Digital Primer

Presentation by Astrom / Zimmer

17 March 2014

Reading comparison by Astrom / Zimmer

As­trom / Zi­m­mer is a small, Zürich-based design and de­vel­op­ment stu­dio, foun­ded in 2011 by An­thon As­trom and Lukas Zi­m­mer. Astrom / Zimmer focus on projects that bring print and pixels to­gether in in­nov­at­ive ways, and conduct research on al­tern­at­ive meth­ods of cur­at­ing and nar­rat­ing di­gital archives. Astrom / Zimmer gave a talk about their more recent projects, their approach to prototyping and introduced key historical moments and tools. The following annotated slides are taken from their lecture and from texts from their website.

Projects by As­trom / Zi­m­mer


In early 2006 we star­ted search­ing for a solu­tion that al­lows read­ers to store their on­line read­ing path. The key point of the pro­ject was the trans­form­a­tion of com­bined web­site frag­ments (texts and im­ages) into a lin­ear-lay­out print­able book­let. With the click of a but­ton, the web frag­ments be­come ed­it­able, and the book­let can be ex­ten­ded with per­sonal con­tent, notes etc. The struc­ture of the book lay­out is clean, but of­fers enough basic flex­ib­il­ity for in­di­vidu­al­ity. When a book­let is com­posed, you can choose to print, ex­port (PDF), or up­load it to the Trails Pub­lic Lib­rary, and share your re­search trails with the rest of the world.


Per­spect­ives (2012) is not so much about pub­lish­ing new stuff as it is about weav­ing ex­ist­ing ma­ter­ial into new nar­rat­ives. For most of the young life of the World Wide Web we’ve been work­ing with blog posts, link lists and feeds. We’ve settled into an ar­chaic work­flow, full of new tabs and bland lists of book­marks. Every piece of on­line con­tent is an is­land, fetched and con­sumed in se­quence. Born out of a de­sire to guide an audi­ence through vari­ous on­line ma­ter­i­als, present­ing threads of per­sonal views while still keep­ing those threads firmly anchored, Per­spect­ives’ ap­proach is dead simple: a mut­able con­tainer for con­tent, next to a stable con­tainer for the guid­ing nar­rat­ive.


Lines (2011) so­lid­i­fies an ab­stract idea in the shape of a func­tional piece of soft­ware, serving as the found­a­tion for fur­ther dis­cus­sion and de­vel­op­ment. It is a re­ac­tion to the forms and frames in which we usu­ally write. The ver­tical hier­archy of the page, the blog, the list or the forum is flipped over. It is a play­ing field, al­low­ing one or more au­thors to cre­ate a weave of texts and im­ages.

Astrom / Zimmer Sketching Process

Rough internal sketch

Here is a sketch that would typically be shared in the studio. It lays down the basic ideas for navigation and interaction, that only we need to understand.

Rough client sketch

The client sketch shows the content and structure, but with no design elements. It is mocked up in the computer template to help the client visualise the website in its real context. Key elements are highlighted with speech bubbles.

Detailed internal/client sketch

A PDF presented in the browser. This is the first time the client sees the website on their computer, with demonstrations of interactions and page transitions.

A History of Text

c. 3200 BCE

Cuneiform is a system of writing first developed by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia c. 3500—3000 BCE. It is considered the most significant among the many cultural contributions of the Sumerians and the greatest among those of the Sumerian city of Uruk which advanced the writing of cuneiform c. 3200 BCE.

The Scroll
c. 2500 BCE

A scroll is a roll of papyrus, parchment, or paper containing writing. Scrolls were the first form of editable record—keeping texts, used in Eastern Mediterranean ancient Egyptian civilizations.

c. 200 BCE

Punctuation is “the use of spacing, conventional signs, and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding and correct reading, both silently and aloud, of handwritten and printed texts.”

The Codex
c. 100 CE

A codex (from the Latin caudex for “trunk of a tree” or block of wood, book; plural codices) is a book constructed of a number of sheets of paper, vellum, papyrus, or similar materials, with handwritten content.

