Author Archives: Devon

About Devon

4th year English and Writing Arts major @Rowan University.

Transform, Girl: A generative poem and reflections

Transform,Girl, my generative poem, was a fun and unique writing experience! Check it out, and then read my reflections below!!

1.

My generative poem was largely about the idea of naming and the way that names we use to identify people change during different phases of our lives. Specifically, my poem focuses on “nice” names and “mean” names. The names I chose were all names I have been called throughout my life, both good and bad. In some cases, not all the “mean” names are really mean, but in the context of the poem, and in the context they were used, they were intended to hurt. For example, names like “nerd, geek, and lesbian,” are all in the mean names section, even though there is no real problem self-identifying as though names. I wanted my poem to show the impact that naming can have on people throughout their lifetimes, so I chose names that were related to childhood as well as adulthood, like “Sweet pea” and “Lover,” respectively. Some of the names are more like titles, but they still function as an identifier. I picked verbs that would create a sense of tension between the two names, so that the above (nice) names would be split by either a happy or sad verb. The effect was interesting. The nice names would be split by a sad verb and the transformation would be completed by the mean name. For example, “Dearest becomes choke it back you PSYCHO.,” shows the transformation from “Dearest” to “Psycho.” The verb that splits the nouns is forceful and aggressive. The lines that break the transformative sentences often come out sounding hopeful, for example “My Love escape”,and when sandwiched between two transformative sentences the effect is jarring. Alternatively, when a mean name is next to a nice verb, like “LOSER rejoice,” the effect is more harsh. I like the way it came out, alternating between pain and happiness constantly. I wrote the mean names in all caps to make it feel as though someone was yelling while you were reading, and I like the way it separates the mean words from the rest of the poem and makes them jump out from the page. The indented lines show hope and longing, and are combined with varying adjectives that either sound happy or sad. These breaks are intended to show that no matter how much others may try to break you down, there will still be some shred of hope, even if it is convoluted (by odd adjectives.) I also picked very bright, obnoxious colors to make the poem hard to ignore.

I really enjoyed crafting a poem this way. I think it made me have to think of things from new perspectives, because the poem would always generate differently and be seen by different people at different times with different experiences and perspectives. Because of the nature of the generative poem, I had to write it so that it would be accessible to everyone and make sense (for the most part) no matter how it generated. I also had to pay attention to the way the code looked and the structure of how it was written, for example, all of the above words are nice names, all the below words are mean names, etc. I knew some people would be looking at the code to see how it was structured, so I needed to keep it uniform for appropriate poem-telling and meaningful structure. Overall I loved having to think about poetry in a completely new way. I think it will make my future poetry more nuanced because I will be paying attention to more details!

 

2.

Cybertext may seem like it does not fall under the category of “literature” because it is not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of literature. Although cybertext may not be traditional literature, cybertext is not as different than we think. One of the many complaints about cybertext is its level of nonlinearity. Cybertext tends to be different in each reading, but so is any novel! We all bring different perspectives to literature every time we read. According to Epsen Aarseth’s experiences in his chapter on “Ergodic Literature,” many literary theorists say that “all literature is indeterminate, nonlinear, and different for every reading.” (2). Therefore, even traditional literature is indeterminate! Our interpretations may change for each reading, whether we are reading cybertext or a novel. Likewise, readers of cybertext are often more “in control” of their reading experiences. They are able to make choices and understand text differently because of their individual choices. Different readers may take away different meanings. But Aarseth again cites literary theorists who argue that readers of all literature, cyber or traditional, must make decisions to understand the text (2). This is perhaps why, in a classroom setting, students have more than one interpretation of the same novel. Both of these arguments Aarseth rebuts in his chapter, because he says many literary theorists who make these arguments are not well-versed in cybertext, but I think the theorists may be, in some ways, correct. Cybertext is ergodic literature, in the sense that Aarseth defines ergodic as “requiring work,” because it requires the reader, or user, to become a more active participant. But cybertext is still literature. Cybertext falls into another separate facet of the literature umbrella.

