Visual design

As with navigation design, decisions regarding the visual design of a web-based text—including the manipulation of elements such as typography and color—depend on the goals of the text and the perceived needs of the reader. In other words, an effective visual design can support and enhance the meaning of the text; visual elements can be used rhetorically to gain the adherence of readers. Karen Chauss argued in “Reader as User: Applying Interface Design Techniques to the Web,” (incidentally, Kairos’s first Best Webtext award recipient), that the unique interface abilities afforded by the online medium require responsible use: “When writing for electronic media, writers can incorporate an array of graphic elements with greater ease than for print media. Lack of experience, coupled with ease of inclusion, can make for some wildly designed sites which distract rather than support the user.” Furthermore, as Pullman (2006) acknowledged, the new responsibilities for web authors necessitate judgment that may not be adequately cultivated: “Twenty years ago page layout and text design were the purview of graphic artists and printers; specialists with specialized knowledge.” Visual design, or “visual rhetoric” as it is referred to within the relevant literature, offers a broad range of information regarding the effective manipulation of typography, color, and layout.

One of the significant aspects of typography that is discussed in several rhetorics of online writing is the use of various elements to display text in visually screen-friendly ways. For example, Nielson (1997) and Troffer (2000) suggested that Web authors incorporate bulleted points, lists, highlighted or specially treated subheadings/headings, and block text to draw attention to important information. Typical print-based scholarly prose is textually dense and less likely to incorporate this type of visually designed presentations of text.

Additionally, given that a majority of print journals’ typographic styles include black font on a white background, color becomes an important factor in identifying a scholarly “look” and begs the question: Can a text designed with red font on a yellow background, for example appear scholarly? Indeed, is it sufficiently reader-friendly? Chauss (1996), for example, discussed the rhetorical use of color: “When used effectively, color can draw the user's attention to important information, show relationships between ideas or objects, and enhance the comprehension, retention, and appeal of the information provided.” One noteworthy convention that assists readers in retention and navigation involves the use of a consistent color to indicate hyperlinks as well as a different color to indicate when a link has been visited or activated. This “feedback” presented through a simple and consistent change in color helps readers identify where they have been and what avenues are still open within the web-based text. The visual design of color in this sense is crucial to effective navigation. Question 10 in Category B of the assessment tool is designed to evaluate the extent to which the webtext incorporates an effective visual design according to the standards outlines above.

Question 10: Visual design

a) Typographic style

b) Background and font color

c) Link feedback