Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Going purple

I am working with Stephanie on an examination of the color purple in Christianity for this module. Our research so far has shown something I find pretty interesting: the connotations attached to purple in Christianity are very much related to the connotations attached to purple by mainstream culture. I'm sure this is at least partly (if not entirely) because our subject matter is so intertwined with popular culture. For example, purple is the color of royalty. We have discussed in class (and numerous sources can add to this) why this is -- the color was rare and expensive, meaning it was only available to royalty. According to Christian lore, Jesus was dressed in a purple robe before he was crucified as part of the mockery surrounding his claim to be "King of the Jews." The color purple was used by his persecutors because of its royal connotations, and because of that incident it was inducted into the canon of Christian symbolism.

The other major connotation of the color purple that we have run across also stems from the crucifixion of Jesus. Purple is the color of persecution, pain, sorrow, and suffering. It is not difficult to follow where these ideas might have come from in reference to the paragraph above.
Another connection I am trying to make is one of purple as empathetic. It seems that empathy might be a quality also associated with royalty, at least in some cases. Many political Web sites also discuss purple as a color of cooperation, because it is what emerges when red (Republicans) and blue (Democrats) work together. States known as "purple states" are the states that are most moderate in their political leanings.

Returning to the project at hand, Stephanie and I are particularly researching the connection of the color purple with the Christian seasons of Lent and Advent. Both have direct connections to events in the life of Jesus, so the royalty connection is easy to make. I also think we can draw a connection between purple and Lent because Lent is the time Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by Satan. This certainly involved sorrow and suffering. Advent is the time leading up to Jesus' birth, which might connote suffering on the part of his parents. These are just a few of the leads we intend to follow as we continue to flesh out this project.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Making Drugs More Visible

According to this week’s article on the Web site Color Matters, the lessening of direct-to-consumer advertising restrictions in recent years has spawned intense changes in the market.  “The color and shape of the pills and the names and imagery used to sell products are heavily researched and tested, much like the drugs themselves.” For example, Levitra determined that men were turned off by the blue color of Viagra pills, and so decided to make their pills a vibrant orange. Given the free-market premise of the modern pharmaceutical industry, it stands to reason that if the drug companies are spending so much time and money on pleasing the consumer’s every whim, there is a reason: Today’s consumers are informed and they often are informed by visible rhetoric.  Thus, the pharmaceutical company must use visual rhetoric to convince the consumer that a certain product is the ideal one so that consumer can approach her physician about it. 

In Prescribing by Numbers: Drugs and the Definition of Disease, Jeremy Green posits a shift in how medical knowledge is packaged differently today than it was just a few years ago. Direct-to-consumer marketing has changed the landscape of the industry. This is largely, I believe, because of the different methods of visible rhetoric that companies must use in appealing to a broad public audience rather than to an audience of physicians. The public is informed regarding medical knowledge and treatment today in a way it never has been before , and this is precisely because of the greatly increased impact that visible rhetoric now has on society.

One intensely interesting facet of Greene’s book is the fact that more and more Americans are being medicated now than ever. I think this is because of direct-to-consumer marketing and its focus on visible rhetoric. With direct access to consumers, drug companies work to make these markets ever larger. “The threshold for high blood pressure may continue to move lower until there is very little normal left between the pathologically high and the pathologically low … ” (230). While Greene does point out that this cannot go on forever, the truth is that there is always another chronic condition to be exploited/mediated/medicated. For example, the fight against cholesterol only began in the 1950s and 1960s. By the time cholesterol is taken care of, another medical crisis will have risen and drug companies will have found a way to market it. Clearly, society’s increasing emphasis on visible rhetoric and the quickly expanding drug market are very much related.

Work Cited

Greene, Jeremy A. Prescribing by Numbers: Drugs and the Definition of Disease. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Examining soda (or pop)

I chose to examine the different designs of soda cans for this blog entry. I chose what I consider to be the four most popular drinks (at least among my friends). Two are dark sodas and two are light sodas, with one of each being made by Pepsi Co. and one of each being made by Coke. Interestingly, the packaging is more similar between similar products than it is between products made by the same company. For example, Pepsi looks more like Coke than it does like Mountain Dew, even though Mountain Dew is made by Pepsi.

Mountain Dew and Sprite are both packaged with green as the predominant color, perhaps portraying the lemon flavor within. Pepsi and Coke are packaged in primary colors. Coke is very traditional, with just red and white. Pepsi adds blue to the mix as its dominant color. 

