This is an infographic I recently designed for a team of researchers to be included in a grant proposal for a fledgling research study. Though it does not present data as typically construed, I would say it is almost more complicated to represent conceptual schemas in a boiled-down powerful and clear graphic manner. I met with the researchers prior to starting the design to go over their concepts, research processes, and objectives. After some discussion, I began to plot a visualization on the white board available. After going through a few iterative changes for clarity and emphasis of research elements, what finally emerged was a workable configuration for digital production.
In beginning my digital design process, Tufte's (2001) emphasis on a data display that reads as efficient, effective, and clear was primarily considered in my icon decisions. Yet more so, because we were attempting to bridge a complex concept rather than numbers or stats with this piece, rhetorical implications for readers' receptions of social rhetoric and conventions for clarity were of equal importance in my design decisions. This infographic had to clearly connect the researchers' project goals within the proposal to the grant readers' translatability/adaptability in understanding the researchers' processes in a visual format (Kostelnick, 2008). In this particular case, the infographics had to "make the sell" for the research to move forward. I would classify this infographic as being more rhetorical in nature than other styles for this reason.
Kostelnick, C. 2008. "The Visual Rhetoric of Data Displays: The Conundrum of Clarity." Professional Communication, IEEE Transactions on 51(1).
Tufte, E. R. 2001. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.
I found this meta-infographic very interesting from a visual rhetorical standpoint.
This particular infographic presents many challenges to successful/effective design decisions.
In my investigations of advertisements for menstruation products, issues of the Gaze have proven to be much less straightforward than I initially suspected, taking quite interesting turns and creating undertones that may not be present on the surface of the design compositions, carrying their main message much deeper with the full weight of the female gaze. In this particular artifact, a 2012 ad for a newer product called Softcup, the primary gaze is framed by the photographer to transfer directly to the audience of the composition rather than through the people depicted in the ad; they are seemingly unaware they are being watched, putting the viewer of the ad in a position of power. The audience becomes an intimate singular viewer, invited in as a spectator/a voyeur to the event occurring behind the curtain. The viewer gains agency, taking the lead on participating by witnessing a seemingly hidden act.
But let’s investigate a bit deeper. The very act of voyeurism speaks to a discursive practice. This turn of the Gaze can be read to signify that, regardless of what the body copy says, sex and menstruation is a socially frowned-upon mix. Why is the couple hiding?...they are obviously in a house rather than in a public place. Are they sneaking? This artifact resonates, not so much to craft a scene wherein the viewer sets himself or herself within the narrative, but rather, through a fine tuned psychoanalytical rhetoric of seduction, the viewer is drawn into a multilayered composition of taboos. For the two people behind the curtain, a diegetic gaze is set up just for them in that quite cozy spot, wrapped up in each other. The viewer is a spectator to the action and idea of what may come next – the gaze and framing methods are set up to allow the audience member to be secretly invited in, to create a narrative of their own going forward from the peek they have been allowed.
Within this frame that is hiding and revealing only so much, can we come to a conclusion that menstruation and even burgeoning sexuality should also remain a hidden act of embodied agency, representations of shame enacted through the Gaze? Per Foucault, this ad operates to internalize policing of sociocultural norms, namely in this instance, what John Berger would call “the female gaze” that becomes turned back upon ourselves as women within society, to modify our own actions and behaviors to fit long-set ideologies of social comfort (that we carry on with our lives as if our period never existed). What intrigues me about this particular composition is the fact that the figures are presented as hiding behind the visual trope of the peeking curtain, though the body copy of the ad promotes freedom and agency through use of this product. Within a deeper layer of meaning, in line with Debord, it becomes a gaze of seduction and spectacle that falls back upon the viewer to be internalized in a particularly manufactured and layered way.
Debord, G. (2000). Society of the Spectacle. Kalamazoo, MI: Black & Red.
Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. A. Sheridan. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Kelly, V. (2014). "Metaphors of resonance for visual communication design." Visual Communication, 12(2), 211-230.
This sign is a work of activism and outreach for advocacy, meant to run as a full-page piece in a major newspaper, speaking to lawmakers, parents, and philanthropists. After reading this article last week, I was incensed. My mother was a single mom. We lived in a rural town, hours away from museums, theaters, orchestras, universities and cultural hubs. Her hectic schedule and budget didn't allow for much travel/vacations. PBS was my window to the world of arts and cultures when I was young; the same window that fueled my passions and professions, the same window my own children love. Growing up, we received free lunch vouchers at the school where she taught, but we not only contributed through taxes but also towards funding drives every year to support PBS/CPB.
