The Rhetoric of Interface Design


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Subtitled: Teaching rhetorical awareness through design analysis.

These are notes for a presentation I delivered to faculty as a member of the Digital Composition Committee for the writing program at CU Boulder.

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  • Long history of being interested in this topic, both as a web designer and a writing teacherThis is a much condensed version of an 1+ long presentationWill probably talk too fast, but will post presentation on tech blog
  • Will show each example briefly and then return to them later
  • Will come back to each of these examples towards the end of the presentation – if time allows!
  • Will come back to these images later
  • School: What students have learned from school-based writing (with exception of our writing classes):Beyond: Students have their doubts because: - that's not what they're used to writing- they haven't encountered much writing of that type in their school reading assignments- they don't think of other types of writing as "valid"
  • Use concepts from the field of interface design to help students understand core concepts of composition and rhetoricAlso covered by a variety of “computers and writing” scholars
  • Similar to concept of “writing as design, design as writing,” by Donald Norman
  •   - easy place to start    - those who teach the professional writing classes are already familiar with this concept    - an obvious example:  resumes
  • Who would you hire?This person, or…
  • This person?
  • Note: like mailing address, location of college, etc
  • “strategic” as in reader-friendlyOne student resume was so text heavy on the left that I felt like I wanted to tilt my head to the left to read it
  • Easy place to start with my 3020 students, who participate on a class blog with all the sections I'm teachingAfter a few weeks of contributing the blog, they tend to notice that some posts get more comments than others, which makes them curious about why.Note:  professional and educational context, not just for entertainment or info
  • Which post would you rather read: this one? Or…
  • This one?
  • Note:  and so they get more interested in the concept of rhetorically aware writingWeb conventions: hyperlinks, images, and embedded videos
  • Note:  whether you'll be asking students to compose web sites or not, having them analyze the rhetorical features of web design can be helpful"good" web design is that which meets the needs of the target audienceNote:  could do this using print writing or digital tool like screencast
  • This is NOT a sample web site! But rather a cartoon that illustrates the principle of rhetorically aware web site design.This helps illustrate the conceptFrom XKCD comics
  • Also illustrates the concept of rhetorical awareness in web design(what the end user wants and expects)
  • Rhetorically clueless web design(“bad writing”)
  • Text formatting: as illustrated in blog posts example(I spend the most time on analyzing web sites as well as teaching web design)
  • Take a closer look at this (and lots of valuable info, including how rhetorical principles apply to web design)On the Web Style Guide site
  • Provide info that increases site appeal to audiencesDon’t include main navigation menu if it’s also on top (as Yahoo does)Teach students the rhetorical purpose of:-Categories: based on actual topics, not “homework 1” or “uncategorized”- Tag cloud: ideally reflects relevant sub-topics (“gender” is not a helpful tag!)
  • TYPICAL READING HABITSDon’t defy expectations unless you’re sure readers are willing to work harder to read your message
  • These also apply to class blogs
  • Examples of top navigation menus: ranging from very simple to fairly complex
  • Poor reading comprehension is not always the fault of the reader(stop here if out of time; skip to end)
  • Donald Norman's Design of Everyday ThingsI tend to describe these things as “good writing” or “bad writing” and ask students to figure out what I mean
  • USABILITY: not great; violates users’ expectations for how door handles work (“genre conventions”)PERSUASIVENESS: likely to frustrate users    - lots more examples on bad design web site, good for 3035 students to analyze
  • USABILITY: pretty good: change in color helps users quickly identify the right one for regular trashPERSUASIVENES: influences users to choose the right trash can- darker color for “landfill” also implies a value judgment for those who aren’t recycling
  • USABILITY: poor – violates users’ expectations for how symbols workPERSUASIVENESS: leads to confusion and frustration(and lack of confidence in digital skills)
  • Note:  my friends and family members have also found rhetorical awareness to be very useful
  • Particularly true of syllabus(how much more reader-friendly is a syllabus that presents information in hypertext layers as opposed to one long linear text?)Resources available on request
  • The Rhetoric of Interface Design

