Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Response to Brian W. Chanen’s “Surfing the Text: The Digital Environment in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves”


In this article, Brian W. Chalen ties together different theories, ideas, and examples from several pieces of work that are typographically appealing and new to readers. Using these different works as references, he explains how “the hyperlinked, networked structure of the digital environment has influenced the structure of print fiction and the ways in which a reader is encouraged to approach print text (164).” But what does that mean? Take a look at one of the books that he used as an example in his article, Double or Nothing by Raymond Federman. This book features text in an unusual arrangement that allows each reader to interpret it differently.


Using this new, spatial arrangement as opposed to the left-to-right, top-to-bottom, justified arrangement of text brings new power to the text by breaking “the tension between freedom and control (and by extension, hierarchy/anarchy, inside/outside, writer/reader, etc.) that results from electronic linking and the ways this new textual environment reconfigures narrative space (165). As I was reading this article, another example of this new, different style of writing came to mind: Create Your Own Adventure books. In these books that I would read as a child, the reader was able to choose their own destiny by deciding between two different options at the end of each section. I loved these books because I felt that I was more involved with them than traditional books. This sort of interactive fiction, or surfiction (168), finds ways to alter the structure of the book to intrigue our imaginations and change the story. Here is an example of a Choose Your Own Adventure path choice:


I think that these new, innovative ways of writing text to allow different interpretation by the reader is an important point in literature. With the rise of the internet and the decline of print, there is more and more of a focus and push to for readability and user-friendliness in text, which this type of writing delivers. By arranging the text in a way that readers can interpret it differently and draw different conclusions from it, writers and readers alike can feel more fulfilled and can have greater connections to it based on their individual interpretations.


A Response to Edward Tufte’s “Beautiful Evidence, Chapter 1: Mapped Pictures”


In the first chapter of his book Beautiful Evidence, Edward Tufte begins to explain the importance of mapping pictures in presenting and documenting evidence. Mapped pictures are made to be representative of the images they are portraying, while providing an explanation to the image in the form of scales, diagrams, overlays, or words (14). Doing so allows the viewer to have a better contextualized idea of what they are seeing by combining direct visual evidence of the images with the power of diagrams. By adhering to the known dimensions of coordinate planes, as well as the dimension of time, a “universal grid of measurement” can be found that encompasses the beauty that is mapped pictures (45). 

Throughout the reading, Tufte uses many examples of how mapping pictures can persuade or dissuade the viewer to feel a certain way about what they are seeing and how it is interpreted. Depending on the how the person mapping the picture looks at what they are mapping, shades the mapping, or connects the different lines within the mapping, the finished product can be very different. Lines are important features that allow us to understand the direction, flow, or connections between different aspects of a pictures. For this reason, it is important for the mapper to make it clear to the viewer what they are trying to get across. When images are not to scale, or are being compared at different scales, the viewer may be confused or misinformed. This is one reason that labels are such an important feature in diagrams and in mapping pictures. In scientific, scholarly, and evidential pictures this is especially important, as it provides more explanation, credibility, and a universal understanding to pictures than the original image may be able to do (45). 

I agree with the main points that Tufte made, as well as the reasons behind them. Because pictures can be interpreted so differently from person to person, having a universal way of viewing them helps to create to instill the uniform, underlying idea that the image is meant to portray. When looking at a map, for instance, someone from the region that the map shows may have a perfect idea of what it is representing, as well as the scale of everything they see in relation to each other. Someone from the other side of the world, however, may have no idea how the different areas of the map relate to each other, the true size of what is being shown on the map, or the location of the mapped area in relation to surrounding areas. By providing simple diagrams and explanations, whether through words, other images, or measurements for scale, the map maker can make it easier for both viewers to understand the map and relate it to their knowledge of the world. 

Another funnier, but just as relevant, example of this can be found often on Reddit. Here, users will often upload pictures of different things they come across in their day-to-day life. However, due to many different factors, such as lighting, angle, etc., the true size of the images they are posting is not always easily recognizable by viewers. Noticing this, the community developed the use of “banana for scale” as a way to map their pictures. Now, when the have something they want to take a picture of and upload, they will put a banana in the picture to give viewers a better sense of the size of the object, and will caption it, “banana for scale.” This, to me, is ingenious, due to the relative consistency in size between bananas, and the audience’s ability to more easily interpret the images. Below are some awesome examples. Enjoy!





A Response to Cara A. Finnegan’s “The Naturalistic Enthymeme and Visual Argument: Photographic Representation in the ‘Skull Controversy'”


Cara A. Finnegan’s article “The Naturalistic Enthymeme and Visual Argument: Photographic Representation in the ‘Skull Controversy'” brings up many different ideas relating to theories of visual argument and the context in which they occur (134). The basis of her writing is on Arthur Rothstein’s famous cow skull picture, taken in May 1936 in South Dakota as a part of Roosevelt’s Resettlement Administration (136).

