Hello again! Since my last post, I’ve been busy designing the narrative and digital infrastructure for my project titled (Un)Mapping the (Settler) Colonial Forest.

In this new post, I’ll outline a few key parts about this design process.

First, I’ll talk about the story part of this project.

After receiving feedback on my detailed proposal (thanks to Dr. Watrall and fellow CHI fellows!), I revisited archival materials with the goal of refining the main StoryMap narrative. I am continuously revisiting source materials as I decide which parts to include (and which to exclude) in the final story map. During this re-visiting, I thought of Shawn Wilson’s book “Research is Ceremony”, which I read this past summer. This book about Opaskwayak Cree research, which Shawn intersperses with letters to his son, resonated deeply with my understanding of knowledge as a person and mother raised on stories about the Caribbean (long before my first return) and as someone taught the importance of visiting those who hold the stories of our families. Building on scholars like Wilson, my family, and many other mentors, I approach this digital project as a prima de afuera (cousin from the outside/diaspora) who is first sharing a good story with fellow outside(r) cousins and Caribbean kin (through blood and otherwise). I am then sharing a good story with those who would like to learn from this one story which is a drop in a bucket of a sea of stories.

But what will a good story say? A good story would be one which guides website visitors (aka users) through a story about how the Maricao forest reserve (aka the Maricao State Forest) came to be. A good story will give readers insight to what I’m learning about the many facets of conserving land which is always changing; land which is alive in ways humans may not understand. A good story, will draw attention to the parts of the US + Puerto Rico governmental archives which (1) obscure or otherwise make less visible Afro/Indigenous kinship with land through formal conservation policies and practices , (2) have relevance to contemporary issues in conservation and climate adaptation capacity in US territories, and (3) which are interesting (to me, anyway). A good story will be fun. A good story will have somethings I haven’t even thought of yet. A good story will be a good effort. If I make a story that is in any way good, I will consider this experiment a success. If I fail and learn (which I will), I will consider this a success too.

Keeping these ‘good story’ criteria in mind, I will now talk about the more technical design aspects of this process so far.

Below is a photo of a wire frame, hand drawn on a piece of paper that sits on a wooden table surrounded by a few supplies (mug of tea, glasses, and drawing supplies).

The way I understand it, a wire frame is a schematic centered on the user and decisions technical designers want to offer the user during any point of their experience with a web interface (aka a website). Perhaps more simply, it’s a more visual decision tree. Dr. Watrall suggested starting with a very simple, hand drawn wire frame to get an idea of my project’s core digital infrastructure. And it worked! Doing this helped me think through early decisions like : do I want visitors (aka users) to navigate to story map after first landing on on home page? Or do i want visitors to become immersed in the StoryMap immediately after the landing page loads on their screen? Do I want to create two separate websites in two separate languages. ; one in English and one in Spanish? Or do I want to create one website with the option to select one of two (or more) languages?

These are some of the questions wire framing helps me to answer. As I answer these questions, my wireframe becomes more detailed and at some point I may switch from hand-drawing to Figma or some other wire framing application. But for now drawing works just fine.

Now I’ll talk about what’s next.

Next up is working in Visual Studio to code a landing page and experimenting in MapBox to drafting maps for this project. This is the most technically heavy lift, the part I am both excited about and nervous about given the level of errors I KNOW are waiting for me in this process. But hey, problem solving is part of the fun right? Good problems make for good stories.

Hasta la próxima!

My first wire frame! (But not my first process map/decision tree). What do you think? Not pictured, but just as important to the process, is the mentor who opened up her space for me to work on a cold, wintry Michigan day. Thank you Dr. Torres-Miner <3