Right In The Feels

Maybe I’m just a massive softie, but Gift makes me cry every time. If you scrolled past and haven’t seen it yet, I highly encourage you to do so before reading any further.

Aside from the lyrics in the background, not a single word is spoken in the duration of this 4.5-minute short film; however, the message is powerful enough to hit you right where it hurts. If this didn’t tug at your heartstrings, I don’t know what will.

Gift got us right in the feels, but how? What is it about this short film that affects us so much? The answer is pathos. “Pathos refers to emotional appeals used in the persuasive argument. Testimonials from those with direct knowledge of a situation are often the most effective statements” (Lester, 2014, p. 80).

Humans as a whole are emotional creatures. We tend to make rash decisions or take drastic actions based on powerful emotional responses to certain stimuli. Naturally, advertisers have found pathos to be an effective tool in order to fulfill a variety of purposes such as raising awareness of an issue, altering one’s line of thinking, or even calling individuals to action. In short, “persuasion is a socially accepted way of attempting to change individuals’ attitudes” (Lester, 2014, p. 80).

Gift is an effective form of persuasion because it implements familiar and easy-to-follow elements into the storyline. The viewer does not have to be told the family is happy or, eventually, frustrated. We become engrossed in the story and begin to identify with each character, all of whom we think we know, but later discover a major element that was purposefully left out for the purpose of impact.

We feel the family’s frustration as the “adoptive daughter” acts out, and that frustration turns to disbelief when the “adoptive father” takes her away and abandons her in the middle of nowhere. The big reveal, so unexpectedly and beautifully done, is gut-wrenching as the audience realizes what the true message is.

Maybe your reaction was different, but I had goosebumps. I began to ask myself, “Would I have reacted differently if I had known all along the new addition was a dog rather than a human child?” That was the whole point of the video which, arguably, makes it even more effective than the well-known ASPCA commercials with Sarah McLachlan, gloomy music, and sad animals.

Gift forces you to think outside of your comfort zone by essentially manipulating your perceptions of the events and withholding crucial information until the very end. The short film creates a relationship between the viewer and the characters in a way Sarah McLachlan cannot. The creators knew what they were doing, and each choice was strategically thought out and executed.

In response to numerous advertising campaigns that focus on animal cruelty and abandonment, thousands of people donate their time and money to organizations that provide care, shelter, cruelty intervention services, etc. Many of these people act in response to pathos advertising and calls to action. Emotions are an extraordinary and complicated feature of the human mind, and it truly is amazing how impactful a 4-minute video can be.

(Chapter 4: Visual Persuasion)

Lester, P. (2014) Visual Communication: Images with Words. Boston: Wadsworth.

What Can I Help You With?

The web is growing; that much is clear. Personally, I remember the freak show that was dial-up internet, but as a kid, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I could do so many things on the internet that I never thought possible, so the slow speeds seemed like a small price to pay at the time.

In today’s world, there are kids who are growing up with high-speed internet and smart phones with data plans that can access the web 24-7, neither of which I imagined could exist 8-10 short years ago. With digitized assistants like Siri and Cortana, personalized web experiences on Google Chrome, and a wide availability of apps for literally everything, what could possibly be the next step in our digital evolution?

Lester (2014) makes some speculations about what Web 3.0 will have to offer: “Web 3.0, sometimes referred to as the semantic web, will be an example of human-computer interaction in which a user’s specific needs are coupled with an advanced artificially intelligent computer agent that will not only deliver information that is salient for a specific user, but will anticipate that person’s requirements and desires” (p. 414). He continues to offer examples of how science fiction portrayals of the web may very well become the reality of our society.

For all of you anime fans out there, Psyco-Pass is a relatively well-known series that depicts a futuristic society. It operates under the authority of an automated system that functions as both the police and the government. In order to keep the peace, the system analyzes each individual based on their mental capacity to commit a crime and, as a result, sorts them into career paths that match their psychological states of being.

As a part of day-to-day life, citizens have holographic assistants that alter the projected images on the walls throughout the day to the individual’s tastes. These holographic assistants also keep citizens’ schedules, make phone calls, and utilize pre-programmed personalities to imitate the protocols necessary for social interaction. They even contribute to the characters’ personal appearance.