In regard to typeface, both Mountain Dew and Sprite have lettering that is horizontal and ascending – ascending sharply, in the case of Sprite. The lettering is either white or outlined in white. Pepsi and Coke both have white lettering, although Pepsi's is more blockish and Coke's is script.  "Pepsi" would be more legible if both brands weren't instantly recognizable anyway. Pepsi and Coke both have large lettering that is written vertically and ascending. I suspect all the typefaces are ascending to mimic the carbonation that is the key to the soda industry. None of the soda's typefaces have significant serifs. 

After completing this examination, I couldn't help but notice that some soda cans have been modernized in recent years (I tried to choose traditional designs for the examples above.) The most common examples are in Sprite and Pepsi, which both went to a new can with the soda name written horizontally. Interestingly, both also used the names smaller in the new design, prompting me to wonder if visual rhetoric has now completely surpassed text as the language of modern commercialism.

Meanwhile, Mountain Dew and Coke have both been designed in completely new ways as well. The Green Label Art has turned some Mountain Dew cans into pieces of highbrow art on the go, and Coke has marketed a slimline can (with a design similar to the new Sprite and Coke cans) to appeal to twenty-something women. The weight given to visual rhetoric in all of these cases is overwhelming.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Q&A on Blackboard readings

White, "Text”

1. According to the author, what’s the most intelligent design decision you can make?

Informed use of white space is the most intelligent design decision one can make, according to White. I tend to agree with this statement. With the exception of content (which, I would argue, is also often a design choice), white space is the largest deciding factor in how a document’s final design will look.

2. How does White define “conventions?” How are conventions useful?

For White, the word “conventions” seems to be equivalent to “rules.” White does say, though, that any convention can be broken – it’s just that a designer must be informed about the convention before knowing enough to break it effectively. She details eight conventions that are perhaps the most widely known. 

3. Are conventions universal? Should conventions be considered “rules?”

Although “rules” is the word I used to define “conventions” above, it is important to realize that they are breakable. A good designer will always take into account the context of a piece and which conventions might be limiting in that context. Conventions are certainly not universal.


Williams, “Readability and Legibility”

1. What is the difference, according to Williams, between readability and legibility?

Readability refers to the ease with which a person can quickly navigate body type or anything else that would have a large amount of text as one entity. Legibility is more applicable to headlines or other title-type elements that occur in small sections.

2. What makes a typeface or font face readable?

Several elements make a typeface or font more readable. Williams says it is a moderation of features. This means the face should not incorporate anything that really stands out – it should be average-sized with average thickness and an average x-height, etc. It is also noteworthy that serif typefaces are generally considered more readable, and additional leading can make up for other deficiencies in readability by allowing the eye a space to move back to the beginning of each new line.

3. When does text have to be legible? When can text serve more decorative, artistic functions?

Text should be legible when people are reading quickly – in situations where the reader will be skimming, scanning or making a quick judgment. Text can serve artistic functions in these cases as long as the designer is aware of the conventions being broken and how those broken conventions work within the piece.


Brumberger, “Rhetoric of Typography”

1. Do you think the typeface in which this article is presented is "rhetorically appropriate?" Why or why not?

Yes and no. This article was meant to be read in a printed journal from a physical page. The typeface (which looks like Times?) is serif and very average. It is extremely readable. However, I read this article on the computer screen. On the screen, the serifs were too skinny to do much good and the weight of the lines was not thick enough to be readable until I zoomed far in. So, in terms of its expected rhetorical situation, the typeface chosen was appropriate. But, I read it outside of the expected rhetorical situation, and the appropriate typeface choice for my rhetorical situation would have been different.

2. What does the author mean when she argues that typefaces have "personas?"

She means that typefaces can evoke certain feelings and connotations within our minds. They may give the text characteristics that we would not otherwise have attributed to it.

3. Take a look at the chunks/passages embedded on one of your favorite webpages and rank the attributes of each using the scale Brumberger used and presents on page 228 of her study.

CNN.com uses the same typeface (with a font change for the main headline) throughout its home page. They choice, a sans-serif that is highly “invisible,” projects seriousness without being too cold. In my opinion, it is confident and professional. Going from the top of Brumberger’s scale to the bottom, I would rate its attributes as follows: cheap – 2, cold – 3, confident – 7, dignified -6 , elegant – 6, feminine – 2, formal – 5, friendly – 6, inviting – 7, loud – 4, masculine – 5, playful – 1, pretentious – 3, professional – 7, relaxed – 4, scholarly – 7, serious – 7, sloppy – 1, straightforward – 7, warm – 5.

