East Broadway . com

          My ecology focuses on East Broadway in its transition to an ethnic economic enclave. It exists not as a performance of oriental for outsiders but lives and functions to serve its own community. This can be seen in the visual language of menus, store-fronts and business landscapes. The produce is sold in cardboard boxes littered along the street with produce signs sloppily strewn with Han characters. As building ownership and rent for businesses spike to replace old tenants with higher end retail, the space becomes unaffordable for Fujianese business, let alone tenants. Its immediate neighbors that form the collective whole of Manhattan’s Chinatown face similar pressures as the area becomes highly coveted for market rate housing for young professionals. At these pivotal moments of shifting geographic politics, the ability to adapt and cater to wider audiences becomes crucial to survival. This transition is observed within long established institutions like Wo Hop’s gradual development to cater to non-asian palettes and ABC’s (American Born Chinese). This restaurant culture guides Chinatown’s modernization, appealing to the foreign masses and serves as an definitive contrast to East Broadway’s highly internal functions.

          Nomwah.com embodies this reworking of Chinatown’s narrative. As one of the area’s oldest tea parlors dating back to the 1920s, it found revitalizing life introducing dim sum to mainstream culture. The site’s very existence speaks to the flexible nature of this traditional Chinese business to attract a younger, traveller audience. The experience is clean and elevated with long scrolling pages and full width galleries. The user is immediately entranced by food. Overlaying these images are navigation areas for easy, efficient browsing. The interface is overall friendly and tidy. The site hosts a blog page to engage more intimately with their audience and introduces collaborations with clothing companies as well as promoting SoHo shops. Nomwah.com and arguably Nom Wah neglects its own community. While Wo Hop, like other restaurants have begun to expand menus to attract outsider business, it’s online site offers Chinese translations for its menus. On the other hand, Nom Wah’s site also does not advertise traditional dim sum delicacies like braised chicken feet, but popularized dishes like egg rolls and shrimp dumplings. In the “About” tab, it evokes stereotypical mystique of opium dens and gang warfare. In its very first introduction, it cites its historical location as the “Bloody Angle,” nicknamed from the street’s sharp corner that warring gangs took advantage of. This extracts Chinatown from the reality of generation’s of immigrant working class families and instead revolves it towards an other worldly fantasy.

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          The Wells template on Squarespace functions as a commercial site as well as a photography portfolio. I was drawn to this template because it spoke to a patient navigation that I hope to emulate. This may be in part due to dispersed concentrations of negative space and denser blocks of text always left or right aligned. The layout draws closer parallels to editorial photography publication spreads, where placement and design feels more intentional. The template also offers a sticky vertical navigation menu continually on the left which eases the experience of a long gallery scroll. The gallery is displayed as 2 image wide interlocked stacks but incorporates responsive design. The gallery page adapts from 2 image wide to single stacks. When selecting a specific image within the gallery,  the site transforms into a carousel gallery. The cursor becomes an arrow to the west, north, or east depending on which edge of the photo you linger on. This feels incredibly intuitive, like flipping pages in a book. The north arrow pulls you back to the stacked gallery. It’s blog function affords designers to produce a more in depth photo essay. The page structure places text descriptions in columns and features pull quotes similar to a magazine grid.  This template is smooth as it is natural, drawing inspiration from analogue media.  

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         O-R-G.com, on the other hand, is mysterious and its design demands full attention, not in its dazzling but in its baffling. On the landing page you find a bold black circle on vast white desktop with lines ticking to mimic the movements of a clock, daring the user to make haste and find safety in information that lies somewhere else. When hovering over the single blue asterisk in the corner, your mouse reacts- you are saved! But how you have mistaken. A block of text runs down the left of the screen while the clock has stalked you and remains to your right, reminding you that time is of the essence. This “About” page depends entirely on hyperlinks.

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          Links take you to cryptic walls of text done entirely in italics with phrases like “setting fire to dollar bills,” and “the demise party” scattered along its body. You have found information but not the satisfaction you were looking for. The plain and dense arrangement of texts alerts users to stay sharp. These remind of outdated websites prowling with viruses waiting to pounce or obsolete pages stripped down to its remaining code. This design is enchanting in the way ruins are haunting. The site feels as if it was never meant to be found.

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           Acting as a portfolio for an organization of collaborators specializing in design and software, this site is unusual, inefficient and frustrating. It potentially deters clients in its awkward, bulky design but it is graceful when observed in its own context. In a way, it was not meant to be found. The site is a memorium of sorts to the disbanded society that once set out to form a metaproject on the organization of a design practice- carefully staged and self-consciously produced. It does not prioritize design as a commodity- as celebration to the dissolution of the Catalog,the proceeds from five years of operation were given away ($20,000 in cash!!!). They purposely inconvenience navigation to perform for their target audience, individuals who critically engage in unorthodox design. The navigation menu is hidden and must be actively pursuited. Defying best practices of UX, O-R-G stores even introductory information deeply into the 3rd or 4th click, and uses ambiguous signifiers, ignoring the accessible value of visual icons. O-R-G succeeds in the way it serves its purpose. It is experimental, avoids falling prey to the “usual succession” of things, and attracts the right vigilantes to fulfill its mission of challenging the established in design.

          Because of the closed nature of East Broadway in terms of an authentic experience, I hope to offer a website that engages the user to develop more intimate attachments and point of views. Initially, my target  audience focused on the cultural outsider, any person without a Fujianese background. After engaging with interviews of a handful of Fujianese community leaders and second generation Fujianese Americans, I realize the site should also function as a space for cultural insiders to reckon with an area so central to their identities. The decline of Fujianese economy and livelihood on East Broadway is transparent to any community member regardless of how removed from cultural rituals they are. But recognizing does not promise a development of respect for the value in chaos. This is observed in the management style of Nom Wah and its corresponding website- withdrawn from its roots to the point of inaccessibility for its people. Modernization will be inevitable but every member participating in the transformation of their community should engage in development that is self consciously produced, like the philosophy of O-R-G, and remember to relinquish the area with dignity.

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          In an effort to produce a website that elicits a similar reflective quality, I will gravitate towards layout and functionality inspired by editorial booklets. This form of layout, as appropriated by the Well’s template, is built for slow consumption. I will also experiment with “bad design” to the extent it requires users to meaningfully examine the site and its functions like O-R-G. This hopefully will draw users away from an efficient but shallow consumption of Chinese culture, as Nom Wah’s site generates, and instead encourage a more honest, whole, and thoughtful engagement with cultural narratives. Full wireframe: https://wireframe.cc/zDboUD 

(Blog Post 2)


~ by lilsvills on February 24, 2018.

2 Responses to “East Broadway . com”

  1. I like how you mentioned you want your site to convey an authentic experience and allow users to develop intimate attachments, while still being modern. It’ll demonstrate that it is capable to have both with a space that seems to be battling old vs. new synonymously with traditional Chinese establishments/Fujianese culture vs. gentrification/commodification.

  2. Lily, I love that you decided to choose NomWah’s website as one of your sites of choice. As a frequent diner at their restaurant, I can say that their actual restaurant greatly contrasts the fashion of their website. I can see how they have Americanized their site in order to appeal to a larger audience, rather than embody the authenticity of Chinatown. I think this is your opportunity to give voice to East Broadway. I think it would be interesting how you can reach the wider audience without disengaging them. I think this would be especially interesting as well as important since the narrative of your site would from someone who is a second generation, if i’m not mistaken

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