Ethics for senior portraits


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I wrote this rhetorical analysis of the website I designed for my capstone project at Kaplan University. Having already creating a rhetorical strategy as the basis of the design, this analysis assesses how well the strategy is fulfilled by the actual design.

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Ethics for senior portraits

  1. 1. IN RETROSPECT BY FRAN MCKAIN The artistic or aesthetic standard is aEthics for Senior measure of how well a rhetorical act succeeds in altering perception, creatingPortraits visual experience, attracting and holding attention, and inducing participation andHow rhetoric inspired a new business model identification. It is a measure of how wellAny communication—any rhetorical act—can be an act achieves its purpose, of howevaluated based upon four standards. These are creatively at rhetor responds to thean artistic standard, a response standard, an obstacles faced, of how inventively aaccuracy standard, and a moral standard rhetor fulfills the requirements or(Campbell & Huxman, 2009). The artistic expectations of form. (p. 247).standard considers whether the communication is Applying these measures to the techniques,aesthetically satisfying. The response standard means, and strategies employed within theevaluates the results of the communication. The Masterpiece Studio website design providesaccuracy standard verifies the accuracy and several valuable insights.completeness of the communication. And themoral stand determines whether the Alter perceptioncommunication uses ethical methods for ethicalpurposes. The website successfully alters the viewer’s perception of the kind of art Masterpiece StudioMasterpiece Studio is a boutique portrait studio creates by the use of four different means. First,that creates portrait art for high school seniors, the home page immediately creates thefamilies, and children. Because the high school understanding that the studio creates books aboutsenior market is specialized, the studio has its clients. This is accomplished by the bolddesigned a website focused exclusively on declaration in large text, “Someday they’ll write aseniors. The Masterpiece Studio senior website book about you. Someday is now.”could benefit from a few changes, but overall itmeasures well against the artistic, response,accuracy, and moral standards.Artistic StandardEvaluating a rhetorical act against an artisticstandard is not just a matter of deciding whether itis visually appealing. Campbell and Huxman(2009) suggest the following criteria: This message is supported by the “Why?” link August 2011 | Rhetorical Review 1
  2. 2. which displays several reasons for commissioning explains the steps involved in creating thesea personal biography. books. This process description could be improved by providing images to illustrate each step. For example, an image showing the writer interviewing a client or sorting through a stack of childhood photographs would demonstrate some of the steps in the process.Second, the quality of the books is demonstratedby the book samples that allow the viewer to seeboth the inside and the outside of the book and towatch a video of a book being removed from itsbox, opened, and the pages turned. Thisdemonstrates that these are not just “image A fourth way that perceptions about the studio’sbooks” like those created by other portrait work are altered is by the display and descriptionphotographers, but actual biographies. It also of the WallArt gallery. The images depicting theeliminates any question of whether the art of studio’s portraits framed and displayed in homescrapbooking compares to the custom books the settings conveys the idea that this studio producesstudio creates. artwork intended to be displayed in this manner. The descriptions elevate the viewer’s thinkingTo further alter the perception about the kind of above the temporary fame to be achieved bybooks the studio produces, the website includes posting a few images on Facebook, but it does soan interactive process diagram which shows and 2 |
  3. 3. without denigrating the fun of the Facebookexperience. Even the name, WallArt, conveys theidea that this studio produces wall art—not justlittle prints.Create virtual experienceThe virtual experiences that the website supportsinclude seeing one’s own portraits created by thestudio, viewing framed artwork in an actualsetting, viewing a book, and walking through the reading a book. And the video of the book beingbook creation process. removed from its box, opened, and the pagesThe viewer can readily imagine viewing her own turned is similar. The interactive bookportraits while watching the full-screen slideshow development process diagram is not quite as goodin the portrait gallery. Watching these large, a simulation, and really does need some depictive images to enhance the process descriptions. Attract and hold attention Throughout the website, numerous techniques exist to attract and hold attention. It begins with the home page which opens by momentarily displaying a strikingly beautiful portrait on a black background. The portrait fades into the shadows as the bold message appears over it in very large text, “Someday, they’ll write a bookbeautiful images on the screen she can gain some about you. Someday is now.” The messageof the sensation she will have when her own catches the attention because it is common forimages are displayed. The WallArt gallery takes people to wonder if they will ever be importantthat virtual experience to a new level. Seeing enough that someone will write a book aboutlarge, framed portraits displayed in beautiful them. This message answers in the affirmative,rooms, the viewer can imagine having portraits of which is bound to make the viewer wonder howhis own senior on the wall. that could be true. The “Why?” link below the message will naturally draw the viewer’sThe book samples are an excellent virtual attention and the series of “Because…” answersexperience. The technique of having the page will hold that attention in much the same way thatappear to turn when the viewer clicks the edge of the old Burma Shave roadway signs used to dothe page is almost tactile in its simulation of August 2011 | Rhetorical Review 3