We can only speculate what such technology would do for the world we live in. The web of the future can be equal parts fascinating and terrifying to think about.

For the time being, the personal assistants, high-speed internet, and customized browsing experiences Web 2.0 has to offer are enough to keep our current society quite busy (particularly where traditional people and businesses are concerned), but for those of us with insatiable curiosity on the future of the world wide web, the questions still linger: what will the next digital advancements look like, and how will Web 3.0 (and Web 4.0, for that matter!) revolutionize what has already been revolutionized?

(Chapter 15: The Web)

Lester, P. (2014) Visual Communication: Images with Words. Boston: Wadsworth.

Netflix And Chill…Literally.

The way we see and consume television has changed dramatically in a matter of years. As a 90’s kid, I remember waiting impatiently for the TV guide to scroll all the way through and, if I looked away for just a few seconds, I had to wait for it to roll around all over again. I constantly begged my mom to hurry up and get me home from Tae-Kwon-Do practice in time to catch my favorite show, and if we didn’t make it, I had to wait until next week for a new episode. Sound familiar?

VHS is also a thing of the past. Lester (2014) discusses some of the trends in television media. “The old-fashioned idea of television as a one-way, anesthetizing viewing experience soon will be an anachronism. The days of videotape and DVD presentations may be numbered, as viewers become users able to download any program from web-based menu choices” (p. 356).

Today’s kids may never know it, but the ability to stream episodes online is a gigantic improvement from the way things used to be. Sites like Netflix dramatically changed how our society consumes anything from news to entertainment, all of which used to be strictly available on a timetable. Everyone who originally had to miss their favorite shows due to busy work schedules can now stream them any time they want.

While Netflix does a fantastic job storing current movies and TV shows for users to enjoy, it goes even farther by reviving old titles or creating original series that may not have been produced otherwise. Some examples include Firefly, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Orange is the New Black. CinemaBlend ranked some of the top Netflix originals in a listicle.

There was a time when everyone believed VHS tapes was here to stay, and the same happened with DVDs. Cable used to be a common household add-on, but who really needs it when an HDMI cable can display the more affordable online options directly from your computer to the TV? No one tends to expect familiar technology to become obsolete but, bearing in mind that Netflix’s rise in popularity occurred over a short decade, who knows what innovative technology will come next? Will there ever be a time when streaming TV shows online will become a thing of the past?

(Chapter 13: Television)

Lester, P. (2014) Visual Communication: Images with Words. Boston: Wadsworth.

Kids, Don’t Try This At Home!

Who among you has seen Deadpool? Pretty awesome movie, am I right? I won’t spoil it for those of you who have not seen it yet, but I will say that its style is both hilarious and unique. Among other things, part of what makes it such a great movie is the strategic use of breaking the fourth wall, and many would argue the flippant language and violent action are contributing factors to its success as well.

Lester (2014) discusses the ethical concerns associated with violent scenes and vulgar language in motion pictures. “Action-adventure movies, always a popular genre, are filled with violent activities. Despite momentary sensitivity among U.S. film producers, violence will continue to be a staple of American films because violent films are enormously popular” (p. 327).

Maybe it’s an outlet for our darker sides, or perhaps we as a society have gotten used to violence in movies. While it has always existed in some form or other, modern technology allows producers to breach new levels of ultra-realistic fighting, torture, mutilation, and more. In many instances, we have to remind ourselves the films we watch are fabricated; otherwise, we may begin to believe the portrayals are real or, at the very least, highly plausible.

While Deadpool is clearly fictional and would not lead anyone to believe the events can or will be real, the filmmakers did a phenomenal job with the detail of each scene. For a mere hour and forty-eight minutes, you feel immersed in this semi-realistic world of mutants, revenge, and bad jokes. Wade Wilson figuratively pulls you into his story and makes you feel as though you are a part of it. You begin to want the same things he wants, and you feel some of the same things he feels.

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily! Deadpool is fun, engaging, and absolutely hilarious. If you have the right personality, it provides a great escape from your boring day-to-day life in society. On the flip side, however, some people take their highly-sensitive reactions a little too far with movies like this. People get offended, people sue, and then our society can’t have nice things. In an attempt to prevent this from happening, the following image circulated around social media about a week before Deadpool was released.