So what does the idea of cybertext as literature say about traditional literature? Well, it means that we need to think more critically about how we structure literature and how we view literature as whole. If literature is written in response to our society and what our society finds interesting/important/pertinent, then cybertext is an outpouring of our ever-changing society. Traditional literature is often a reflection of societal shifts (think Dickens and any of his novels written in response to the industrial revolution!), and, if cybertext is ergodic literature, and thus literature, what is cybertext written in response to? According to Lev Manovich in his piece “Cultural Software” software, or what allows us to create things like cybertext, permeates all areas of contemporary society (7). Therefore, the software that helps shape cybertext is necessitated by society. Think about it, our current society is based on fast-paced technologies, so we can’t expect things like literature to remain entirely stagnant and unchanging. In a society where we can build almost anything our minds can create, why wouldn’t we rethink ways to present literature? The software of cybertext directly influences its presentation and structure, so we build cybertext around the software created by society. HTML and JAVA code exists to run webpages, so authors have adapted this code structure to re-imagine poetry and storytelling. Similarly, our society demands customization and individuality, and cybertext offers Aarseth’s ergodic component of reader-driven experiences, making it work seamlessly with the desires of contemporary readers. In a way, cybertext has sprung up before many of us realized we wanted or needed it, much the way any new form of expression begins. Traditional literature may always remain popular, but cybertext meets many of the new desires of our rapidly changing society.

Cybertext may be met with skepticism at first, like any revolutionary invention, but soon I believe it will be considered functional and beautiful literature. Cybertext forces readers to stretch their minds and work for understanding. It keeps readers on their toes and allows for unique experiences. Cybertext can be revisited and may never become stale and expected. It seems cybertext is the quirky new friend, while traditional literature is the old, steady companion. Neither one if better than the other, and they are still friends–they just bring different things to the party!

Categories: ergodic literature, generative poem, information architecture | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Final Infographic and Reflections

InfographicFinal

 

Reflection 1

The goal of my infographic was to raise awareness about animal mills while also trying to convince people to adopt. I think people still see pet adoption as a less-than-ideal way to get a pet, because pets that are up for adoption are “second-hand.” I wanted people to see how adopting pets can help decrease the abuse animal mills perpetuate, and I wanted people to see that adopting does not mean you will be getting a “bad” animal. I think my use of icons and bright colors helps people clearly see my point. I wanted to use simplistic design to make my message the main focus, rather than complex design. The flow of my infographic shows how popular different pets are in the US, followed by statistics on animal mills. This may seem like an odd comparison, but I want it to point to the fact that many people who own animals unknowingly get them from animal mills. By following this up with details about animal shelters I wanted to show that they are a better alternative to pet stores and direct animal mill purchasing, because many animals die in shelters regardless of their good temperament and clean bill of health. In the end I reaffirm that there are multiple species of animals available for adoption, and I conclude with ADOPT written in large, bright pink lettering. I think I make it clear that adoption is a much better alternative to pet-store purchasing. I wanted to include more information about the pros of adopting, but with limited space and time I found it difficult. Piktochart is also not very user-friendly, so I found it hard to rearrange things, which I would have had to do if I were to add more information. I had a hard time trying to place objects without them jumping around from block to block, and I did not like that I couldn’t have images and text spread between two different blocks. I think it made creating the infographic more linear rather than free form. Surprisingly, I think I actually needed more physical room for my infographic. I would like to add a space that tells more about the availability of animals in shelters, including statistics about the health and breeding and species types of animals. I tried to cram some of that information in at the bottom of the infographic, but I think it would have been better if it were written out.