I heard the echo of appealing to a political base when I read this article, but is it fair to ask a single mother or a coal minor to overlook $1.35 tax/year and instead have to pay $100+/month for cable TV and/or online subscriptions in order to supplement the exposure their children receive through PBS to meaningful performances and histories, when they may not have the ability, proximity, or schedule to take their children to performances and museums. I asked, "Where are those who will stand up for the Arts, the Humanities, Early Childhood Development and Education, Innovative Science and Medical Breakthroughs? Where is our march and where do I sign up?" And so this sign grew.
The creation of this sign started in Adobe Photoshop, where I layered and collaged the images I had collected online into the window panes, masking and tailoring each image to fit the scale and perspective, altering opacity, fill, and color, and carefully placing each image so as to maintain clarity of important content within each image while also working around the central child figure. The images were chosen to represent PBS’s roll in teaching aspects of early childhood development that often go beyond numbers and letter to appreciation of difference, making friends, dealing with big feelings, and connecting with the arts and cultures. The primary stock image of the child at the window was chosen to act as the primary visual driver - his/her action meaning more than seeing his/her face as this is meant to be every child and we then become complicit/involved in his/her gaze. The window is framed by an encroaching curtain, also accounted for in image manipulation, to represent the shuttering of federal programming funds for PBS.
This composite image, upon completion was exported into Adobe InDesign for compositional layout. At the top of the image, a black band sets the stage, striking a serious tone that moves us away from playful child-centric narratives to speak directly to crisis - “Will you shutter their window to the world?". The leading is kept tight but even to craft one single message out of three separate lines of text. “Will you shutter the” is set in Avenir (38pt, -10 kern); it is an understated but none too faint san-serif that works well for request headlines. “Window to” is then set in Antonia (57pt, -10 kern), an authoritative not-too-techie forthright san-serif that was modified by me to be wider and less tall, giving these words in the headline a mode of perspective rather than a radical call to action. Used as a subscript in Avenir just below, “the” marries up to “world” so as not to detract from the scope of the word “world” and what that world provides in this context. “World” is set in all caps Helvetica Bold (90pt, -10 kern); bright white, it is open and declarative. The placement of these 3 tiers in the headline is meant to lead the viewer through feelings of soul-searching rather than accusations. For readability, the "W" in the second tier falls directly below the diagonal of the “y” in “you” and ends under the final “r” in “their”, signaling cohesion as well as a transition in thought within a continuing sentiment expressed. In the third tier, the ascending “h” in “the” falls just below the diagonal trajectory of the “w” above. The “W” in “WORLD” also is positioned just below the “n” and “w” fall lines coming from above. Such grid-like precision decisions may seem insignificant, but, for the designer, these small choices equal balance and flow that is almost imperceptible but purposeful to viewers as they scan.
The 2pt call-out lines above and below the central image are done in Big Bird yellow, extracted directly from the feathers on the image in the right-hand pane. The central image anchors the composition, visually and narratively. The child is set off center, not only to mimic the word “WORLD” but also to draw equal attention to the collaged images in the panes and to play off of the rhetorical trope of closing curtains (the final act). Below the anchoring graphic, the space is left active white to give the viewer a resting spot after impact. Within this resting spot, which is kept uncluttered/clean, body copy and a large logo are placed. The PBS logo is set in a position wherein the viewer’s eye will travel from “WORLD” to boy to logo in a matter of milliseconds to compose contextual knowledge for the sign’s argument. The body copy, set in Garamond (a traditional corporate font - 12pt, 13 leading, right justified) expresses briefly but powerfully the grounds/call to action for saving PBS, who should save it, and how to take action to support the efforts. The whole composition is broken into uneven thirds, with each section speaking in tandem with the other sections to create cohesion of the message without too much “centered” visual balance that would detract from flow. The textual elements combined with the graphic elements are simple and yet each aspect speaks together with the next to create a powerful rhetorical sentiment and drive on the part of the viewer.
Sultana, U. B. F. (2011). “The Imageries of Menstruation in Sanitary Napkin Ads: Representation and the Practice of Discourse as a Marketing Strategy.” Advertising & Society Review 11(4), Advertising Educational Foundation. Retrieved January 24, 2017, from Project MUSE database.
This 2011 paper reports on a study conducted to determine representations, both negative and positive, in sanitary napkin ads with an aim towards exploring deeper issues of cultural connotations regarding menstruation. Sultana, who employs qualitative and explorative research methods, uses both primary and secondary data analysis guided by a framework of feminist cultural studies. By using Stuart Hall’s methods involving the politics of representation, the author’s study takes “three sets of visual and technical tools of analysis: focalization, framing, and membership categorization analysis (MCA)” and applies them to advertisements through visual analysis to uncover the “strategic meanings of the ads” (Sultana 2011). The ultimate aim is to find out if negative associations and taboos about menstruation in socio-cultural discourses are being strengthened or challenged by modern advertising.