This was a smart move, and I hope everyone will heed these words. I was disappointed to see a young boy in my row at the local theater when I went to see this movie, but some of it can’t be helped. Hopefully, movies like this will be allowed to continue, but you never really know where the pendulum will swing.

(Chapter 12: Motion Pictures)

Lester, P. (2014) Visual Communication: Images with Words. Boston: Wadsworth.

Photoshop My Flaws, Please!

Photography is great for capturing anything from intimate moments to breathtaking scenery, but our tech-savvy generation has found a way to take it a step further. According to Lester (2014), “Since the birth of photography, photographers have manipulated subjects and images to produce the result they desired … Digital manipulations are noticed by the public and critics” (p. 294).

Photoshop can be a great tool if you want to clean up a few blemishes or flyaway hairs, but those blemishes may very well be an integral part of capturing the moment. As shown in the video below, digitally editing a photo changes the original meaning into something else.

Extreme (and funny) example, I know, but it really demonstrates how far a gifted designer can go with Photoshop. Our generation loves to play with photo editing software to see what we can do and how far we can go with it. This is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, photo editing is very fun! On the flip side, however, it can be damaging.

With the power to do whatever you want to an image, you possess the ability to move things around and change the overall intention or meaning of the image entirely. Lester (2014) cites the O.J. Simpson case as an example. Different magazines took his mugshot and manipulated it to send a certain message to their respective audiences. The edited versions were not considerate of the subject’s reputation; in fact, the practice of making O.J. Simpson appear guilty based on the digital manipulation is decidedly unethical.

Perceptions of beauty are another common consequence of Photoshop tools. With the ability to make a human being look any way the designer wants them to, advertisers have the opportunity the manipulate the faces and bodies of their models to trick viewers into thinking a “perfect” physical image not only exists, but is remotely achievable.

The Dove: Evolution advertisement campaign is a popular reaction video to Photoshop’s contribution to beauty perceptions; it offers viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the advertising process.

Maybe this will make a difference, or maybe it will not. While Dove is attempting to shift perceptions in the right direction, we as a society have a long way to go before distorted ideals of beauty will go away

(Chapter 11: Photography)

Lester, P. (2014) Visual Communication: Images with Words. Boston: Wadsworth.

Cartoon Characters Are Incredible.

If you’re a 90’s kid like me, then Disney/Pixar was your childhood. I fell in love with so many characters that I ended up spending a lot of my time playing with figures of those characters or pretending to fill their roles myself. As a young adult, I’m just as excited about Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2 as the children in the target audience. I can’t wait to see my favorite childhood characters make a comeback!

What is it about animated characters that fascinates us so much? Perhaps there is something in their personalities and struggles that we as an audience can follow or even relate with. According to Lester (2014), “The degree of realism with which the characters are drawn often indicates whether the strip is humorous or serious … Expressions connote emotional states that may help explain a character’s motives” (p. 260). In other words, character designers are very strategic in the way they design their characters’ looks, personalities, and interactions.

One great example is The Incredibles (2004), a personal childhood favorite of mine, which depicts a family of superheroes that has been forced to blend into society. I won’t go into too much detail about the plot itself, but the characters within the family are worth analyzing. Although casual viewers may not catch onto this, the super powers and personalities of each character are both reflective and relatable.

Mr. Incredible has the power of super strength, which is reflective of a proud father figure who is trying to serve as the foundation for his family, of which he attempts to support all on his own without letting anyone else share the burden.

Mrs. Incredible has the power of elasticity, which is reflective of an overwhelmed mother figure who is literally stretching in all directions to meet her numerous conflicting obligations.

Violet has the power of invisibility and force fields, which is reflective of an insecure teenage girl who wishes to fade into the background and keep everyone out.

Dash has the power of super speed, which is reflective of a young boy with tireless energy and boundless potential.

All of these characters are designed to look and feel authentic. Although their physical features are somewhat exaggerated by their cartoon design, they appear human enough to evoke certain emotional connections from viewers, and their behavior is tailored to match a typical American family dynamic.