This article examines this picture and the different ways that is was interpreted by viewers, not only by the viewer’s personal thoughts on the photo, but also in the different contexts that it was used. Media back then, and certainly still now, has an interesting way of presenting pictures to the public, in a way that catches their attention and causes awe.

This particular instance is a great example of how this is being done. Rothstein took several different pictures with this cow skull, moving it around to various different scenes in South Dakota to capture it in different lights and different angles. This was during a time of drought during the Great Depression, so when he submitted the photos to his boss in Washington, it is no surprise that his boss would choose the image appearing most drought-stricken and desolate to use as an example (133). However, this image was not representative of the entire drought-stricken region, and this fact was used against both the photographer and the Roosevelt administration by the opposition (136). Was it “fake” though? Or was it just a matter of framing that was deliberately misinterpreted by his opponents and then publicized as such?

Finnegan believes that this has a direct correlation to the naturalistic enthymeme of the viewer, or the natural way that the viewer sees an image based on their own understanding that is not explicitly stated (143). When reading about this idea, there were a few different images that I have personally seen that came to mind. None of the images are “fake,” but based on the viewer’s own previous knowledge, experiences, and mindset, their interpretations of the image could be completely different.

Here are a few of those examples. I won’t explain them, because that would defeat the purpose of the point that I am trying to get across. Interpret them how you think they should be understood, and if you are curious as to the context in which they were really used, reference the citations. Pictures are powerful because they tell stories in ways that speak louder than words, and the following images depicting different struggles throughout history definitely hold true to that.






A Response to “The Psychopathology of Everyday Things” from Donald A. Norman’s book “The Design of Everyday Things”


Donald A. Norman managed to summarize the frustrations with technology that I have on an daily basis with the first chapter, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Things,” of his book The Design of Everyday Things. Technology has become so advanced that it seems to both the author and to me that objects and gadgets are becoming unnecessarily complex. With new devices having so many features, functions, jobs, abilities… you name it, and new devices probably do it.

My favorite example of this that I struggle with on a day-to-day basis is my MacBook Air. I’ve had this laptop for a good 6 months, and I still don’t really know how to use it. Sure, I can do basis things like typing, opening applications, and downloading files. But that’s about the extent of it. When I watch my friends use their Macs, I am always so amazed at the many different shortcuts and tricks that they use to navigate. I, too, use these tools sometimes… on accident. And I can never remember what I didn’t mean to press to make whatever happened happen again. I have this same problem with a few different apps on my phone, or it at least takes me a few tries to remember how to execute a function. 

According to Norman’s book, this as to do with a problem in the visual mapping of functions on devices (8). When functions are available with no clear set of instructions or labels, and the user has never used this device before, how on earth are they supposed to know what to do?! Guess and check? Ask around? Read the 100 page manual, and then risk the possibility of still not knowing what you’re supposed to do? Designers and engineers need to take into consideration a few key elements of usability when designing new products.

Affordance: What is this product meant to be used for (9)? This has a lot to do with the materials used and the actual design of an object. Making sure that the product is made to perform specific functions is important, but making sure that users can readily identify that purpose is important, too. 
Constraints: If something is made to work a specific way, make sure that it is designed so that the user automatically wants to use the product in that way (12). For instance, if you are going to make an electronic device that is only to be used with another specific electronic device, make sure that the inputs match! (Read: Don’t make an iHome for an Android)
Mapping: Use the relationship between the causes and effects of a function to allow for self-explanatory products (23). People can use their common sense and inherit knowledge about how things are supposed to work (move something forward/up for next, backward/down for previous), so overcomplicating things like this cause for poorly designed products. 


Simplicity is underrated. 

A Response to Christopher Schmidt’s “The New Media Writer as Cartographer”


In his article “The New Media Writer as Cartographer,” Christopher Schmidt discusses the projects that he had his University of Michigan students complete as a way to better understand and comprehend the rhetorical, ideological aspect of maps. Using examples from the Map Library at the University of Michigan, the students are able to compare maps made by different people at different periods in time to see how they relate to each other, as well as to the actual layout of the areas they have mapped.

It is interesting to think that one person’s idea for a map (such as the Mercator Projection that is still widely used on globes and in classrooms) that can be completely skewed, can still be taken to be representative of the area that is being mapped. With the rise in technology, however, it is now easier to step away from these maps that are not representative and move more toward accurate maps that correctly depict the areas they are showing. Google Maps is a great example of this, due to the GPS data and pictures that it uses when creating maps. Additionally, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have recently begun using location-based settings to map posts that users upload based on the users location at the time of the upload. Also, if the user posts something later (while not at the exact location that a picture was taken, perhaps), the user is able to go back and add a location to the post, thus mapping it. That user, as well as users that they are connected to, can then view this map and see these posts arranged in accordance to location rather than linearly or by time. Because of the shift towards viewing information like this (spacial arrangements rather than time), this is a step in the right direction for social media. An example of how Instagram photo maps work can be found here:

Scalar is another website that uses spacial arrangement rather than time to organize information on a page. This scholarly website allows the user to arrange their posts in any way that they want, whether it be by time, by size, by image, or by any other criteria they deem fit. This allows the poster to control how their audience perceives and maneuvers through what is on the page, which could help to better prove a point or highlight significance of one post over another. More information on Scalar’s publication tools can be found here:

Maps can be great tools to relay information about location, but the relativeness and bias of maps must also be taken into consideration. That being said, I feel that this is becoming less of a problem due to the advances in technology and our ability to detect flaws in maps by simply researching what we see compared to what is already known.