4. What's the "so what?" of Brumberger's study? What are the conclusions and implications she draws? What can we learn—as writers and editors—from her study?

I was disappointed by Brumberger’s study. I had hoped that she would be able to prove at least one of her hypothesis. I do think she succeeded in demonstrating how differently people can perceive something as “simple” as typeface choice. This shows us that, as designers, every detail is vitally important. The choice of typeface can evoke a number of different ideas if we know how to use the conventions surrounding that choice correctly. As writers and editors, we must be aware (even in a text-only document) of how our typeface choice affects the way readers perceive our work.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Still 'Tick'ering

Module 2: Designing With Text has presented me with challenges I had not expected to face in this class. First and foremost, it has been a very long time since I have used Microsoft Word to do anything truly creative. However, the reasoning for this is that Word is not a good software program for supporting graphics. Since we cannot work with graphics in this unit, the creative challenges I face are more about my mastery of the program than about the program itself.

I completed a draft of my module two project before doing the assigned readings for this week. After having done the readings, I plan to create a second draft before our rough draft is due. The ideas I was able to draw from the three Blackboard readings were very helpful. In particular, I will do more work with kerning and line spacing.

Originally, I chose to work with the lyrics from the Brad Paisley song "Ticks." I placed the lyrics, repeated to fill the page, into a document and turned them green to reference a field that makes an appearance in the lyrics. I then turned select bits of text black, trying to form the shape of a tick. This proved more difficult than I had imagined. The tick just did not show up very well. I bolded the letters, which helped a little. But, having read the assigned readings (especially the one from the Non-Designer's Type Book), I know I can do a number of things to make that text stand out more. My tick is basically functioning as a serif -- his little legs are getting lost like the feet on a serif typeface when used as a headline. Mostly, the image needs to appear more dense, and I now have a number of tools at my disposal to make that happen. (I also think peer review will be a great help in this project.) I have a feeling this is project I could tinker with forever and not be entirely satisfied. Typography, clearly, is an addiction!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Text and the death of print

I found Lupton’s chapter on text to be fascinating. This is at least partially because I use most of the techniques she talks about every day in my job as a newspaper editor. I’ve heard my colleagues talk about the days when leading was literally leading. But, I did learn some new techniques as well. I particularly enjoyed Lupton’s discussion of kerning. The relationships of letters to each other changes depending on the typeface and font. Kerning allows for a manual override – ironically, it’s a way to manually make things look more natural. It’s an extremely valuable tool. 

I was particularly interested in Lupton’s observations regarding the differences between print and Internet readers (p. 74 especially). It makes perfect sense that, although the same person may be a user of both, expectations are different when using the Internet. Immediate gratification is the norm for Internet users, and any delay in processing information becomes extremely frustrating.

In fact, I would posit the Internet has changed the mentality of consumers as a whole. We regularly get calls at the newspaper from people who take their news on the Internet, and they often complain that the news doesn’t go up fast enough or that they can’t access everything on the Web site that’s in the print product. I politely explain that to get all the news, they have to buy a newspaper instead of just visiting the Web site, and generally the point is well taken. Sometimes, though, the person’s sense of entitlement (“Isn’t the news you report in the public interest?” They ask, and they have a good point.) is such that I have to make comparisons to other professions (Would you expect a surgeon to operate on you for free, even if you’d die if she didn’t?). My point here is that the Internet has not only changed the audience and forum for text, it also has changed the value of text. Information is now available for free, and that is how people think it should be. Newspapers – probably the greatest users of text in the world – are in deep trouble because of this phenomenon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mapping Myself

After considerable anguish, I settled on something pretty similar to my first draft of my cultural identity map for my final product. After talking with peer reviewers, I did make two major changes (as well as a number of smaller tweaks). First, I deleted the camera in the lower right corner. It had represented Lacan's gaze as well as my photography work, but I decided neither were really significant enough parts of my life to merit inclusion on my map. The second change involved two parts: I enlarged and made more central the liberty figure that is now at bottom right. This figure, which is borrowed from the Libertarian Party's logo, represents my political ideals and how I try to live my life. I also included watermarked text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the background of my map, because my studies of the affects of the First Amendment have had a huge impact on my political and cultural outlook on life. I also made another significant choice in this final map: I chose not to alter the image of Rosie the Riveter. Although I modernized her (OK, let's be frank, I turned her into a badass) for use on my button, I felt that on my map she represents some sense of tradition, which I am proud of, as well as progress. My map demonstrates my ideas about progressiveness pretty clearly in other ways; I liked Rosie as a sort of nostalgic element. 