  4. 4. (Thomas, n.d.). The viewer will wonder what the and the bold text message, “Long after yournext message will be. Facebook images have been replaced…The legend of Masterpiece Studio WallArt willA second way that the site will attract and hold endure.”attention is by the full-screen portraits in theportrait gallery. Many portrait sites offer only The final significant, attention-getting device issmall images, perhaps hoping that the images are the interactive process diagram described earlier.small enough that clients will not copy them and The colors and shapes in the diagram and thethen fail to buy prints. But on this site, the images intrigue of watching it change as the “buttons”are presented at the largest size the screen will are clicked will catch and hold the viewer’sdisplay to provide the fullest experience possible. attention.The size, and the quality of the images will holdthe attention of the viewer. Induce participation and identificationThe third technique for attracting attention is the Getting the viewer to participate interactivelybook gallery. Seeing these gorgeous book with the site is an important goal because whenexamples, which are clearly something different people interact they are more likely to commit.than the heavy albums and thin image books But equally important is the need to help the viewer to identify with the rhetor—to feel that the “voice” behind the website is someone who is like them in some way and can understand them. Most of the techniques already mentioned serve to induce participation by the viewer: the Why? link and the Because pages, the interactive book gallery and book process description, and the portrait and WallArt galleries. In addition to these, the menus on the website invite exploration and the links to Facebook and Twitter open theoffered by other portrait studios will certainly door to very interactive experiences. Finally, thecatch the attention. Being able to interact with Contact page provides the option to send email tothem, open them, and turn the pages will hold the the studio. To further enhance participation, atattention. The time-lapse video of the book being least one video should be displayed somewhereopened will have a similar effect. on the site. Suggestions about videos to includeThe landing page for the WallArt gallery is the are: 1) a music video featuring some of thefourth technique for catching the attention of the studio’s portraits or books, 2) studio staffviewer. This page has two riveting elements: the working with a client through the process ofbeautiful setting depicting the framed portraits, developing a book, including the reception where 4 |
  5. 5. the book is finally unveiled, 3) a tour of the possible to identify the techniques used to addressstudio. each of these purposes. The studio owners identified the following purposes, according toTo cause the viewer to identify with the rhetor, the Functional Design document:the rhetorical strategy in the Functional Designdocument for this website proposed that some of 1) Attract potential clients to the type ofthe website pages should use “we” and “our” work and style of art that Masterpiecelanguage and have the studio owners talk about Studio creates.creating (or failing to create) for their own family 2) Encourage potential clients to take thethe kind of artwork they now create for others. So next step of contacting the studio for anfar, the design does not include anything like that. appointment.Doing so would help the viewers to feel that the 3) Get referrals for the studioowners understand them. While this would be a 4) Make potential clients feel pampered fromgood addition to the site, something similar is their first contact with the studio.achieved by a different means. The “Because” 5) Set expectations about what the studiopages suggest that the rhetor understands how offers and what it does not offerimportant this senior year is, and how much 6) Create expectations about what the clientthings are going to change after graduation. Also, should expect to buy.the “Us” page conveys the idea that the studio 7) Provide capability for existing clients toowners really value the person inside each senior. view their images and place orders. To address the first goal, attracting potential clients, the three galleries are a potent mechanism. There is nothing overt on the website to encourage a potential client to contact the studio. Besides the obvious appeal of the work, the only devices employed are 1) the invitation onBoth of these will serve to make the viewer feelunderstood.How well it achieves its purposeUntil the website can be tested by members of thetarget audience, it is not possible to determinehow well it achieves its purpose. However, it is the Portrait Sessions-About page to call the studio August 2011 | Rhetorical Review 5
