditional way. Instead of incorporating a conventional  design we decided to double the table of contents as a map, giving the manuscript a more interactive character. The manuscript map of London to Canterbury and the Georgia Tech campus map were both used as central ideas in the creation of this table of contents. At each chapter, an image would have been placed which represented the contents of that portion of the book. The example we used included characters from The Canterbury Tales, who would each represent a different theme for the codex. In an effort to achieve some continuity with this particular theme, the bottom of each page would feature a timeline representation of the map. One of the Canterbury characters would signify how far the reader was from reaching the end of the work by their position from right to left.

The page layout of the manuscript was presented next. Due to limited page space and a large amount of material per page, we were very mindful of space constraints. Consequently, we incorporated fold-out pages to successfully organize the longer poems and essays as well as the aforementioned table of contents.  This concept was inspired by a similar technique used in modern day magazines. Additionally, in place of the large, artistic letter that begins sections in traditional medieval manuscripts, our modern concept design included artistic letters that worked as QR codes. These codes would be linked to our Chaucer blog or, possibly, to any other relevant content.

The final idea presented for our modern design concept involved making a conventional cover for the book that somehow represented technology and the Middle Ages. In order to fuse these two ideas we attempted to morph the Tech Tower into what we thought it might look like in medieval England. We used Adobe Photoshop and added “TECH” and the institute logo to an old church bell tower in order to achieve this effect. In general, the cover design was fairly successful in combining the themes of modernity and the Middle Ages. The modern design concept was one of the most complex design concepts as it used a wide variety of features and more images than either of the other concepts.

The Final Design

After delivering our presentation and communicating with our fellow peers, the team came up with a final design. After much deliberation, it was decided that the final design would incorporate elements from all three design concepts. The physical size of the book itself would be 8.5” x 11”, in a portrait orientation, which would allow for the fold-out pages to be more easily made. It was also agreed that the manuscript would have a leather-bound, soft cover as it seemed to be the most doable type of cover given our time constraints. The class also liked the idea of having the table of contents in the form of a map and the use of decorated QR codes used as initial capital letters in the poems. Furthermore, the transcription team agreed that it would be best to only handwrite the poems and to print out the essays. Most of the class was pleased with the final design and more or less stuck to it through this project.

What We Learned

Experience in creating presentable deliverables to a group of peers is something that will certainly become valuable in future careers when dealing with clients and bosses. After presenting our designs, feedback from our classmates and our professor helped to further give us an idea of how to handle criticism and how to communicate with our “client.” It also assisted in our understanding of compromise when merging ideas with an outside presence.

Technologically, our group members used a number of diverse methods to create the different design concepts. Annette and Olivia created their designs by hand, while Cory and Andy used digital tools. This difference in resources taught group members about the use of differing tools and using them to achieve similar results. It also contributed to our success in getting our traditional, contrasting, and modern concepts across. The use of hand-drawn concepts and a physical booklet to display the traditional and contrasting designs appropriately tethered these ideas to visuals that embodied the designs themselves. Likewise, the use of Photoshop and Publisher worked similarly for the modern design concept.

On a general level, our team learned a lot from working with one another. In addition to basic communication skills, we developed our abilities in delegating work and combining individual contributions into a cohesive whole. This breakdown of work contributed immensely to our success and allowed for everyone in the team to make significant contributions. Also, a set of expectations was clearly developed the first time our team got together. Moreover, the team decided on a concept and a standard for design before each person completed their portion of the presentation. This kind of organization significantly helped us move forward in the project. Overall, we all feel like we have learned a lot and truly have had a marvelous experience as the designers for the manuscript. We look forward to seeing the final artifact!

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Posted in Group Reflection