Reflection 2

I attempted to base my design largely on Tufte’s ideas. At first, I think I got caught up with Tufte’s “chart junk,” because I wanted to show my statistics with actual graphs. I was wrapped up in the preset layout which included charts–at first it seemed “prettier” and easier to understand. When I asked about it and reconsidered the best way to represent my stats, I came to realize it is much more effective and visually appealing to use icons as a visual representation of statistics. In my section about euthanasia in animal shelters, I chose to use cat and dog icons coupled with needles to represent the percentages of animals euthanized. This way, the graphic would not be filled with actual graphs, but visuals that showed the same information. I accompanied these visuals with a small amount of text, the minimal amount of text necessary to get the information across. My goal was to keep it clutter-free and straight forward. I also tried to group the information together, so that everything related could be seen in the same area, rather than forcing viewers to look all over and lose their trains of thought. Tufte believes both of these design choices are important to get information to viewers in the most effective way. Throughout my design I tried to make sure my visual enhanced and informed the alphabetic text, including the pink, red, green, and blue banners on the top section of my infographic. The statistics on animal ownership are accompanied by banners that visually represent the amount of animals owned in millions–meaning the largest banner is both first, and represents cats, which are the most owned in the US. I wanted all of my information to be backed up by visuals throughout, even in subtle ways. I included some arrows to help lead viewers’ eyes to related information as well, which Tufte uses in his own writing. For example, in my section about mill animals, I use an arrow to symbolize smoke coming from the factory. The arrow grows out of the top of the factory and leads the eyes to an explanation of animal mills. I wanted to arrow to serve two purposes. I also chose to use colors that were bright and eye catching. I did this for two reasons–first, because I wanted my infographic to grab the attention of virtual passersby, and second, because I wanted the bright colors to contrast with the information. Of course, bright colors are associated with exciting and happy things, but the information I am presenting is largely not. The contrast should be a bit shocking. Interestingly, the end message that convinces people to adopt does promote happiness and positive endings like the bright colors suggest.

 

Deciding which typeface to use for my infographic was tough. Like the color choice, I wanted the typeface to be inoffensive and calm. Fortunately, the default theme type included a sans serif header typeface that was long and smooth. I picked this because it was easy to read and didn’t really evoke much feeling. I especially liked it for the bottom “ADOPT” section because the typeface is very clean, no nonsense, and makes the message all the more straight-forward. For the main body text I chose a serif typeface that was equally clean, but a little more fun. I think the rounded, thick bowls seem remniscent of Comic Sans (yikes), but in a more sophisticated way. Again, I wanted the main body to be unobtrusive, contrasting the real message. The most important typefaces choice, to me, is my use of Courier New for my “hard hitting” statistics and facts. I chose Courier New because it is well known. CN is also associated with typewriter-like typefaces. I think using CN worked because typewriters are commonly associated with data, and much of the information I presented in this typeface was data driven. I also wanted it to stand out from the other more simplistic types. Unlike the other two, CN is thin and has tight leading. It stands out and because it is recognizable, it catches your eye.

 

Overall, I tried to make conscious decisions to follow the principles laid out by Lupton and Tufte. I think, for the most part, the choices I made based on their design ideas has enhanced the way I presented the information in my infographic.

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A Pet Adoption Infographic: Rough Draft

Below is my rough draft for my infographic on pet adoption. Right now I already know of a few things I need to change–I will not be using the same two photos of the cat and dog (just need to find more CC licensed images), and the last space is a bit too cluttered. All feedback is appreciated!!

 

infographicroughdraft

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Life Application of Lupton’s Ideas on Typography

For this week’s class we looked at Ellen Lupton’s book Thinking With Type (2010). This book describes design principles involving typography. Until reading Lupton’s book, I never put much thought into the typeface I was using. I didn’t even really know fonts and typographies had a history. I guess I sort of assumed they just somehow appeared on my computer. But there is a rich history behind many of the typefaces we use today. Lupton explains the evolution of type, type weight, and typographical design throughout her book in a compelling way that makes even people with almost zero knowledge, like me, want to keep reading.

