Visual Design and Rhetoric
In the rising age of digital media, visual stimulation has only become increasingly critical to the success of a website. Traffic will come to a page solely due to its aesthetic value, so the ability to mix rhetoric and design is a valuable skill in the modern world.
Throughout this portfolio I argue that visual design is one of the, if not the, most important aspect of digital rhetoric.
“We didn’t want to create a bunch of different overlapping pieces and hang them all off the text. We wanted to make a single story out of all the assets, including the text,” said John Branch, creator of Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. Throughout my experience in learning writing for the web this was one of the quotes that stood out the most to me. In this piece it seemed that Branch took a visual experience and added text, rather than creating a text then implementing appropriate visuals. Oftentimes our process of web writing is the opposite, but Snow Fall gives a great example of visual rhetoric and how, even though this piece had text, visual design alone can stand as a point of rhetoric to engage and inform an audience.
The common saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is never more apt than in digital media. With the rise of the “listicle,” an article made up mostly of pictures or gifs with a few sentences below, visuals often make up more of an article than the article itself. Along with the rise of “reaction images” and gifs, people are able to convey entire paragraphs worth of information or emotion through only a simple iage.
While you may not necessarily relate to or understand the text given, the image assists the text in conveying emotion and allowing the reader to understand the purpose behind the image. Memes are an easy and popular way to combine visuality and text in a rhetorical setting.
“The meaning of a text depends on the meanings of its subtextual parts and how they’re
arranged and woven together.” (Designs of Meaning: Compose) A major part of visual design conveying rhetorical purpose is assuming the audience already understands certain topics in your statement. For example, in my remix project, I had to assume as an author that my reader would understand Trump’s views on global warming and what he said concerning hairspray and air flow in the ozone layer. Without that the picture doesn’t make a lot of sense and the meaning can be lost.
Writer-Designer often discusses visuality in terms of contrast, alignment, and organization, something that I discussed thoroughly in my blog project on online shopping and visual rhetoric. Rhetorical design is so much more than the images placed on the page; it is important to consider how visuals are arranged, what surrounds them, and what sort of color scheme they share. Different themes fit different rhetorical purposes; for example, you would not want LinkedIn and GirlsGoGames having the same general design. They fit vastly different purposes for vastly different audiences, therefore the way they are arranged and colored should be different.
McLuhan says “the medium is the message,” and that is no better shown through the diversity in online media. Depending on your rhetorical purpose you could need a text that is less wordy, more visual, or vice versa. It’s a case-by-case basis that leans on many things, including purpose, audience, style of publication, genre, and context. That is why, as an online writer, you must be constantly cognizant of who will see the piece you’re making and what exactly it is you want to convey to them.
My multimodal project is a bit different, and more focused on text than visuals, but it juxtaposes my other pieces well, as it is a more professional publication focused on politics and accessibility to young audiences. So while I tried to make it visually interesting to suit the digital genre and appease the younger audience I was pursuing, at the end of the day it was about telling the news, so the text had to take over. This is one case in which text may be more important than visuals, although that is not the case for the vast majority of digital media. The biggest news organizations often utilize both simultaneously through video, gifs, and even interactive graphics such as polls or quizzes.
So what does it mean to write for digital media? It means you have to be a jack of all trades; you have to think about everything, from visuals to organization to text to interactivity, not to mention the different rhetorical subcategories within each. You have to be more than a good writer. You have to develop an eye for design and demonstrate how different designs are more appropriate for different purposes or genres. Being a writer for the web means being a master at digital rhetoric and design. It’s much more complicated than it was during the years of print, but at the same time it has allowed us astounding amounts of visual stimulation, interactivity, and community that print never could.