Monday, September 8, 2008

"Thinking with Type" and "Graphic Design"

I’ve always been told that you’re a good page designer when people stop telling you that you’re a good page designer. In other words, the design was so effective that it was invisible. It seems to me that the use of proper lettering – using the proper typeface – is much the same. If the typeface is distracting, like the bitmapped letter compared to the anti-aliased letter, then its use was a poor choice. The goal in choosing typefaces is to be so good that you’re invisible.

But maybe not always.

In my designing work, certain typefaces have already been chosen for standard headlines, but I am free to choose any typeface we have for feature stories, graphics, and other oddities. In this case, I’m not so sure invisibility is the goal. Sometimes, the typeface is precisely the element that needs to jump out. I would argue that this goal – using a typeface that jumps out – has made for some of the best and worst page designs in newspaper history. One thing I do think is really clever is the suggestion that hand lettering is still a driving force in graphic design (See the "POW!!" on the newspaper page above at left.)

Utilizing non-textual elements also is an important task for media. Magazines, particularly, tend to use a lot of visual elements in their layouts. Often, these are in the form of simple tables, graphs, and charts. As shown by Graphic Design, there are myriad more creative ways to do such things. But they don’t get done. My question about this is: If people care so much about graphic design, how come they won’t pay a little extra for a superbly designed magazine? The answer: Substance. If that superb design carries with it some meaning, some purpose, then it is actually worthwhile. I don’t mean to sound down on graphic design. It’s actually something I really enjoy and admire. But it frustrates the heck out of me when I want to try it at my job and am told there simply isn’t time/money/resources to do so. I worry that newspapers are dying, and graphic design for print will soon follow. In some ways, maybe, the Internet is a not-so-good thing. 

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Response to Chapter 3 Practices of Looking

The power of the gaze is a terrifying and intensely interesting subject. I enjoyed the discussion of cinema, which seems such an obvious manifestation of the gaze that I can't believe I hadn't already given it more serious thought. I was glad Sturken and Cartwright included Foucault’s model of the Panopticon in this chapter, because I felt that it really made clear how powerful the gaze is – so powerful, in fact, that the mere suggestion that it might exist can determine the course of a person's actions.

I was, however, very frustrated with the seeming inequality of the discussion surrounding the power endowed by the gaze in terms of gender. It seemed to me that the authors felt that anytime a woman is gazed upon, she is objectified and somehow lessened. Yet in the example showing a male being gazed upon (page 88), they suddenly observe the subject as maintaining power by refusing to acknowledge the presence of the gazers (who are women). While I can't begin to fathom the complexities of the psychoanalytic theories surrounding studies of the gaze, I did feel that Sturken and Cartwright's interpretation was lacking in the manner. I can think of myriad examples in which women are gazed upon and, in being so observed, wield great power. Likewise, I can think of examples, though not so many, of when men are gazed upon and thus made inferior. Both male and female gazers can also be on either end of the power spectrum.

I am reminded of a study I once did on feminism and pornography. There are two basic camps (in reality, there are far more). One side argues that women are being turned into commodities against their will in a fashion very akin to slavery. The other side says women have learned to use their sexuality as a commodity that they can then use to make slaves of consumers. In other words, these two camps see the power of the gaze in very different ways. One believes that the gazer holds more power, while the other believes that the subject of the gaze is the more powerful of the two.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Response to Chapter 2 of Practices of Looking

The idea that images can have many meanings is not a new one, and I was a little surprised that Sturken and Cartwright spent so long elaborating a point that seemed fairly obvious in Chapter 2. Of course the subjective nature of the world will mean that different audiences interpret different messages in different ways. Of course some images will be created with one meaning in mind and consumed with a different result. I was intrigued by Sturken and Cartwright's treatment of the challenges to the traditional Marxist definition of ideology. Althusser's suggestion that imagination plays a part in the creation of reality is a simple-sounding but extremely complex observation that is central to many fields of study today. It applies not only to the perspective one might use in examining visible rhetoric, but also to one's very self-image. We all see ourselves in terms of our place within society, and as such our self-images are – increasingly, in modern society – socially constructed. The second challenge to Marxism, Gramsci's introduction of the idea of hegemony, is a necessary complication in the attempt to understand how reality is formed. It stands to reason that not every dominant culture will always succeed in silencing every voice. (For that matter, I would argue that not every dominant culture wants to silence every voice.) Our social realities are constructed through a process of give and take, balance and counterbalance. In short, rhetoric – be it visible or oral – is a vital tool in sorting through the stakes various subcultures have in the creation of reality. Rhetoric can, in fact, define and shape reality for precisely this reason.