 

Admittedly, this book wasn’t my first primer for typography, entirely. In my Publication, Layout, and Design class I had already learned about the appropriate use of certain fonts for specific styles of writing. For example, some fonts are more appropriate for “fun” things, and others for “serious” or “academic” things. I also was told that sans serif fonts are how children in Europe are taught to read, while serif fonts are how children in the US are taught to read. (Fun fact?) But it all seemed basic, and common sense, that typefaces had different purposes. Lupton delves deeper into the design and aesthetic aspects of typography, which I think will be extremely helpful for me in my Publication class and in future endeavors!

 

One of my favorite parts of Lupton’s book was her explanation of the way kerning and tracking can give different typography a different feel (105). Her examples of different logos provide a visual representation of her words and really show what she means. Tufte would be proud! Until reading this part, and seeing her evidence, I didn’t put much thought into how certain logos or type achieved aesthetic appeal and personality. It is still shocking to me that changing letter spacing can have this much effect on how we view words!

 

The more I delve into information architecture, the more I want to put what I have learned to use. From Tufte to Lupton, these new ideas about how to present information to readers has made me totally rethink the way I want to write in the future. From the Lupton reading we are able to see evidence of just how much impact typography can have. Tufte shows us some of the best ways to lay out information and evidence. Now, traditional fiction, with standard gridded pages and uninteresting spacing seems flat. So, how can I apply these techniques and ideas to my hopeful future as a fiction writer?

 

I have been asking myself this a lot throughout the course of this class, and I think it all comes down to the risks I am willing to take. Books are already moving from the print era to the digital era, so why not push things a little further? Lupton talks about how readers from the digital realm have certain expectations for reading. She writes, “The impatience of digital readers arises from culture, not from essential character of display technologies…They expect to be in search mode, not processing mode” (98). So if we can put to use what we know about how people read in this new world, maybe we can work with the shortening attention span of digital readers, rather than trying to figure out how to fix it. I think we should try something new. We should play with type, manipulate design, and challenge traditional books in another new way. Pictures aren’t just for children, and neither is fun typography. In many realms of writing, we ignore the power (or for me, don’t see the power) of typography and graphic-enhanced storytelling. I think it is time we work with these new ideas and see where they can take us. Lupton presents us with a lot of information in her small book, but I find it all to be very useful. We need to understand the power not just behind words, but how we choose to represent them.

Categories: Alphabetic Text Analysis, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

#iamondays Website Analysis: Ellen Lupton Style

Ryan Scherf’s website (http://ryanscherf.net), tweeted by @CassieWrites_, is a perfect example of Ellen Lupton’s ideas about “Letters” and “Grids” from her book Thinking With Type (2010). Lupton addresses fundamental ideas of typography in her book and describes the ways in which we use typography in many areas of our lives.

Ryan Scherf’s website uses some of Lupton’s ideas about “Letters” in his headers. He uses multiple typefaces, which Lupton suggests must be done with care and attention to detail. Lupton writes, “Combining typefaces is like making a salad. Start with a small number of elements representing different colors, tastes, and textures. Strive for contrast rather than harmony,” meaning designers can’t just sneak different typefaces into areas and hope we no one notices (54). Scherf does exactly what Lupton suggests, choosing contrasting typefaces and colors which stand out and make viewers pay close attention to his words. Scherf chooses a more sophisticated, architecture-like font in white on a dark background to describe what type of work he does, and what he will be showcasing on his website.

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 1.34.57 PM

He then sandwiches a more playful and colorful mixture of typefaces with different weights and leading to show what type of designing he does, or for what “platforms.” The use of these colors draws the eye down and around, while the different weights make each platform stand out to the eye.

The final piece of the sandwich is his location, which brings viewers back to the sophisticate, clean typeface.

