Superscript Website
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Superscript Website

The Internet has always been an experimental publishing platform.

In contrast to the linear nature of most publishing endeavors in history, the hyperlink was invented in 1965 by Ted Nelson, who was obsessed with keeping track of his neurotic and divergent paths of thinking, and in turn, the publishing of his writing. Superscript, the Walker’s first conference on arts journalism and criticism in a digital age, intentionally puts the hyperlink — one of the definite features of new media — in the forefront of its design. The hyperlink is not simply a software feature; it is telling of our shift in thinking beyond linearity and context to an arena of layered networks and interconnectedness: the medium is the message. The web is a postmodernist tool necessitated by a postmodernist perspective.

One of Ted Nelson’s mockups of transpointing windows, 1972
Screenshot of the hyperlink working demo, 1998

I. Text

Publishing online ranges from prebuilt platforms with uniform templates and one-click submission buttons to articles that have custom layouts that take months or years to implement. The aesthetic of the Superscript website is intentionally retro, stripped down and typographically emphatic, to pay homage to text as the only necessity in publishing.

We can see this minimalism within modern services such as Readability or Pocket; sometimes we just want to digest the text-as-information like a machine. Text speaks to our modern combinational approach of social communication with computational models:

Text is the most socially useful communication technology. It works well in 1:1, 1:N, and M:N modes. It can be indexed and searched efficiently, even by hand. It can be translated. It can be produced and consumed at variable speeds. It is asynchronous. It can be compared, diffed, clustered, corrected, summarized and filtered algorithmically. It permits multiparty editing. It permits branching conversations, lurking, annotation, quoting, reviewing, summarizing, structured responses, exegesis, even fan fic. The breadth, scale and depth of ways people use text is unmatched by anything. –always bet on text

In digital publishing, text is our data where books are the compiled program. Superscript’s starkness allows for easy consumption as an informational website by foregrounding the letter.

II. Conference Websites

There are limitless examples and templates of typical conference web design. But as a conference that is devoted to digital publishing, it would be a mistake to miss this opportunity for creating something unconventional.

A typical conference will have a navigation bar with multiple items (e.g. Speakers, Schedule, Register, Location). I wanted to call out navigation-as-hyperlink-as-content, so as to not necessarily distinguish between them. This purposely obfuscate details as to create a dialogue between the page and the user. So-called best practices instilled in design to create an interface as no interface creates a one-sided transaction that is hardly memorable. In willfully obscuring, we create conversation. Although there are risks in this approach, such as alienating readers, we know for the most part that those seeking this conference will have both the curiosity and engagement to grapple with a novel display.

III. Page Dimensionality

Triple Canopy’s long form layout
A screenshot of the Tankboys website

The horizontal layout of the site is inspired by two publication platforms: Triple Canopy and Tankboys. The landing page serves as a merged Cover and Page 1 with an index and key information. It imitates the format of a book or a magazine, using headings and paragraph blocks, split across two leaves. However, when clicking a link on an index leaf, it branches out. The interacted hyperlink shows its essential function, not necessarily to open another page, but to unfold more information. On this unfolded branch, hyperlink clicks are then used to unfold more information, albeit as toggles that expand vertically. Then, hovering on hyperlinks of names overlays images of those individuals. These three interactions — (1) the vertical extension of the leaf, (2) the horizontal toggling of details, and (3) the hovering of overlay images — create a visual three-dimensionality that encapsulates the networked and stratified modularity of the hyperlink.

(1) The vertical extension of the leaf
(2) The horizontal toggling of details
(3) The hovering of overlay images

III. Identity

The identity and personality of Superscript was done by Dante Carlos, a senior designer at the Walker. It is his attention to both print and web typographic styling and mixing that is able to demarcate the hyperlink while not backgrounding plain text. Although there was only a postcard designed with this identity in mind before the website was launched, it went through many iterations:

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.47.34 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.48.10 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-02 at 10.48.44 AM

Two distinct graphical elements that I gleaned from his sketches were the use of spinners and graphs. The spinners serve as a visual cue of process when it comes to producing or publishing. On the web, there is the indeterminate loader when waiting for the design and content elements to load; in print, there is the printing register to align design and content properly. The graphs are arbitrary trend lines. They are telling of the dichotomous cycle of publishing: enduring and disseminable yet ephemeral and disposable.

IV. Outro

Although Superscript is a conference occurring on-site, this does not mean we will be subordinating our virtual audience. The Superscript website will go through two additional phases: a live version and an archival version. As the conference is occurring, a video stream, live stenography embed, and Twitter feed will be added. Once the conference is over, we will be archiving all the live material that was produced. In addition, we will be hosting a second page called Superscript Reader that will aggregate digital keynote commissions, Walker Channel film commissions, and related article and blog entries.

This is a unique conference that coincides overlapping domains of design, curation, editing, publishing, and technology. It is a distinct time to condense and skim this online activity to a singular aggregate reflection. This mirrors our everyday browsing: we consume a neverending flood of hyperlinks that we filter and coalesce internally. The screen emerges outward through us.


My personal list of Superscript must-sees include Pitchfork, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, The New Inquiry and e-flux. If you’ve gotten all the way down here, you should probably buy a ticket.

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