Bridging the gap

“We are confronted with writing technologies that reorganize the possible connections our texts can make with pictures, animations, videos, and audio” (Sullivan, 2001, p. 103-4).

Patricia Sullivan’s “Practicing safe visual rhetoric on the World Wide Web” reinforces many of the trends I have discussed about visual literacy and digital usability. The digital world is changing the way writers write and readers read. To pinpoint Sullivan’s thesis, digital rhetoric’s origin is in traditional rhetoric: “visual rhetoric for print, then, has as a strategic goal a blending of an awareness of visual esthetics with a concern for the needs and wishes of the audience and operates within one or more cultures” (Sullivan, 2001, p. 108). While websites are a relatively new and foreign realm, the principles of design and target audience in printed works still apply unwaveringly. Sullivan calls this translation of application “safe visual rhetoric”: digital spaces should use print rhetoric’s foundation, maintaining some of its design elements (for readability and usability) to familiarize the world with digital versions of communication.

Even though writing will continue to evolve with the decades, knowing your intended audience (how they digest words, how they interact while reading, where they come from) will always be a writer’s primary concern. The idea of “cultures” comes up in Sullivan’s quote, which I have also emphasized in my past posts. Visual rhetoric is relative; its comprehension depends on who you are talking to, what they already know (about the digital realm as well as your topic), and their preconceived notions/biases from background. A website you create about up-and-coming restaurants in Charlottesville may resonate with young adults that attend UVA, but not benefit empty nesters living in southern Virginia. In short: tailor your writing and design to your ideal reader so they do not have to do the work (that’s your job!).

One extra helpful concept Sullivan brings up is Donis A. Dondis’s classifications of visual esthetics: “primitive, expressionistic, classical, embellished, and functional” (2001, p. 109). Online design, as this reading log is getting at, is an extremely vast topic, with many varying approaches and opinions. These categories align with the necessary consideration of situation (as well as audience). “Readability, usability, or comprehension: it views the finished text from the reader’s perspective, then works backwards” explains this requirement; writers must walk in their audience’s shoes and imagine how, where, when, and why they will be reading your work (Sullivan, 2001, p.109). To summarize, think of who you want to speak to and in what situation. This is the safe bridge between traditional print and the rapidly evolving digital rhetoric of today.


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