  6. 6. to schedule a consultation, 2) the senior timeline actually being pampered at their portrait sessionshowing various deadlines related to portrait and or during book creation, and 3) the Contact page with itsphone number and email address. This very soft The goals about setting expectations about whatapproach may be suitable if the studio uses other the studio offers and what the client should buymeans to encourage potential clients to take seem to be effectively met by all the devices thataction. emphasize books and wall art. The base prices quoted on the Portrait Sessions and book PricingThe website offers only one device to get pages should also convey the message that thisreferrals: the BFF Incentive. This is an incentive studio produces high-end art. This should help tofor an existing client to invite a best friend (or deter clients who are price sensitive and want totwo) for a special session. Here again, the studio buy a few small prints at a small price.may need to employ other means to encouragereferrals beyond this mild incentive. The final goal, to enable existing clients to view their images and place orders, is achieved by providing a link to the studio’s ordering website. How creatively the rhetor responds to the obstacles The primary obstacle portrait artist face is differentiating their studio from other studios. The Masterpiece Studio differs from others in one major way and one minor way. The major differentiator is that this studio creates personal biographies. Other studios only offer photoMaking the client feel pampered seems to be books. The minor differentiator is that this is aeffectively achieved by both the language and the high-end studio which produces exceptionalgraphics on the website. The language talks about artwork for a few clients. This is different than athe value of the person, the desire to discover high-volume studio that produces decentmore about them, to write their story, to create photographs for hundreds of clients.amazing images and design custom artwork of Communicating that difference helps to set clientthem. It speaks of interviewing them, including expectations.their own writings or other creations in a book,and actually writing a book about them. All of The website effectively communicates both ofthese seem to be effective means for making a these differences. The book gallery and otherperson feel special. The videos suggested above pages about creating personal biographies clearlywould add to this. They could show a client communicates that these books are unique. The 6 |
  7. 7. WallArt and portrait galleries, along with their website. The Portrait Sessions pages show theprices, communicate the quality of the artwork price for each of the sessions and indicateand the kind of prices the client can expect. whether a purchase is required with that session, and indicate the minimum collection that must beBesides these techniques, the website further purchased with that session. The book Pricesdifferentiates the studio by the language it uses. page explains the number of hours required toMost portrait websites use nearly identical create a book and provides a minimum price.language. They say they will make you arockstar, they will capture the real you, they The website adequately describes the variouscreate story-telling images, their portraits are part portrait session options, but these very succinctof leaving a legacy, and other typical clichés. descriptions could be enhance to fire theThis website contains none of those clichés. imagination about the possibilities to be explored—especially for on-location sessions.How inventively the rhetor fulfills the This would make a good basis for inviting aexpectations of form prospect to come to the studio for a consultation.Because most portrait websites have the same The Testimonials page for books is good, since itbasic features, there naturally exists an shows the book that the testimony is about. Itexpectation that this website will provide them. might be even better if it showed a portrait of theThese include a gallery, information about prices, person the book is about. The website has noinformation about how to book a session, testimonials page for portraits. This is antestimonials, and lately, some kind of video. important omission that should be corrected. That testimonials page should definitely include anAs explained previously, the gallery design for image of the student who offered the testimonial.this website is somewhat unique in that it displaysfull-screen images. This is not just a “wowfactor.” It also conveys a sense of generosity andluxury. The WallArt and book galleries furtheraugment that feeling.The issue of displaying price on a portrait websiteis often debated in photography circles. The low-end, high-volume studios usually do display theirprices, as do most beginners. Mid-range and high-end studios often do not display prices. However,some of the high-end studios do display base The website currently has only one videoprices as a means to deter price sensitive planned—the time lapse video of a book beingshoppers. That is the strategy employed on this opened. While that is a very creative video, as August 2011 | Rhetorical Review 7