Silent Reading
c. 300 CE

People only began reading in their head around c. 300 CE. Before this all reading was spoken.

The Gloss
c. 1000

A gloss is a brief marginal notation of the meaning of a word or wording in a text. It may be in the language of the text, or in the reader’s language if that is different. A collection of glosses is a glossary.

The Summa
c. 1200

The Summa Theologiae (written c. 1265–1274 and also known as the Summa Theologica or simply the Summa) is the best-known work of Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274). Although unfinished, the Summa is “one of the classics of the history of philosophy and one of the most influential works of Western literature.”

The Printing Press
c. 1450

A printing press is a device for applying pressure to an inked surface resting upon a print medium (such as paper or cloth), thereby transferring the ink. Typically used for texts, the invention of the printing press is widely regarded as one of the most influential events in the second millennium, ushering in the period of modernity.

The Mundaneum

The Mundaneum was originally created in 1910, following an initiative begun in 1895 by Belgian lawyers Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine, as part of their work on documentation science. It aimed to gather together all the world’s knowledge and classify it according to a system they developed called the Universal Decimal Classification.

The Memex

The memex (a portmanteau of “memory” and “index”) is the name of the hypothetical proto-hypertext system that Vannevar Bush described in his 1945 The Atlantic Monthly article, “As We May Think”. Bush envisioned the memex as a device in which individuals would compress and store all of their books, records, and communications, “mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.”


Following the structure of Jean Genet’s Ce qui est resté d’un Rembrandt déchiré en petits carrés bien réguliers, et foutu aux chiottes (What Remains of a Rembrandt Torn Into Four Equal Pieces and Flushed Down the Toilet), the book is written in two columns in different type sizes. The left column is about Hegel, the right column is about Genet.

Project Xanadu

Project Xanadu was the first hypertext project, founded in 1960 by Ted Nelson. Administrators of Project Xanadu have declared it an improvement over the World Wide Web, with mission statement: “Today’s popular software simulates paper. The World Wide Web (another imitation of paper) trivialises our original hypertext model with one-way ever-breaking links and no management of version or contents.”


Spatial Data Management is a technique for organizing and retrieving information by positioning it in a spatial framework. Data is accessed in a Spatial Data Management System (SDMS) via pictorial representations which are arranged in space and viewed through a computer graphics system.

Krise der Linearität

“The hypothesis to be presented here is: Occidental culture is a discourse whose most important information is stored in an alphanumeric code. This code is in the process of being replaced by other, differently structured codes. If this hypothesis were accurate, we would have to count on a fundamental change of our culture in the near future.” Vilém Flusser


The World Wide Web (WWW) is an open source information space where documents and other web resources are identified by URLs, interlinked by hypertext links, and can be accessed via the Internet. It has become known simply as the Web. The World Wide Web was central to the development of the Information Age and is the primary tool billions of people use to interact on the Internet.

Writing Space

Writing Space is a book that studies the computer as a new technology for reading and writing.


Cybertext is the organization of text in order to analyse the influence of the medium as an integral part of the literary dynamic, as defined by Espen Aarseth in 1997. Aarseth defined it as a type of ergodic literature.


Wikipedia is amultilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project supported by the Wikimedia Foundation and based on a model of openly editable content. The name “Wikipedia” is a portmanteau of the words wiki (a technology for creating collaborative websites, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning quick) and encyclopedia.

The Glass Engine

The IBM Glass Engine is designed to enable deep navigation of the music of Philip Glass. Personal interests, associations, and impulses guide the listener through an expanding selection of over sixty of Glass’ works.


“Indexhibit is a pioneering CMS web application founded in 2006 which is used to create websites in the established index + exhibit format.” Daniel Eatock and Jeffery Vaska


Blockchalk was a service built around the idea of leaving simple messages directly tied to a specific location. “Use your mobile phone to leave messages on your block, your street, at the coffee shop, or anywhere you happen to be. Respond privately or publicly to messages from people in your neighborhood.”