Sultana covers her methodology and analytical framework thoroughly, including decisions that were made regarding exclusion and inclusion in the selection process for analysis. In addition to Hall, she also draws on the works of Kress and Van Leeuwen for the technical analysis of visual communication components. Her explanation of how MCA will be conducted is left a bit vague, seeming to rely only on binary descriptives. Cultural and historical discourses on menstruation are also included but much of this section seems to be conjecture rather than supported evidence. She then presents a detailed visual analysis of six advertisements, three in print and three commercial television ads, all presented through popular media in Bangladesh. Do the ads utilize menstrual discourses as a marketing strategy, and if so, to what end? In what appears to be a visual narrative discourse analysis of these sanitary napkin ads, Sultana moves around these methods of focalization, framing, and MCA within each artifact.
The conclusions reached are also problematic in that Sultana finds that negative connotations still prevail in advertising of menstruation products, and even when ads attempt to alter messaging and connotation in a positive way, these messages still play into pervasive taboos surrounding menstruation. Also, no solutions are offered for altering these visual representations in a positive manner to impact larger cultural change in discourse. Though this work aligns very closely with my project by including visual analysis of advertisements for menstruation products to explore socio-cultural shifts in perspectives towards menstruation, the structure of this work is very complex and does not seem to flow very well at times, with the analysis of the artifacts getting bogged down in minute details, often with little focus on methods as applied. Perhaps this piece may work well for me as representative of what not to do?
For my analysis of this particular work, Gretchen Barbatsis outlines effective methods for approaching visual artifacts (glossy ads in my case) that often craft compelling visual narratives. It is revealing to apply her investigations to find out why and how our realities are transformed by visual narratives. As Barbatsis suggests, by breaking down narratives into two facets, “formal stories” and “personal narratives” (p. 329), we can locate how a work of visual communication tells a story in pictorial form and to what end that story is functioning (p. 330). She makes clear that visual narratives in particular question what kind of expectations and assumption narratives allow and impose.
I also find it very effective to borrow, as Barbatsis does, from Walter Fischer’s concepts of “narrative fidelity” (“reliability of the world a story creates”), and “narrative probability” (“internal coherence or ‘integrity ... as a whole’”) as a guide to investigate how an artifact’s content is distinct from its form as the image appeals to our emotional, intellectual, and imaginative nature through narrative appeals present (p. 334). Quite useful also is Barbatsis' assertion that we must ask how narrative is structured visually through sequencing to carry meaning and derives a “pictorial narrative syntax” wherein narrative is a semiotic construct between story (content) and discourse (expression). An image is a “two-part sign structure” in which we move between content and expression simultaneously to make meaning (p. 337).
Evaluating the “narrating eye” not so much as an author but as a framer of events in space and time is also a valuable component to locating visual intention (p. 343). With a constructed image, the audience's sense of being told something comes from the way the picture is made – the use of the medium, the arrangement of elements, employed principles of design over composition, space and time. As Barbatsis makes clear, it is important to investigate the pictorial point-of-view to understand how the imager is guiding spatial awareness and the focus of events for the viewer at all times. How does the eye move through the story to fashion meaning? By applying Barbatsis' multidisciplinary approach of visual narrative theory to this particular ad and, ultimately, to my own research design, I can more fully delineate and realize the crafted nature of perception and constructed cultural meanings in my own visual artifacts of menstruation media.
Barbatsis, Gretchen. (2005). “Narrative Theory.” Handbook of Visual Communication. Eds. Smith, K., Moriarty, S., Barbatsis, G., and Kenney, K. Mahway, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2005. 329-350.
Johnston-Robledo, I. & Chrisler, J.C. (2013). “The Menstrual Mark: Menstruation as Social Stigma.” Sex Roles January 2013, Volume 68, Issue 1, 9-18. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0052-z
In this article from 2013, Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler take a theoretical approach to examining negotiations of power and gender subjugation through popular media representations about menstruation. They perform a textual analysis through a lens of culture and media studies, anthropology, feminism and social psychology, using an examination of cultural practices and messages to seek “menstrual justice” (p. 14). They brand the marginalization specific to menstruation as a stigma, which “refers to any stain or mark that sets some people apart from others” (p. 9).
The authors ask what has made menstruation so shocking and defiled that it would lead to cultural othering and make the female body be viewed as defective or their morality, mental state and character questioned. For this, they employ classical categories of stigma, using Goffman’s system: body deformities, character flaws, and “tribal” identities or social markers (p.10). Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler draw upon empirical studies to determine what manner of stigma among these categories is most off-putting and most influenced by the belief of control of stigmatic conditions, determining that menstruation fits all three of Goffman’s categories.
