The Geometry of Progress  ·  Retrospective To-Do Lists

Tarski Header Requirements Analysis

While I’m loathe to pen yet another awful tract about Tarski, I begin to suspect I have little choice in the matter. Being of an obsessive cast of mind has its advantages, not least for my work, but it does tend to screen out other concerns. Rest assured that proper articles are in the pipeline; until then you’ll have to content yourselves with some reflections on Tarski’s header options.

Version 1.1 is, in my view, a decent improvement on the original release. However, one thing lets it down: there aren’t enough new headers. I only managed to make one more, although I had a lot of fun doing it—I used the dregs of my morning coffee and the bottom of my coffee mug to make some coffee stains and splashes.

Coffee rings

Bad management (not giving enough lead time) also meant there weren’t any contributions from other people in time for the release. I mention this in part because making a Tarski header is a trickier commission than it might at first appear. It’s as much a graphic design job as an artistic one, and despite my protestations to the contrary, has a fairly rigorous set of requirements, implicit though they may be.

Firstly, headers have to integrate with the theme as a whole. They need to both respect and enhance the theme’s sensibility; in other words, they need to bring something unique and interesting to the table, but they also need to play nicely with the established parameters.

The second condition is an extension of the first: any header will, simply through the makeup of the theme, have to fit into a certain specific environment. There is no margin above the header, so the image is tight against the top of the page. To avoid any feelings of weird discontinuities, headers need to feel as though there’s something beyond the top of the page, whether that’s more sky or the rest of the coffee rings. Moreover, having no bottom border to the image makes things even more difficult. Adding a border at the bottom of the image would make the title feel squashed; on the other hand, not having one is a serious constraint on artistic freedom, since it means everything has to fade to white somehow.

Lastly, there’s interpretability. This is the most intangible quality of the three, and requires more instinct than logic. Essentially, the content of the header must be in some sense ambiguous, or open to interpretation. A publicly-released theme can end up playing host to an enormous variety of writing, from life in Korea to original fiction and more. Any header with its meaning nailed down will only be able to work effectively on a tiny minority of sites. A good header—for a public theme—needs to be able to vary its meaning with the contexts in which it’s placed.

Obviously these are all conditions which are fairly specific to the situation at hand. That said, any design problem can be subjected to a similar analysis, and in my experience it’s much easier to solve a problem when you really know what it is.