I also want to speak briefly on Sturken and Cartwright's presentation (on page 57) of the various types of reading. I think this strikes a particular chord when considered in light of the ongoing campaigns for president. When we consume campaign literature, we may be predisposed to the dominant-hegemonic reading or the oppositional reading. Others, though I believe (sadly) not as many, may even use the negotiated reading. For example, let's say Tom Smith is a lifelong Republican. When he sees a campaign commercial featuring Barack Obama talking about the need for healthcare for all Americans, Tom Smith is likely to engage in oppositional reading. When he sees an ad for John McCain that appeals to his sense of patriotism, Tom Smith will likely identify with the hegemonic position. Related to this is the fact that some studies have shown that attack ads tend to evoke the tendency in consumers to do oppositional readings.
Chang, Park and Shim discuss the possibility that "attack politics evoke a boomerang effect." This phenomenon, which is easily observed, may be a result of the socially-constructed cynicism regarding politics in general. It certainly reinforces Sturken and Cartwright's point that rhetoric is interpreted by the viewer independently of the intended meaning of the creator.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Personal Flag

A friend sent me a link to a site that allows you to create your own personal flag. Although you're limited to using the elements of existing flags, I think it's a neat take on the cultural identity map. Even though the flags created by countries generally encompass very broad ideals, this could be a way to at least get inspiration for creating a cultural identity map. It's worth a look.

Check out the site at www.wearemulticolored.com
. (You'll need to have Flash downloaded to use it.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Cultural Identity Map - First Draft

This is the first draft of my cultural identity map. The map features a number of items, most of which bear several symbolic meanings. I found throughout the course of creating this map that certain images recurred when I thought about trying to express certain ideals. I also found a great challenge in trying to coordinate a hierarchy. Anything important enough to make it onto the map in the first place seemed like it ought to be pretty big. I also ran into challenges because some of the things that are part of my daily life aren't necessarily things I want people to immediately associate with me -- even if they are where I draw a lot of my ideas and motivation. Other things, as always, possess a draw. I think these things are the most dangerous because they place us in the position of presenting ourselves as we wish to be seen by others -- purposely allowing ourselves to be the disempowered objects of Lacan's gaze. And yet, in a strange reversal of that very notion, not including such objects because we are afraid of being gazed upon is an equally disconcerting feeling. I have tried to present a balance of those ideals in this cultural map. A future post -- after I finish the map -- will explain its elements. In the meantime, please let me know what associations you draw from it.

Response to Introduction and Chapter One of Practices of Looking by Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright

Several aspects of Sturken and Cartwright’s initial observations really struck a chord with me, probably because I’ve made my career working for media. I was particularly intrigued by their approach to the “myth of photographic truth.” Frankly, I think they hit the nail on head – and they did so on a subject that people often have trouble grasping. (And furthermore, many people don’t even try to grasp it.) As Sturken and Cartwright’s subtitle implies, there is no such thing as photographic truth. This is a statement I fully believe.

In its most literal sense, photo-editing software means any image we see today may have been altered. But I think the myth of photographic truth addresses much more than that. In terms of non-altered images, there is still a lot of context that the viewer is never able to consider. Imagine the case of a newspaper reporter assigned to cover a strike. Does the reporter photograph the marching picketers? Or go into the factory to get the perspective of the factory boss, wringing his or her hands and trying to make do with too few workers and too little time? No matter what the reporter does, something will be missed. Consider this photo, which pictures one of the “Little Rock Nine” entering a desegregated school for the first time. Would the image be half so compelling if the screaming girl in the background were not present? What if that reporter had chosen to take the photograph from behind the African-American girl so as to get the school building in the photo? This little piece of American history might be remembered quite differently.

Photography and other visual imagery does, as the authors argue, have an increasingly significant impact on our culture. Although many people do, perhaps, still privilege text, they may not realize the significant they do attach to imagery. The recent media coverage of the Democratic National Convention is one example – almost everyone in America probably saw at least one image of the stunning background created to highlight the speakers at the event. That background undoubtedly lent those speakers an authority they would not otherwise have held over many watchers. As we discussed in class, this application of visible rhetoric is one that is intended to apply directly to the masses.