Posts Tagged With: metaphor

How Quake Quiz uses metaphor to prepare us for earthquakes

When we think of intuitive and gripping web design, we often think of simplicity, utility and pretty pictures. Upon closer examination, an intuitive website is really just one that conveys metaphor effectively. Jason posted a neat little website on Twitter called Quake Quiz that uses graphics and text to inform San Francisco residents what to do in the event of an earthquake.

When loading Quake Quiz, you’re greeted by a dancing hipster. This character reveals information about the site’s target audience, and perhaps even the designers themselves. The user is then presented with six different locations represented as images. So, clicking on the house graphic will prompt the site to load the guidelines for safely handling an earthquake in the home.

Before we even begin to absorb the information the website wants to transmit to us, we are already subconsciously thinking of their message in terms of metaphor. For example, the home depicted in the graphic is a home as one would conceive a home in San Francisco to look like, not like a home in New Jersey. The sloped street and the thinness of the house indicate a house in a city setting, not one in a suburban setting. Just as how the scenario of “bring some chairs to our meeting” (bean bag chairs? Rocking chairs?) is raised in Metaphors We Live By, we are viewing the idea of home in the context of the situation.

When we click on the house, the house gets frontally dissected, creating the sense of putting us inside the house so we can see all its rooms. Even though we normally experience being inside a house from a different perspective (feeling the floor beneath our feet, being constrained by four walls) we understand the animation to mean that because we can see inside of the house, we must be inside of it.

Because a computer cannot actually cause an earthquake for us to experience, it simulates one by shaking the screen violently while the man in the house yells “Earthquake!” Again, the site operates on the assumption that we are constantly interpreting its meaning through their formation of language. Then, the site allows you to click on various objects in the house. Because we are viewing these metaphors as objects, we can draw conclusions about what they are meant to mean to us. Clicking the telephone, for example, doesn’t allow you to make a phone call the way an actual phone does. Instead, the phone is a metaphor for communication (as in communication is vital to surviving an emergency).

Metaphors like these continue throughout the website. The artists depict a man in a wheelchair in the “at work” section of Quake Quiz, but, before we click on him to read the information associated with him, we’re already thinking, “What do handicapped persons do when they’re caught in an earthquake at work?” These subtleties streamline the Quake Quiz experience, and, combined with its visual style, make the site and information contained within memorable.

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Metaphors are as meta as they come

In the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, the rotund chatterbox Del Griffith (played by John Candy) meets the business stiff Neal Page (Steve Martin) on an airplane and immediately (though obliviously) gets on Page’s nerves. Their relationship begins with Griffith removing his shoes and socks. Upon experiencing his relief from freeing his feet from the confines of his footwear, Griffith says matter-of-factly, “I’m tellin’ ya, my dogs are barking today!

Though Page views the context of this statement as awkward, and probably a little disgusting, the audience may interpret the statement as a metaphor. In the book “Metaphors We Live By” by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, metaphor is described as “understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another (Lakoff et al. 5)” Thus, to convey to Page just how severely his feet are throbbing, Griffith likens them to a pair of dogs causing a ruckus with their barking.

Metaphors such as this abound in the English language, and in different forms. For example, there are orientational metaphors, as in, “I’m feeling under the weather,” which equates sickness with the negative implications of down—ness in our culture. There are also ontological metaphors, which use physical objects to describe abstract concepts, as in “I’m on the clock” means “I’m working” (the speaker is not actually positioned on top of a clock). This form of metaphor is just as prevalent as any other, and we often use it in more ways than we realize.

So, if we can describe basically anything in terms of anything else, what is a thing? Put another way, what is true? What “thing,” physical or ethereal, is constant? Well, the authors assert that there is no absolute truth in language: “There is no such thing as meaning of a sentence in itself, independent of any people (184).” Rather, a person must project meaning onto a metaphor using the only tools available to him or her — their own experiences. Based on context and prior interactions, one constructs truth in the language presented to them.

Therefore, truth differs not just from one person to another, but also across cultures. For example, in western society, we believe in absolute truths; a court of law would rule a bank robber guilty because our society condemns theft. In Japan, however, a judge may consider extenuating circumstances in the thief’s case. Perhaps he stole because it was the only way he could afford to feed his children. This subjective view of truth focuses more on the “why” than the “what,” or the result American culture focuses on.

We discussed the significance of using metaphor in Western culture, using the example of “the war on drugs.” If lawmakers are on one side of the issue, who are they fighting against? The drugs themselves? Those who use drugs? The distributors?

Upon thinking on this level of language further, I realized how similar this give-and-take is to our society’s embattlement in the interpretation of the second amendment of the Constitution: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Though the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the second amendment protects the right of individual citizens to own a gun, the debate about the language of the amendment still rages on. Just who were the framers referring to when they used the metonymy of the phrase “people?” Did they intend for the militia exclusively to maintain the right to bear arms, or does “people” refer to all American citizens? The complexity of metaphor demonstrates how vital it is for not just writers, but all those involved in communication, to choose their words carefully to convey their words’ intended meaning.

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