Tagged: visual rhetoric

With the winter break and the holidays it has taken me nearly a two months to get to this post!  But, since the THATCamp movement seems to be carrying a full head of steam , it seems worth posting a somewhat belated reflection upon my own first THATCamp experience.  In December I attended THATCampVA, hosted by the University of Virginia‘s Scholars’ Lab, which itself lives inside Alderman Library.

One thing the THATCamp experience made me realize even more acutely is the value of academic units like the Scholars’ Lab, which link technologists with academics.  I’m lucky to have worked in a similar lab at UT Austin, the Digital Writing and Research Lab (DWRL), which is similar, though focused more exclusively upon the concerns of a single discipline, rather than a host of disciplines, which is what UVA’s Scholars’ Lab serves.

My first THATCamp experience was invigorating, but also exhausting.  I attended the Friday BootCamp, and attended a session on using Geographic Information Systems.  I have a distant background in GIS from my undergrad days and previous, albeit short lived, career, and the BootCamp session was a great refresher, and a great introduction to the more sophisticated elements of what current GIS software is capable of.  It was nice to attend a session on a technology for its own sake, without being entirely clear in my own mind on how I might use that technology down the road.  This allowed me to play during the session, which is how I tend to learn new interfaces best–when I’m not too focused on immediate goals, which tend to suck the fun out of things.

Saturday and Sunday the sessions began, and without getting too far into the nitty gritty, it was a tumult, in a good–no, great–way.  For me the greatest value of the experience was simply conversing with intelligent people OUTSIDE OF MY OWN DISCIPLINE about a host of topics of general interest.  We get so locked into our disciplinary identities, and yet, when we meet people completely outside of our own disciplines, it can be hard to break the intellectual ice and connect in a meaningful way.  In my limited experience, this is the greatest value of the THATCamp experience, semi-structured conversation with very smart people who I otherwise never would have had the opportunity to meet.  It really was that simple, and that valuable, for me.  I especially liked the absence of formal goals or presentations, which allowed the unconference to take the form of almost pure brainstorming and intellectual cross-pollination.  This is where things became exhausting–it takes a lot of energy to talk to new people about new ideas for 8-12 hours a day.  I left exhausted, but in that most pleasing way.

In March I’ll attend my second THATCamp event, THATCampSE, at Emory University.  It will be my first time on the Emory campus and I look forward to meeting a mostly new crowd (new to me, that is) of digital humanists, and catching up with a few of my new friends from THATCampVA.  I’ll be working especially hard to recruit people into getting their classes to contribute to the very newly launched Rural Image Cooperative, which my grad class in Visual and Digital Rhetorics has begun to build.

My one regret about the THATCampVA experience is that I was too tired Saturday evening to stick around for the “vintage pan-Asian surf and garage rock” of Dzian. Next time.


*This is the second in a series of brief posts in which I undertake to perform a rhetorical analysis of the university advertisements that appeared in the 2010 Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) conference program.  I will undertake to comment upon all of the university ads in the program, in the order that they appeared in the program.  Because rhetoric programs are advertising themselves in the program of the field’s premier conference, the ads seem especially ripe for analysis.*

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s half-page ad appears on page 11 of the RSA conference program.  This ad has some nice touches, particularly the welcome the department’s new faculty.  The use of logos is nice, and the symmetry of the ad allows the eye to travel easily between points of emphasis in the ad space.  Teh fonts are bold without being aggressive, and the use of bold and plain fonts clearly differentiates the importance of various bits of data for readers.

The only significant complaint I have about this ad is that it doesn’t make clear the role of the faculty it lists.  Michael Bernard-Donals is, I think, in the English department, which I guess is how he is affiliated with the Communication Arts Department, which appears to have placed the ad.  Why not just list English faculty as such, rather than the confusing “Affiliated”?  This seems a weird sort of departmental colonialism to me, like the Comm Arts folks didn’t want to acknowledge the department from which their affiliates hail.