4D Scrolling

4D scrolling, or also parallax scrolling, is a term used to define a website experience that when the user scrolls other events and interactions occur. A classic example is the New York Times article “Snow Fall”.

Latest Resources

✂ Copy and 📋 Paste Emoji 👍

No apps required.

Computer Virus Catalog

They steal our files, corrupt our hard drives and destroy our lives. We scan. We block. Do everything we can to prevent infection. Computer viruses. We hate ’em. Nevertheless, we remain fascinated by their evil plots. This fascination led to a new kind of art collection – Computer Virus Catalog. The worst viruses in computer history interpreted by artists around the world.

Founded & curated by Bas van de Poel

Scrolling on the web: A primer

Scrolling is one of the oldest interactions on the web. Long before we had pull-to-refresh or infinite-loading lists, the humble scrollbar solved the web’s original scaling problem: how can we interact with content that’s stretched beyond the available viewport?

Resilient web design

Resilient Web Design, you might think that this is a handbook for designing robust websites. This is not a handbook. It’s more like a history book.

A Handmade Web

‘handmade web’ to refer to web pages coded by hand rather than by software…

Eloquent JavaScript

This is a book about JavaScript, programming, and the wonders of the digital.

The Future of Browser History

About browsers history, and how we tend to browse nowadays.

Swiss in CSS

Swiss in CSS is a homage to the International Typographic Style and the designers that pioneered the ideas behind the influential design movement.

Automatically art-directed responsive images

by Eric Portis


Businessweek, June 11, 2015
by Paul Ford

Interview with Tom Krcha, Adobe XD

Adobe released the first public preview of what the company is now calling Adobe XD, its their major new UX/UI design and prototyping tool.

Typography for User Interfaces

A recap of how far type in UI has come, where it’s going (VR) and what to look for when choosing a workhorse for your next interface. (via

Typeface As Programme: Glossary

A glossary of tools and technologies mentioned in Typeface As Programme.
by Jürg Lehni

Declarative Design Tools

Our brains and computers are fast; our hands, mice and keyboards are slow.

Roger That: Emoji Overdrive

A font that turns the 2,000 most used English words into emoji.

Layout in Flipboard

Flipboard Pages, a layout engine that turns web page articles into magazine pages for the iPad.

Use Your Interface

UYI, is a place documenting the uprising of motion based interface patterns.

Google Fonts

Google’s new site for Web fonts.



New Yorker cover comes to life

Malika Favre’s illustration for this week’s New Yorker magazine has been brought to life by French animator Mathieu Maillefer.

Natural User Interface

In computing, a Natural User Interface (NUI) is the common parlance used by designers and developers of human-machine interfaces to refer to a user interface that is effectively invisible, and remains invisible as the user continuously learns increasingly complex interactions. The word natural is used because most computer interfaces use artificial control devices whose operation has to be learned.

Graphical user interface

In computing, a graphical user interface (GUI, sometimes pronounced “gooey” or “gee-you-eye”) is a type of interface that allows users to interact with electronic devices through graphical icons and visual indicators such as secondary notation, as opposed to text-based interfaces, typed command labels or text navigation. GUIs were introduced in reaction to the perceived steep learning curve of command-line interfaces (CLIs), which require commands to be typed on the keyboard.

Parallax scrolling

Parallax scrolling is a special scrolling technique in computer graphics, wherein background images move by the camera slower than foreground images, creating an illusion of depth in a 2D video game and adding to the immersion.
Web designers began incorporating parallax scrolling in 2011, using HTML5 and CSS3. Websites with parallax backgrounds are becoming an increasingly popular strategy, as advocates argue it is a simple way to embrace the fluidity of the Web.


A Web Graphics Library (WebGL) is a JavaScript API for rendering interactive 3D computer graphics and 2D graphics within any compatible web browser without the use of plug-ins. WebGL is integrated completely into all the web standards of the browser allowing GPU accelerated usage of physics and image processing and effects as part of the web page canvas. WebGL elements can be mixed with other HTML elements and composited with other parts of the page or page background.