  8. 8. discussed before, the website would benefit from Accuracy (Truth) Standardincluding other videos. The Masterpiece Studio senior website is truthful.Response (or Effects) Standard This means that there is no appreciable difference between the reality it presents and the reality thatThis website can only be evaluated by the other sources present (Campbell & Huxman,response it evokes after it has been exposed to 2009). Furthermore, truthfulness means that itmembers of the target audience. As of this provides adequate and accurate arguments for thewriting, the mockups of the website have been decisions that it encourages its clients to to only a few people. The responses wereas follows: To illustrate this point, consider the reasons given for commissioning a personal biography:A 23-year-old single woman said “Aww… Ireally like it” when she saw the Home page and • Because there’s more to you than just athe “Because” pages. She felt that the messages pretty face.would resonate with high school seniors. • Because senior portraits are not just for model wanna-be’s.A mother of a high school student saw the Home • Because there’s no one else like and one of the “Because” pages and said “I • Because by telling your story, you’lllove it. I immediately wanted to see more.” understand who you are.The studio photographer said, “I like it!” • Because someday your kids will want to know how great you were.A mother of a junior high student said, “It gives • Because you will always want tome goose bumps! Will you create a book for my remember this year.son?” • Because you’ll leave an empty place when you leave home.These responses suggest that the effect of the • Because after this year, everythingwebsite will match the intended purpose. If it changes.does, the application of the next two standards— • Because the unforgettable is all tootruth and ethics—will become even more quickly forgotten.important. Results cannot be measuredadequately without considering whether themeans for achieving the results were truthful and These things are all true and they are all goodethical. reasons to capture the essence of a high school senior, at this pivotal year in his life, in a book for posterity. 8 |
  9. 9. The same can be said for the argument above all other values. To illustrate their concern,given about the best friends session: “You’ve they mentioned another portrait website whichbeen best friends forever and now you are displays pictures of its senior model contestseniors. After graduation, you’ll go your separate winners. These young people are invited to aways and things will never be quite the same destination portrait event where they are treatedagain. Stay close with BFF Legends books.” like movie stars. Some of the photographs of oneAgain, the statement addresses the reality that of these events show the kids posing in verymany close friends face when they graduate and it skimpy clothing, in sensual poses, with a dozenoffers something they will value in years to come: photographers photographing them.a book that captures their special friendship. The Masterpiece Studio owners felt that thisThe presentation of pricing information is the approach communicated the message that onlyonly area where the website might be said to “model wanna be’s” deserve to have portraitsprovide less than adequate information. It created, that physical beauty is the highest value,provides a minimum price for books, and it and that becoming a model is desirable (at a timeprovides session prices, but it does not provide when they should be thinking about college).any other prices. By some standards, this might These messages are harmful, not helpful, and theybe considered misleading. However, the studio promote social discord. This is what led thedoes custom quotes for all books, so it can hardly studio owners to the idea of creating personalprovide more than the base price and the fact that biographies in addition to the portrait art. Thebooks differ dramatically in the number of hours custom books provide a way to communicate thethey require to produce. And portraits are similar true value of a person beyond physicalbecause of the wide variety of framing options. appearance.Ethical Standard The messages about the value of the individual are communicated throughout the MasterpieceWhat will be the social consequences of the Studio senior website. The “Someday they’llMasterpiece Studio website? This is what theethical standard asks. Will it promote harmony ordiscord (Campbell & Huxman, 2009)? Will ithelp or harm?The ethical question was one of the most seriousissues considered in designing this website. Infact, the studio owners actually modified theirbusiness model based upon this evaluation. Theywere uncomfortable with a website, and abusiness, that promoted sensual physical beauty write a book about you” message, the “Because” August 2011 | Rhetorical Review 9
  10. 10. messages, the “We think you’re amazing” Referencesmessage on the “Us” page, and even the Campbell, K. K., Huxman, S. S. (2009). The rhetorical act:description of the process of creating a custom Thinking, speaking, and writing underscore the value of each person. These Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.messages are not trite. They do not say that “we Thomas, M. (n.d.). The Burma Shave the real you” or “we’ll make you look like a Retrieved fromrock star.” They say that each person is valuable has a story worth telling. At a time in their hpolscrv/mthomas.htm.lives when these kids are seeking their trueidentity and questioning their worth, this is amessage that will help. This is an ethicalmessage.ConclusionThe design for the Masterpiece Studio haseffectively implemented most of the rhetoricalstrategy defined in the Functional Designdocument in which it is documented. The onlyexception is that it does not include any personalstories by the studio owners about theirexperience in creating (or failing to create) suchartwork for their own family. Beyond thisomission, the design could also benefit fromincluding more images to illustrate some of thedescriptions and by including one or more videos.This design supports an ethical purpose and itdoes so using ethical means. The studio ownerscan develop and deploy this website withconfidence that it will meet its purposes.Fran McKain applies rhetorical strategy towriting books, designing websites, and creatingpresentations. 10 |