Graphically, the ad does significantly better than the UT Austin ad, though it is a bit text-heavy. Another problem is that it appears on page 11, which means that it’s going to be breezed over once people get past the session of the conference next to which the ad appears.  Far fewer eyes are going to see it than if it were at the front or back of the program.  I bet this made the ad cheaper, but also far less noticeable.  I’d say that if you’re going to bother running an ad, go for broke.  Put it where the people will see it.  I would think that the page adjacent to the map of conference rooms would be primo real estate for ads, but RSA didn’t sell that space, which I think would attract a lot of eyes.

One irony of these ads is that no one seems willing to get down to brass tacks and make any claims, for example, about their placement of graduates in real-life jobs.

*This is the first in a series of brief posts in which I undertake to perform a rhetorical analysis of the university advertisements that appeared in the 2010 Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) conference program.  I will undertake to comment upon all of the university ads in the program, in the order that they appeared in the program.  Because rhetoric programs are advertising themselves in the program of the field’s premier conference, the ads seem especially ripe for analysis.*

This series begins with an analysis of the ad on the inside cover of the 2010 RSA program, an ad for my own PhD granting institution, the University of Texas at Austin.  In many ways this is fitting, not only because it is the rhetoric program from which I hail, but also because it is the advertisement for which I have the toughest criticisms.

By way of disclaimer, let me say that I don’t know who at UT Austin created the ad.  That said, I probably do know the person, either as a colleague or friend or, more likely, both.  So, let me be clear–my criticisms of this ad are tough, but not directed at the creator.  My criticisms are tough also though because this is the rhetoric graduate program that I know the most about, and so am in the best position to analyze.

I’m not a fan of this ad at all, which appears on the inside cover of the RSA program, a position of some visibility and prominence.  It strikes me as an ad that was–and I can only speculate here–designed in color, but that translates very poorly to the grayscale format used in the actual printing of the RSA program.  More than that though, the ad is simultaneously weak and too busy.  By too busy I mean that the faded text collage in the background is distracting, and not a particularly engaging effect. Similarly, the bulk of the text in the fore of the image is shadowed. Unfortunately though, the shadowing only muddies the text.  This ad is indecisive and schizophrenic.  I know it isn’t the case, but if I had to judge this program purely from its ad, I would say that it is a program that doesn’t know what it is or what it wants to be.  This negative effect is magnified by the overly thin script used, which also lends an appearance of indecisiveness, weakness, and amateurishness.  This ad simply lacks graphic confidence.  The department’s website address also appears in a disappointingly low resolution, which doesn’t instill confidence either.  The ad’s primary problems all go back to font.  Additionally, the white on gray used to list the program’s faculty simply obscured the wonderful names.  They should pop, but instead simply fade into the simultaneously distracting and incoherent background.

I am also disappointed that none of UT Austin’s signature logos, which are graphically wonderful, were employed in the ad.  The longhorn logo, most often associated with the sports programs, would have been great, as would the more academically oriented “tower” logo.

Another point of contention for me is that this ad only lists the English Department rhetoric faculty, and not the Communication Studies rhetoric faculty.  These two departments are two of the best at what they do, and two of the strongest associated departments in the nation, and from what I can tell, they get along fabulously with one another.  It’s disappointing then that they did not reach out to one another for this advertisement, which mistakenly conveys the notion that there is no cooperation between the two departments.  For shame.  These are two top tier departments with quite collegial faculties, and they should be represented together in an ad that appears in the program for a conference that both departments send a phenomenal number of graduate students and faculty to attend.

In short, this ad is indescisive, graphically muddy, and fails to convey the strength or breadth of the department(s) it might be intended to represent.  I am saddened that my own program’s ad does not convey they confidence of a wonderful program that is arguably one of the top two, if not THE top, in the rhetoric concentration.  Bolder fonts, more symmetrical presentation, less busy-ness, and better branding would dramatically improve future incarnations of this ad, which simply isn’t convincing in the form in which it appeared in the RSA program.  Sorry UT Austin, but we can do much, much better.