Change is a common theme within both Bernhardt and Wysocki’s pieces. Bernhardt suggest that we should “view the rhetoric of visual design as an evolving art” (75). Wysocki states that “reading in our time is changing” (125). I’m rarely convinced that newer is better, or that the latest and greatest is required by any means, but it certainly feels like there are some undeniable expectations floating around out there for us as writers. As newer technologies, specifically computers and design software, like that of Adobe and Mac products, enter our frame of reference, it is important that we learn how to use the tools available to us.
Many years ago, I was a Visual Communication Design major and, because of this, much of Wysocki’s chapter, “The Multiple Media of Texts: How Onscreen and Paper Texts Incorporate Words, Images, and Other Media,” felt like a nice, longwinded review. I do, however, appreciate how both authors assumed the role of teacher, explicitly stating the terms for this “new” approach to communication.
I was most interested in the concept mentioned by Wysocki, of the immediacy of images and how they give the reader/observer a much quicker sense of the genre (123). It is our duty to create an experience on the page—a task burdened with infinite possibilities, or so it can seem. Through the many questions she provides for analyzing pages and screens, the main point seems to rest in that it all depends on how well we (bother writer and reader/viewer) observe (159). With all the possibilities at our fingertips, however, it is no mystery that some designs are plainly better than others. There are principles, methods, and endless things to consider. In my opinion, it boils down to aesthetics.
“Seeing the Text” was a refreshing article. The subject matter leads me to comment on my tendencies as a student approaching the stack of four (one for another class) printed articles on my desk—from a visual perspective. Compared to the Wysocki chapters, I was more inclined to reach for Bernhardt’s first simply because of the way it looked on the page. The text is slightly larger, and it is accompanied by a welcoming amount of white space. It doesn’t appear noisy and poorly copied, like the Wysocki chapters, and with double-sided printing it is still easy to turn the page and continue where I left off with better flow. I don’t have to flip the packet of pages 180 degrees each time I finally make it through two pages of written text printed onto one. It’s a matter of limitations and presentation, and I don’t mean to sound too critical. But it is a valid point, and one that resonates with Bernhardt’s push for a more visual approach to written texts. I enjoyed his perspective because it considers how we experience reading texts. He recognizes that choices of layout and design matter a great deal, and compares this with the “current rhetorical paradigm,” one that, especially in academic settings, seems stuck on the five-paragraph essay arrangement to get a point across. This sort of linear progression is restrictive, and perhaps not always as effective as it could be.
A professor from another class last week said that readers are always looking for a reason to not proceed. It’s part of our nature. I am a firm believer that life is too short to read texts that flop after the first few pages. Sometimes the author fails to capture the essence of the piece in the very first sentence. No thanks. I’ve plenty to keep me busy when it comes to worthwhile texts.
I think what Bernhardt proposes is brilliant, and highly relevant to the opportunities and challenges we face in contemporary, digital rhetoric. He walked the talk in his piece by giving us a visual example of the wetland fact sheet, and pairing it with a concise description of the essay format we have all grown used to and often bored with. The new possibilities are inspiring when we think of how we might reframe written texts. For instance, “it may not be useful to speak of paragraphs at all, but of sections or chunks” (73). There is certainly something to be said for writing more like we speak, that is, if we have learned how to speak well (77).