    1. 1. Amy Goodloe August 21, 2013
    2. 2. What do the following examples have to do with teaching writing?
    3. 3. They show that good interface design, like good writing, requires rhetorical awareness
    4. 4.  Encouraging students to see the value of “rhetorical awareness” in their writing can be difficult  Especially given that very little in their 20+ years of writing for school has required it
    5. 5. STUDENT BELIEFS ABOUT WRITING  Purpose: learning  Audiences: obligated to read  “Design” considerations: following the handbook format is sufficient  Writing is "student- centered" REALITIES OF WRITING BEYOND SCHOOL  Purpose: communication  Audiences: need to be enticed to read and believe  “Design” plays a significant role in audience response  Writing is “reader- centered”
    6. 6. Connect rhetorical awareness to familiar reading situations: digital interfaces  "Interface" - any space where users interact with technology, typically for the purpose of reading and writing Both writers and designers need to know how to:  anticipate the needs and expectations of end users (or readers)  design interfaces (or messages) that will meet these needs
    7. 7.  Good writing, like good interface design, is:  usable: easy to comprehend  persuasive: influences attitudes or behaviors  Examples:  Document design  Blog posts  Web sites  Physical and software interfaces
    8. 8.  Gather sample resumes and show each to students for 10 seconds  Ask them to record:  what they remember about the candidate  their impressions of the candidate  Ask them to study the samples more closely  To identify traits that make some more usable and persuasive than others
    9. 9.  no document design =  can't remember anything  rhetorically clueless document design =  remembered the wrong things due to misplaced emphasis  rhetorically aware document design =  remembered the right things  had a more positive impression of writer
    10. 10. Strategic use of formatting elements  headers and sub-headers to reflect hierarchical importance  font size and weight as well as font type  bulleted lists to emphasize key qualifications  balanced overall layout (not too dense or sparse) General observation: if you could've prepared this on a typewriter, you're doing something wrong!
    11. 11.  Gather sample blog posts and show each for 20 seconds  Ask students to record:  How likely they would be to choose that post to read and respond to  Their impressions of the person who wrote the post  After closer study, ask them to identify:  The traits that make some posts more usable and persuasive than others
    12. 12. Prefer to read posts that are "usable" and "persuasive”  Engaging subject lines, short and focused paragraphs, helpful formatting, good use of web conventions Steer clear of poorly designed messages  Appear harder to comprehend  Convey impression of disorganized writer Revelation for some: what they prefer to read is not how they typically write
    13. 13.  Gather sample web sites and show each to students for 20 seconds  Ask them to record:  Which sites they’d most likely gravitate towards  Their impressions of the site’s credibility  After closer study, ask them to identify:  The traits that make some sites more usable and persuasive than others
    14. 14. Not a sample web site but a sample teaching tool From:
    15. 15. From:
    16. 16.  More likely to choose and to trust sites that meet principles of usability and persuasiveness  Similar to Dave Underwood’s principle of good visual design:  Made you look  Made you stay  Made you believe
    17. 17. Familiar designs are more inviting and user-friendly because they meet audience expectations regarding:  Layout  Navigation  Text formatting  Conventions Good design also reflects typical reading habits
    18. 18. TypicalWeb Page Layout From:
    19. 19. Typical Blog Sidebars What rhetorical purpose do these serve?
    20. 20. What should you put in the space opposite the “golden triangle”? TypicalWeb Reading Habits
    21. 21. Menus and menu items are in familiar spots  top menu most common  "home" button on left  easy access to about, contact, and search  external links are on sidebar, not top Menu items reflect  logical site structure  interests of target audience
    22. 22. TypicalTop Navigation Menus
    23. 23.  Students start to understand  the importance of following conventions (and the consequences of not doing so)  the rhetorical power of logical organization  Students see writing as "creating a user experience”  Peer review becomes a process of "user testing”  For usability and persuasiveness
    24. 24. Principle: Rhetorical awareness extends beyond web sites to:  The design of spaces and objects  Software interfaces Activity: Ask students to analyze examples  how they function as “messages” with “writers” and “audiences”  how they illustrate concepts of usability and persuasiveness
    25. 25. Handles are for pulling… right? From
    26. 26. What “reading problem” does this design address?
    27. 27. So… do I upload by creating?
    28. 28. These activities use concepts from “interface design” to help students meet the learning goals common to our discipline:  rhetorical knowledge  critical thinking  genre conventions  digital literacy End result: Students see "rhetorical awareness" as a concept useful well beyond the classroom
    29. 29. Be sure to practice what you preach: follow the principles of good design in all your course materials!
    30. 30.  References and resources, along with a copy of this presentation, to a post on:  See also:  Rhetoric of Presentations effective-presentations/
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