Reviewed August 2014
Amanda C.R. Clark, Ph.D., Interim Director of the Library
Harriet Cheney Cowles Memorial Library, Whitworth University
Attention Journal is the Princeton University School of Architecture’s latest experiment in scholarly discourse, exploring contemporary trends in architectural theory and praxis. Founded by Joseph Bedford and produced by a number of Princeton graduate students, the publication,“geared to a new kind of audience; today’s distracted multi-tasking digital natives,” is a freely available audio journal presented through the familiar platform of a text-based e-journal but whose content is sound-based rather than text-based.
The platform is well produced with a design that is both sleek and intuitive, a simplicity that evokes an Ikea-like visual aesthetic. Audio “articles” consist of calm, relaxed but professionally recorded voices delivering an alternative method of access to the ideas of architects and theorists, enabling the listener the opportunity to hear, for example, the architect’s own inflections, pauses, and emphases. Unlike the regimented serialized podcast (which finds strength in sameness), this format for delivering audio content is compelling and immersive, allowing for flexibility in length and type.
Attention Journal has been issued twice since its launch in January, 2014. The basic structure of each issue includes a “Roundtable” discussion between participants followed by a series of interviews or audio articles, averaging about an hour in length. The functionality of each issue is neither over-designed nor under-constructed. When clicking on an article title from the table of contents, a minimalist secondary page is launched, featuring only the subject’s name, the title of the article or section, and a small audio player which plays the interview.
I applaud the journal in avoiding clumsy jargon and in its ability to recognize that the strength of its content is not in hazy, theoretical language but in a straightforward audio discourse. In Issue #1, “On Attention,” the goal seems to be an orientation-type issue, including informative introductions to the audio journal, and the interviewees. Issue #2: “Formalisms,” however, is lighter in content, with only five audio articles versus the inaugural eleven. Issue #2 also has inconsistent audio quality between the different clips along with less contextual information about the interviews.Given the production inconsistencies between the first and second issues, one wonders what sort of experience and engagement the listener may expect with Issue #3.
Attention is available to anyone with audio output capability on their computers or mobile devices and proved responsive and easily accessible when tested on a MacBook Pro and an iPad. Articles do not initially appear downloadable, though with advanced software or capture technologies, this may be possible. It is not yet compatible with bibliographic management software. There are no reader accounts, so one need not provide personal information in order to access the full content, nor is specific software required apart from a standard browser. Easy to navigate, coherent, and intuitive, the site has a no-frills approach, as does the audio content itself. Few graphic symbols are employed for navigational purposes, and as there are no competing graphics these are easily discovered and utilized.
In addition to the “multi-tasking digital natives,” Attention would be of interest to many diverse audiences; this Gen-Xer found the content and format engaging and, ironically, conducive to a non-multitasking listening approach.
I would encourage Attention’s editors to modify the descriptive text to be more inclusive. Given that the content spans wide genres from design-thinking to architectural pedagogy while featuring practitioners, educators, and design students themselves, anyone interested in or studying architectural theory would benefit from subjects treated by Attention. While Attention has its minor inconsistencies, it is a bold effort in this hybrid format of a traditional journal served through sound; I expect that if it maintains the momentum it currently has, Attention will prove to be a trendsetter in audio journals for the arts.