Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts from the ‘Web Design’ category


Visual Rhetorics is coming to a close — it’s been a challenging course, pushing many to the bleeding edge of their comfort zones. Myself included. Something that surprised me was our attention to typography. I learned much in our ongoing discussions about how type makes language visible.

As Matthew Butterick says:

Typography mat­ters be­cause it helps con­serve the most valu­able resource you have as a writer—read­er attention.– from Buttericks’ Practical Typography  

Now, I’m starting to get curious.

Why do we so often stick safely to the same two or three fonts? Do we choose our typefaces mindfully? When do we take risks? Push the limits? Express something new through our design choices?

And why are fonts and typography so often overlooked on the web? The letter’s arrangement, line length, spacing, and color all do powerful communicative work to hold the reader’s attention. It seems we’ve known this for ages.

In the project below, a student demonstrates the power of typography in communicating a specific message. She describes her process [cleverly combining lessons on typography and advanced slide presentation techniques from the course] in this blog post.

Typography is a powerful tool. And yet, I don’t think designers have embraced type’s full potential on the web. What role does typography play in effective website design? What communicative work does it do? Do you have favorite examples of effective type?


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Tools for critiquing and creating aesthetic texts

I developed the Aesthetic Toolbox after conducting empirical research on student learning in Arts & Humanities courses at Michigan State as a CASTL scholar. This online heuristic aids in the critique and production of aesthetic texts. Featuring six tools: feeling, design, movement, familiarity, vocabulary and idea, the toolbox creates a common vocabulary for people to communicate meaningfully about aesthetic subjects. Each tool provides a series of guided questions that students answer intuitively, while regarding the work at hand.

Findings indicate that continued practice with the toolbox offer students a basic foundation, which leads to a deeper understanding of artistic subjects and the development of an aesthetic vocabulary. These outcomes ultimately enrich student’s understanding of art subjects and aid in the development of their critical and interpretative skills.

The toolbox was used in multiple sections of the course The U.S. & The World at Michigan State University in 2006-2008.

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 Knight, A., Rife, M. C., Loncharich, L., & DeVoss, D. N.  (2009). About face: Mapping our institutional presence. Computers and Composition, 26(3), 190–202.

 “About Face: Mapping Our Institutional Presence” is about strategies for designing more effective university writing program websites This piece situates writing program websites as important institutional spaces that serve as interfaces to shared values, beliefs, and practices.

In this article I worked with my co-authors to develop a three-part framework to understand how websites of United States-based writing programs craft identity and anchor their programs. The aesthetic, cultural, and institutional lenses we describe can be used by designers to both critique and create engaging digital environments that reflect the look and feel of university programs. We also analyzed the ways in which digital interfaces do and don’t mesh with what university programs say they value professionally and pedagogically.

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