With menstrual blood being viewed as more abhorrent than other bodily fluids, menstruating women carry a false perception in society of being unclean. Medical studies in the past have even attempted to prove evidence of toxic elements in women during menstruation, the authors point out. Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler seek to prove that menstruation is a hidden stigma expressed culturally, with a strong social push to control it via medicine and hygiene products for the comfort of others, not for the women themselves. The authors posit advertising as the main cultural creator and carrier of socially constructed meaning and messages surrounding menstruation, “emphasizing secrecy, avoidance of embarrassment, and freshness” (p.11). They cover the methods used by advertisers to mask any reference to menstruation and the push for concealment as further evidence of stigma.
Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler also examine cultural artifacts such as humor, cultural euphemisms for menstruation, greeting cards, and educational pamphlets, in order to conduct content analysis in support of their claims. They assert that illustrations and terminology used is purposefully vague or discursive, presenting negatives attitudes, shame, secrecy and embarrassment leading to social stigma. The authors focus on the negative consequences of these messages on girls and women that sway away from self-acceptance, drawing on Foucault and self-objectification theory to review how these cultural messages have been internalized negatively by women. As discussed in class, cultural representations and visual artifacts solidify ideologies. In this case, the prevailing ideology is that women must fall in line with what is appropriately feminine, taking us away from our embodied and corporal experiences to process these experiences more in the form of cultural and, ultimately, personal policing.
The authors employ both quantitative and qualitative content analysis of advertising to find that messages sent to women seem to carry heavy social weight that evidence of menstruation should be kept from public view and knowledge. They conclude by suggesting ways to resolve menstrual stigma, such as talking openly about the subject to raise self-awareness and consciousness. Their research points out that younger generations of women are rewriting more positive messages towards menstruation in online spaces, leading to greater agency and empowerment as well as an ability to craft one’s own message. They call for more analysis into popular culture menstruation narratives that must be actively resisted and reduced in order to overturn the stigma of menstruation. Johnston-Robledo and Chrisler’s scholarly conversation is definitely one I will seek to join in my project. This piece is a very concise and well-written work with a tight effective analysis that provides conclusive solutions in the end. It reaffirms my research position and also provides a wealth of sources and studies cited within for investigation for inclusion in my own work towards similar aims.
A visual argument requires compositional intent, with a focus towards context and content for effective execution. Media used and audience orientation must also be a major component in crafting and analyzing a visual argument. Visual arguments persuade, engage and advocate with appeals through focused messages – messages that may be clear and concise or veiled and vague for the user, depending on the manner of persuasion. There must primarily be a claim made, proof provided to persuade, and underlying assumptions to achieve an effective visual argument, but visual arguments can be achieved with or without a linguistic component.
Take this ad for a feminine hygiene product, for example. By using a feminist rhetorical perspective to investigate visual narrative structures within, we can locate a persuasive appeal for a target market to purchase this product by attaching the sentiments of the visual narratives to the users’ own lives and desires/aspirations. The woman standing in the center of composition, positioned at the convergence of architectural vanishing points, is our narrative focal point. Her surroundings pale in comparison to her bold nature made visible through heightened colors and voluminous objects in contrast to the washed out gray and stark lines of the world around her. She can literally and metaphorically stop traffic on a city street.
Though she is surrounded by bright hues, she is dressed in the “menstrual commercial” white dress, indicative of clean innocence and Audrey Hepburn at once. Her loud magenta monochrome tights and shoes are meant to appeal to a target age demographic of the desired consumer (though the color and leading lines of the composition denote a discursive rhetorical mark given the nature of the product). The bright retro motorbike behind her induces a feeling of “a girl on the go” who leads by her own path and never forgets to stop and have fun. She is the manic pixie dream girl icon. The vivid balloons, declaring the primacy of the upper portion of the composition (the divine space), can be interpreted as ovum forms linked to fertility.
The ribbons that cascade freely are still bound, in the end, and perhaps represent the string of the tampon product advertised. The nature of the box is Pandora, a future of possibilities unfolding. After this photographic glossy narrative has worked us over visually, our eyes are lead to the linguistic element – “You stand out. Your period doesn’t.” With typographic emphasis on the first sentence while the second sentence whispers in a thinner set, the visual narrative is anchored. And the eye moves at last to the actual product being marketed, awash in packaging colors that mimic those vivid purples, yellows, and whites in the photo. The narrative argument is set and effective at convincing the consumer of the kind of girl they want to be, the kind that only this feminine hygiene product can provide.
From 1992-1993, American artist Fred Wilson was given control of the pieces on display and in the archival collection of the Maryland Historical Society. He moved and reclaimed artifacts from storehouses and repositioned them in conjunction/juxtaposition with items already on exhibit to craft rhetorical meanings and ways of seeing history through material forms. In his production, "Mining the Museum: An installation by Fred Wilson" displayed at the Maryland Historical Society, Wilson crafted visual arguments to advocate for focus on the biases of not just museums and curators but also our current visual experiences with what we know and see as history. He calls it a deconstruction of the museum to opening new dialogues on presence and absence, on bias and racism, through the visual and historical.