Lester, P. (2014) Visual Communication: Images with Words. Boston: Wadsworth.

There’s An Infographic For That

Trying to make healthy choices? Working on a new business plan? Catching up with your favorite sports team? There’s an infographic for that!

Whether your passion is food, anatomy, business, sports, or technology, someone somewhere probably devised a clever combination of words and images to capture your attention. “The best infographic designs draw the viewer into the wonder of the data and represent the true merging of word and image” (Lester, 2014, p. 238).

People create them for a variety of reasons, from representing graphical data to simply arranging fun household tips into an image that is both fun and easy to read. The choices fall on the designer, but the bottom line is s/he is attempting to convey a certain message in a creative way that maximizes the utility of both words and pictures.

Food (4)

The above image is both aesthetically-pleasing and easy to follow from the base up. It provides a wide range of options that intentionally keep viewers looking for a while as they decide which combination works for them. It is also relatively simple; the blender in the background complements the textual content.

The next example appeals to dog owners who are not entirely sure which foods are safe for their pets.

Dog

This infographic not only states which foods are safe and which are not, but also provides images of each food to help break up the text. When you read the word watermelon, you have to allow your brain to think of what a watermelon is and what it looks like, whereas this infographic does the work for you!

The short-but-sweet descriptions are useful as well, and the categorical arrangement of text and images is an intentional decision by the designer to appeal to the human brain’s natural tendency to compartmentalize information.

Infographics are a great way to use text and images to get a message across. Because humans typically remember only thirty percent of what they read as opposed to eighty percent of what they see, infographics are a revolutionary means of presenting information and ensuring greater retention.

(Chapter 9: Informational Graphics)

Lester, P. (2014) Visual Communication: Images with Words. Boston: Wadsworth.

Making Pictures Out Of Words

Between these two images, which one is the most attractive to you? Does one make you feel more or less inclined to go watch this movie than the other? The answer is a no-brainer: the bottom image is clearly more eye-catching than its counterpart on the top, but why?

People do not usually consider text to be an art form, but it most certainly can be. Notice that neither Clash of the Titans logo contains artwork in the background because, in this case, the letters themselves are the artwork! The designer of the second image clearly put a significant amount of thought and consideration into the design of each letter by manipulating the use of light, shadows, and lines to create a particular three-dimensional perspective.

While I know nothing about Clash of the Titans, I can assume a great deal from what I see in the second logo, whereas the first logo tells me nothing. The simple font can be found in any Microsoft Office product, and it does not reflect anything about the brand or personality of the movie it is naming.

While the principles of typography can be approached in a multitude of ways, the personal perspective is one of the most important because it forces the designer to ask important questions about the personal decisions s/he will make in regards to the final design. What message is s/he trying to present or represent? How important is the typeface to the message in this particular situation? Which elements need more emphasis than others, and how can the typeface assist in this goal?

The choices are endless. “In addition to the obvious choice of the particular typeface style, a single word or a block of copy varies in its size, placement, color of the letters, the background, column width, length, and justification style” (Lester, 2014, p. 153). A designer must decide how to manipulate the text in a way that makes a lasting impact. The images below, for example, are highly-recognizable thanks to the particular design choices.

Typographic art does not stop with the letters themselves; many graphic designers have a little fun with the brand by incorporating images into their textual logos.

BBC logos are a common example of this; those who have any understanding of Doctor Who and Sherlock would see the TARDIS in the first logo and the face of Sherlock Holmes inside the TARDIS in the famous “Wholock” crossover logo. Harry Potter is also well-known for the intentional incorporation of a lightning bolt in the “P.”

Modern technology is so advanced that designers have access to more features than ever. A picture may be worth thousands of words, but that does not make words obsolete. Clever minds continue to convert words into pictures with extended meanings of their own; you just have to know how to read them.

(Chapter 7: Typography)

Lester, P. (2014) Visual Communication: Images with Words. Boston: Wadsworth.

I’m In This Group, But I’m Not A Stereotype.

If a picture is capable of expressing thousands of words, then what kind of impact would a 2-minute news piece have? From the looks of American reactions to Islamic terrorism, the quick answer would be “a great deal.”