As readers of Lupton will know, choosing a typeface is a big decision. The typeface you pick to represent your business says a lot about who you are. There are things to consider, like the history of the typeface, but there are also connotations that go along with certain typefaces. The two used by Scherf show a clean, almost minimalist classic feeling that seems professional; and a fun, chunky, and colorful feeling that shows a more unique and creative side. For a web designer, I think those combinations seem like a good choice. The typefaces Scherf uses show that he is professional, but also creative. That is the kind of person I would trust to work on my website.

Scherf also uses grids, which Lupton addresses in her book as well. His website runs on a linear grid, where examples of his work are in two columns, running vertically down the page. According to Lupton, linear grids in web design are a good choice for multiple reasons. Most importantly, linear design that uses tables and cells that flow in a line which is the easiest thing for devices for the visually impaired to translate into sound. These devices read webpages in a row by row fashion, so linear design translates most easily and clearly. Also, linear design is best for translation onto mobile devices. While funky, new-age web design may look neat on a desktop or laptop computer, the layout often gets skewed when it translates onto a mobile device. Linear grids in web design work best when there is little room, like on your phone (171)!

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 1.54.30 PM

Within his own web design it appears that Scherf follows these same principles. Although not all of his work is completely linear, many of the spaces containing content are styled in a paragraph-like way that reads like a book. He also incorporates different typefaces in a purposeful manner.

Overall, Ryan Scherf’s website follows many design principles that Ellen Lupton stands behind in her book. He demonstrates his ability as a designer on his webpage. He chooses clean, functional typeface and a sensible grid system to make the most of his spaces.

Seeing Lupton’s ideas in practice helped me get a better grasp on many of her concepts. Now that I am more aware of how to put these ideas to work, I think I will pay more attention to these design principles when browsing the internet. How have the readings for class changed the way you look at things, such as websites, in your daily lives?

Works Cited

Lupton, Ellen. Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students. 2nd ed. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2010. Print.

Categories: #IAMondays | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

#IAMondays Information Architecture Analysis

Messages for Japan Homepage

Website accessibility and ease of use are extremely important for authors and creators to understand. The more intuitive and easy-to-use your website is, the more successful it will be. It is valuable to consider what your website visitors are looking for in their online experience–and their needs are often based around the type of website being created. For example, the website http://www.messagesforjapan.com/  allows people to write to victims of the earthquake and tsunami that affected thousands of people. This website forms a community of understanding, hope, and relief for victims, and allows people all over the world to see how survivors are coping with their loses.

The goal of this website appears to drive its functionality. The homepage shows three columns that offer viewers a chance to see photos, read messages already written, or view the messages on a world map. This showcases the main purpose of the website up front–it is a messaged-based community that shares thoughts across the world. Each of the columns is interactive, and enlarges when hovered over. Because of the use of pictograms, it is easy to understand what each section means even if you are not extremely literate in English. There are also option along the bottom to change the language.

The “Read Messages” feed, which I was drawn to first, is constantly updating with new messages. I love that this feature shows the messages in both Japanese and English. I think it creates a more personal feel by showing the text in the language of the victims. When you click on the section it opens an interactive tree with message bubbles functioning as “leaves.” If you hover over the messages they display in Japanese and English, and some have a “From” section that allows you to see who sent the message and their country of origin. The bubbles, or leaves, also update automatically, but there is an option to refresh the entire tree when desired. The design is very functional and easy to understand. The color choices are soothing, and the leaf that allows visitors to write their own message is green rather than pink, making it stand out. Being able to sort through the messages by simply moving the cursor makes sense and seems extremely intuitive. Although this site is technologically advanced, it is not over complicated or showy.

In the photos column on the front page there are a few smaller sample photos that draw you in and make you want to see more. When you click the camera icon, the link brings you to a beautiful page filled with tags that move as you slide your mouse around. The description in the top left explains that tags with these messages were hung on trees, so the pictures on the website are displayed in a similar fashion. This creativity continues to add more connections between the Japanese people and those sending or viewing the messages. Like the messages page, you can sort through the pictures by simply moving your mouse from left to right. One of the only issues I found on this page was that the picture tags in the back row can be hard to see, but if you click on the pictures they do enlarge, and you can sort through all of the pictures easily. If I were to change anything, I would make it so that the back row of tags was visible in between the front row when the cursor is moved. I think that it what they were going for, it just didn’t work super well.