A Response to Joanna Drucker’s “Language in the Landscape”


In her article “Language in the Landscape” Joanna Drucker analyzes the way the words and language, as well as the context in which they are used, in our everyday lives. She looks at both the style of the text as well as the purpose that the text is meant to serve, and examines how we apply that language to our understanding and interpretation of the text. 

It is important to understand now only how we understand language, but also why we interpret things in the ways that we do. When looking at signs on the street, in stores, or anywhere, we perceive them differently based on the words they contain and the way those words are arranged. Additionally, we look at the shape, color, and context of the letters and the signs on which they are being used. Drucker’s example of a stop sign, for instance, makes the reader stop almost instantly and without thinking. This is because of the form, the command, and the implied information (90) gathered from simply reading the sign. If one were to see “STOP” written in graffiti, it wouldn’t be held in the same esteem as a traditional stop sign because the form, command, and implied information are not the same. Graffiti is informal, and while the command is the same, the implied information is not the same because there are no known repercussions to not following directions written in graffiti. Because graffiti is not traditional language, it would evoke different reactions from different readers, and for different reasons. Conventional signs, such as “open” or “do not enter” on the other hand, are informative and instructive, respectively. Both types of language are often conveyed through signs in order to pass information along to the reader.

Language can also be used to convey identity, such as with brand names and their particular fonts. If you saw the Nickelodeon name written in a more formal font, for example, the identity of the brand may be confused. Likewise, if you were to see “STOP” written on a stop sign in Comic Sans, it may not be taken as seriously as a traditional stop sign. This is because of the subconscious association we have with language and the actions we follow because of it. And while there may not be a concrete, explicit explanation behind the language on different signs, the different aspects of language that we experience visually allow us to interpret them in a more uniform way.

A Response to Ann Francis Wysocki’s “The Multiple Media of Texts”


Text, how it is viewed, and how it is interpreted is an interesting concept. In her article “The Multiple Media of Texts,” Ann Francis Wysocki carefully examined the ways in which different visual components alter or affect the way in which we view and comprehend text. She begins the article by listing six assumptions on pages 123-26 that are important to keep in mind when analyzing her article:

1. The visual presentation of a page or screen gives you an immediate sense of its genre.
2. All page- and screen-based texts are (therefore) visual and their visual elements and arrangements can be analyzed.

How visuals are presented to a reader is important because it helps the reader to better understand what they are looking at. Facebook, for instance, has a very recognizable layout that is similar across other social media sites. When viewing the sites, it is easy for the reader to immediately comprehend what they are looking at based on the spacial arrangement, the text, and the pictures used. This holds true to other website formats, too, such as news sites or music blogs, but also to any standard form of media, like books or magazines. All of these are different, but are easily recognizable due to their layout.

3. The visual elements and arrangements of a text perform persuasive work.

The persuasive work performed by these texts’ main purpose it to push for an action. If it is a website, it is designed to have the user move freely throughout the website and browse. If it is a book, it is designed to have a specific pattern that the reader follows (left to right, top to bottom). If it is a magazine, the design can differ depending on what elements are meant to be the focus. In tabloids, for instance, pictures are usually the focus and are made much larger than the text. In business magazines, however, the text is usually much longer and is more important than the pictures. In any case, the writer has a specific goal for the audience that is able to be carried out by how the elements are arranged.

4. The attitude towards the visual images of text change over time.
5. The visual aspects of text are (therefore) to be understood not only in terms of physiology but also in terms of social context.

Attitudes toward visuals change over time, which is visible through many examples. The “peace sign”, originally designed for the British nuclear disarmament movement, is now used worldwide as a symbol of peace. Additionally, the swastika, originally a symbol of prosperity in ancient civilizations, is now associated with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party of Germany. It is important to keep in mind that visuals are not always timeless for reasons such as these.

6. Composing a visual text (thus) involves choosing strategies for shaping what is on a page or screen to direct a reader/viewer/browser’s attentions, within the context of other texts.

With any visual text, the strategy of shaping the page is important. What do you want to draw attention to? What is most important, and how can you highlight that? Is there a way to arrange everything you want on a page without having any of the elements lose their value? All of these questions are important when designing a page, and can significantly impact how the page is perceived. Some ways to do this include paying attention to the fonts, sizes, shapes, and spacial arrangements used on a page. Space is one of – if not the – most important element when considering visuals, so the attention paid to it should be great when composing a visual text.