Peggy Olson from “Mad Men” (via WikiMedia)

Tuesday was the second day of One Week One Tool, the Can-We-Build-It? digital humanities workshop hosted by the Center for History and New Media and funded by NEH. If you haven’t already done so, read two wonderful posts on the idea winnowing and early tool design stages by lead developer Mia Ridge and co-project manager Brian Croxall, for a broader overview of what happened, at least, the parts we can tell you before Friday’s big unveil. This post tells a more personal story about my “Peggy Olson” learning moment. After our finally compromised on one of the 11 nominated tool concepts, we divided into work teams and the outreach group (Amrys Williams, Ray Palin, and me) were assigned the task of scripting a one-paragraph pitch for that-thing-we’re-building-before-anyone-really-knows-what-we’re-doing. You know, that kind of amorphous writing assignment that digital humanities faculty types assign to their students. Due to the unavoidable chaos of our five-day design and production schedule, time slipped away to the point that we had about only 9 minutes to draft something to share at the larger group meeting. We didn’t have a name for the tool yet, nor did anyone really know exactly how it would work, so writing a rich description, technical or otherwise, wasn’t possible. Instead, our pitch focused on how people would feel when using our tool and the emotional joys it would bring to their lives. In other words, watching five seasons worth of Mad Men, the television series on the 1960s advertising industry, finally paid off.

During our presentation to the group, Tom Scheinfeldt quipped on Twitter:


But standing nervously in front of this very talented group of coders, making our team’s pitch while wearing my t-shirt and shorts, felt nothing like the cool and confident Don Draper. Instead, I was Peggy Olson in season 2, stepping into this unfamiliar role of copywriter, somewhat unsure of what’s expected, not quite confident, and generally mesmerized by the mysterious process of collaboratively designing complex software in a very short period of time. That’s what the learning experience felt like for me yesterday. While I can’t share details about our product with you now (Don would kill me!), stay tuned for the next episode.

PS: One of my favorite photos this week shows the design/development team working late in a hotel room, after they were kicked out of the bar for ordering a pizza from an outside establishment. I’m the elder half of a father-and-son duo here at One Week One Tool, and it feels absolutely wonderful to watch my kid working with the other coders.

photo The One Week One Tool design/development team working late (Brian Croxall).