In essence he is saying that the interpretation of (and let’s say the interaction with) the media we create has nothing to do with the creator and everything to do with the audience, because it is the reader that defines the meaning (and a potentially infinite variety of meanings) each time the text is read. The author is merely a kind of conduit for the ideas. These ideas only exist because the language itself exists and enables the formation of those ideas. And therefore, by extension, the language and the ability to interpret it is shared by all, placing ownership of the ideas with he or she who reads and interprets them. Thus, the author is dead, the audience is born.
OK. Deep breath. That’s a big idea. How does it apply to us?
Firstly, while Barthes was speaking specifically about literary criticism (asking the question of whether or not it is important to know what the writer’s intention was when interpreting the meaning of a text), his ideas can and have been applied to creativity, media and cultural production in a broad sense.
n communications theory, a “text” may be any type of media: a website, an app, a blog, an image, a film, a piece of music, etc. “Reading” can mean watching, listening, looking, interacting… and actual reading too; it is the consuming and interpreting of media. The “language” may be that of design, film, photo/graphic composition, or of the written word. Regardless of the form of the text and the language used to encode it, the argument remains the same, that as creators of a text our intent is irrelevant, and that the only thing that really matters is the audience’s “reading” or interpretation of it.
So how do we translate these ideas into our work-life? Consider these two mental approaches to the one task:
Ben: “I need to design a great UI to ensure the end user remains clear and engaged throughout the task they wish to complete.”
Alison: “The end user needs to complete a task, for which the UI must ensure a clear and suitably engaging process.”
What do you notice about these two statements?
Ben immediately relates the problem at hand to the work he is about to carry out and his skills as a designer. Alison has divorced herself completely from the statement. Her focus is on the audience and the UI they will interact with.
It is a subtle difference, but the implications for how you approach problems and solutions can be incredibly powerful.
I think we all start out with good intentions. The wheels often come off when we start incorporating outside feedback from collaborators and clients, and when technical and budgetary hurdles present themselves. Often we look for a solution and forget where we originally placed our focus. The day-to-days of getting a project completed and out the door can distract us from the lofty standards we set out with. In the face of an increasingly digital-savvy audience, who are more clued-in than ever to the forever-developing language of digital interactivity, it is all the more important to start with the end in mind, and maintain that focus.
Keeping our ‘eyes on the prize’ has to be about holding focus and being able to recall it at every stage of a project, from inception to development to delivery, and especially when solving problems. It’s about remembering that no matter how good we are at doing what we do, what we’re doing in each moment of our working day is never as important as the moment the audience engages with our product.
Comments are open and we’d love to hear about your experiences in (and tips for) managing your ego and maintaining focus throughout your process. Just remember our friend, Barthes when commenting: my intentions here are irrelevant, your interpretation of this article and how you apply it in your life is what matters.
Justin Cruickshank is a media production specialist with 11+ years industry experience across film and video production, journalism, music and audio production, digital production and elearning production. He’s now enjoying life with The Learning Hook as our Learning Designer/Project Manager.
For more eLearning, visit www.learninghook.com.au