The last section I browsed through was the world map page. This page shows where in the world messages come from. I think it is fascinating and touching to see where the message of hope and support are being sent from, and I think this page does a very nice job of illustrating, with little dots, where messages are being sent. My only desire is that the color of the map was darker. It took me a long time to realize what color the ocean was and what color the continents were. This could just be my eyesight, but for people with visual disabilities this would definitely be a problem.

Overall, this website does a good job of illustrating creative design, intelligent use of space and color, and easy-to-use functions. Of course there are always places to improve, but each pages works well to grab people’s attention and help communicate the goal of the website. This is just one example of unique web design. Make sure to keep your eyes open for more functional designs and layouts as you browse the web!

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Constructing Text: Textbooks can be interesting?

StudentTextbook

No matter who you are, the word “textbook” brings to mind images of lengthy passages, torturous studying, and droll information. So why haven’t publishers tried to give textbooks a better rep? The truth is, not all textbooks are the same, just like not all books are the same. In our culture, time is of the essence. There have been studies done on our shortening attention spans, so it would seem that publishers and authors need to consider new ways to keep students and casual readers reading.

Recently our class looked at The Story of Writing by Andrew Robinson, which discusses in great detail how writing has evolved over time, and how different cultures and languages use writing in different ways. The material is heavy. At times, it can drag on. But what makes this textbook readable are the design details Robinson and his publishers use to create mental breaks.

First, there are over 200 pictures. The pictures are placed alongside text largely as an aid in explaining the detail of writing as it evolved over time. The pictures are a necessity because many of the forms of writing Robinson mentions are unknown to common readers, so the pictures help illustrate his points and foster a better understanding. But the pictures do more than just that. The pictures create a break from the heavy text. They allow readers to engage in more than one way, and give audiences’ brains a chance to catch up with what is being said. This is a wonderful tactic to help enrich a textbook and improve understanding. Unlike other textbooks, this is accessible to more people because it employs different modes of communication. While the alphabetic text is still the most dominant, the pictures also pull their weight.

Page breaks, sub-headers, chapters, and sections also provide readers with a chance to recollect thoughts and make meaning. The text is broken into smaller and smaller chunks to allow for a seamless collection of ideas to flow. There are a lot of sub-headers, which help focus readers on different time periods and writings as Robinson moves through history. Each new topic begins on its own page and tends to stick to around 1-2 pages in length. This stops readers from being bogged down with too much information. Likewise, the chapters help organize ideas into an even broader area, and the sections help move readers through history. The above techniques are all successful ways to organize ideas and information, especially thousands of years of history, into readable chunks.

These design choices are not an accident of the author or the publisher–they were made to allow for better readability. By creating a more functional page layout, they were able to design a textbook that didn’t really read like a traditional textbook. The choices reflect the intent of the author. The design develops a deeper understanding and is intuitive, providing answers and examples just when the text becomes too overwhelming.

After reading through this book, I feel as though I have a better grasp of how design can improve audience interaction with a given text. I think the decisions people make in writing and publishing are often overlooked, so breaking down the different elements are a helpful way to understand how different strategies work to afford more accessibility. I am interested in digging deeper into the choices from an authorial perspective because I hope to become a successful writer one day, and I think having an understanding of the best ways to inform readers will be truly valuable to my writing. The choices made by writers are definitely something to keep in mind as our society progresses further into the technological era. If our attention spans continue to shrink, I am not sure what we writers will do! Hopefully as we continue to learn more about the ways information and writing are structured, we will be able to answer that question!

Categories: Alphabetic Text Analysis | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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