A Twitterbot is a program used to produce automated posts on the Twitter microblogging service, or to automatically follow Twitter users. Twitterbots come in various forms. For example, many serve as spam, enticing clicks on promotional links. Others post @replies or automatically “retweet” in response to tweets that include a certain word or phrase. These automatic tweets are often seen as fun or silly. Some Twitter users even program Twitterbots to assist themselves with scheduling or reminders.


User experience moment.


Usability refers to how easy it is for a visitor to your site to use your site in its intended manner. In other words, are navigation, content, images, and any interactive elements easy to use, functioning the way they were intended, and that your intended target visitor will not need any special training in order to use your site.


Short for “permanent link.” Generally used only on blogs, a permalink is a link that is the permanent web address of a given blog post. Since most blogs have constantly-changing content, the permalink offers a way for readers to bookmark or link to specific posts even after those posts have moved off the home page or primary category page.


A pageview is a request for an entire web page document from a server by a visitor’s browser. In other words, for each page view your site had, someone (or a search engine spider) looked at that page.

Meta data

Meta data is the data contained in the header that offers information about the web page that a visitor is currently on. The information contained in the meta data isn’t viewable on the web page (except in the source code). Meta data is contained within meta tags.


Hypertext is any computer-based text that includes hyperlinks. Hypertext can also include presentation devices like tables or images, in addition to plain text and links.


A hyperlink is a link from one web page to another, either on the same site or another one. Generally these are text or images, and are highlighted in some way (text is often underlined or put in a different color or font weight). The inclusion of hyperlinks are the “hyper” part of “hypertext.”


Contrary to popular belief, a hit does not represent a single visitor to a website. A hit is actually a request for a single file from your web server. This means one page can actually generate multiple hits, as each page generally has more than one file (an html or other base file, a css file, multiple images, etc.) and each one is requested from the server whenever the page is loaded. Some marketing people like to quote hits to unknowing consumers as the number makes their site sound like it’s getting a whole lot more traffic than it actually is.

Focal Point

The focal point of a web site is the spot on a web page that they eye is naturally drawn to. This could be an image, a banner, text, Flash content, or just about anything else. You want to make sure that whatever is acting as your focal point is the most important part of your site.

Fixed Width Layout

A fixed width layout has a set width (generally defined in pixels) set by the designer. The width stays the same regardless of screen resolution, monitor size, or browser window size. It allows for minute adjustments to be made to a design that will stay consistent across browsers. Designers have more control over exactly how a site will appear across platforms with this type of layout.

Elastic Layout

An elastic layout is one that uses percentages and ems for widths paired with a max-width style to allow the site layout to stretch when font sizes are changed. It’s ability to flex to accommodate the browser width and reader’s font preferences are where it gets its name.

Cascading Style Sheets

Also referred to simply as CSS, Cascading Style Sheets are used to define the look and feel of a web site outside of the actual HTML file(s) of the site. In recent years, CSS has replaced tables and other HTML-based methods for formatting and laying out websites. The benefits to using CSS are many, but some of the most important are the simplification of a site’s HTML files (which can actually increase search engine rankings) and the ability to completely change the style of a site by changing just one file, without having to make changes to content.


Cached files are those that are saved or copied (downloaded) by a web browser so that the next time that user visits the site, the page loads faster.

Bounce rate

A website’s bounce rate is the percentage of people who leave the site from the same page they entered the site, without clicking through to any other pages. This can be a good indicator of how good a website’s navigation is, as well as an indicator of the quality of the site’s content (a very high bounce rate doesn’t bode well for either of those things).


Stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. AJAX is typically used for creating dynamic web applications and allows for asynchronous data retrieval without having to reload the page a visitor is on. The JavaScript on a given page handles most of the basic functions of the application, making it perform more like a desktop program instead of a web-based one.