Naming and labeling things are innate human tendencies, but when labels turn into generalizations, prejudice lurks not far behind. The nature of brainwashing is, after all, resultant of hearing or seeing the same thing over and over again to the point that you believe it regardless of whether or not you held that belief before. Stereotypes are, unfortunately, a twisted form of brainwashing that claims the minds of almost everyone to some degree.

Stereotypes are thoughts, typically, but they can be particularly dangerous when expressed and spread through imagery. “Because pictures affect a viewer emotionally more than words alone do, pictorial stereotypes often become misinformed perceptions that have the weight of established facts” (p. 101).

While pictures tell stories, they do not always capture the complete truth. If someone shows you the above image, for example, and tells you the attack it depicts, among many others, was carried out by Islamic terrorists, you may begin to fear for your life. People can take images like that and do whatever they want to incite certain emotions in their viewers.

As a result, countless people equate Islam—a peaceful religion—with terror, bloodshed, and evil acts of unwarranted violence in the name of Allah. Thanks to digital media technologies, there is an unfathomable number of images and videos that reinforce the stereotype that all Muslims are terrorists and are not to be trusted. People see negative propaganda, tragic news stories, or hurtful political statements that completely undermine everyone in this group and, as a result, they begin to feel a certain way about the group whether the sentiments were preconceived or not.

Fortunately, not all images feed the flames of stereotypical thinking. There are some movements that attempt to alter people’s thinking about certain groups by emphasizing the simple truth that there can be no generalization against a particular group, because nothing could possibly encompass every individual human life that makes up the groups in question.

Buzzfeed is a popular website that put together a series of videos that aim to change viewers’ perspectives on certain groups by having members of said groups proclaim who they are, but also who they are not. One of the most popular videos they created was “I’m Muslim, But I’m Not…”

Images are extremely influential; some people use them for just causes, while others use them to manipulate others to perceive something in a specific, narrow-minded way. As digital media becomes more and more prevalent, it will be interesting to see how certain agendas will present themselves and where this nation will go from here.

(Chapter 5: Visual Stereotypes)

Lester, P. (2014) Visual Communication: Images with Words. Boston: Wadsworth.

What Signs And Symbols Mean To You

You’re driving along a complicated series of country roads, tired and hungry from driving all day, and then you see it in the distance: those glorious golden arches. Whether you’re a fast food junkie or not, all you can think about is the taste of a juicy quarter pounder making its way to your mouth.

By reading this scenario, how long did it take you to figure out which company the “golden arches” and “quarter pounder” refer to? You probably didn’t even have to get to the part about the quarter pounder before your mind quickly interpreted the reference to a McDonald’s company logo. In fact, an image like this one probably came to mind as you read:

Believe it or not, you just saw, perceived, and interpreted a symbolic sign. “Words, numbers, colors, gestures, flags, costumes, most company logos, music, and religious images are all considered symbols” (Lester, 2014, p. 55). These types of signs all mean something to people, yet some of the meanings can be universal—such as the McDonald’s logo—while others have more subjective meanings.

Consider this image:

Anyone who doesn’t know this is the Confederate flag probably lives under a rock, which would make the sign universal, right? While the label itself is universal, the personal interpretations of this image could go in a number of directions. Many share the sentiment that this flag is racist, while others—particularly in the south—see it as a symbol of heritage. History scholars may reflect on its historical significance, while individuals in the news media tend to jump on the newsworthiness of American outrage and heated debate over this flag.

Technically, the Confederate flag is a piece of fabric with the colors red, white, and blue arranged in a specific pattern. If it was transported back in time to generations that lived before the Civil War, no one would give this specific arrangement of colors a second thought.

Even in modern society, a baby is not born with the basic understanding of what the Confederate flag stands for. S/he could have one as a blanket and never be the wiser until s/he goes to school or learns about the flag from his/her parents.

The meanings people attach to objects based on their experiences are what shape the very nature of semiotics. No one is born with an understanding of what each symbolic sign means; many of these perceptions are shaped by experience or taught directly by others.

(Chapter 3: Visual Theories)

Lester, P. (2014) Visual Communication: Images with Words. Boston: Wadsworth.