The New Media Parlour

City Farm Project Report, Week Five

It’s taken a few weeks for the City Farm project to really take shape. The initial ideas that we had for City Farm (a series of videos, a volunteer communication management system, and a new invoicing system) were all meet with some hesitation from the board of directors and we discovered some approval hurdles that we couldn’t get over. I was a little discouraged after hearing that we didn’t have any concrete project that City Farm seemed interested in us producing. But we regrouped with Andy and discovered the areas of the farm that he had jurisdiction over and didn’t need the board’s approval for.  We brainstormed some good ideas in class last week for new ideas and projects that could help City Farm. The signage/beautification project will be a huge help to increase their presence in the neighborhood as well as help me gain experience in design and layout. We will give them a cohesive design across all their paper material and signs.

I was a little worried that the signage project wasn’t going to give me the chance to gain experience in any digital production. One of the parts of this project that I was looking forward to was the video production, which is one area that I don’t have any experience in.  I think we were all looking forward to doing some video production for City Farm so I’m glad that we pushed the video idea a little more with them; making sure they knew that we were being respectful of the video work that was already being done by a donor, and making the video more useful to Andy on the farm instead of for promotion for the organization as a whole (which would fall under the board’s jurisdiction and would be hard to get the “ok” on). I liked that we found a way to resurrect the video project, coming at it from a new angle and making the technology work for the client. I never would have thought initially that we could use a video as an educational resource for volunteers that were already at the farm, only as a way to attract new volunteers. But after listening to Andy’s needs and what he had control over, we came to a solution that works for everyone.

The volunteer management system and invoicing systems are on hold temporarily, mostly because the board is being vague about what they have, what they are working on, and how we can help. We discussed last week that perhaps they aren’t sure of what our expertise or abilities are. So we came up with a concrete list of projects that we could do for them. One that may go over well is a website consultation. There would be no commitment on their end for us to execute the new site, but will give us a chance to do some web design, usability analysis and testing, and layout suggestions. Hopefully they will be open to listening to our suggestions at the very least. Sometimes you have to show the client what you are capable of in order to show them how you can help.

My goal for next week is to work hard to get a storyboard and script together for the “how you can help” video. I have some initial mock ups that I did, but didn’t show them to the group last week because I thought the video idea was dead. I think the shooting and production of the videos will be time consuming and we need to make it a priority to start working on that as soon as possible. Since I was not able to go on the field trip to the farm last Friday, I would like to get a better feel for what the space is like, where people think signage could go, and an inventory list of all the material that we will be designing. I am going to look into printing companies in Chicago to see the cost of production so we know if this something that is within City Farm’s budget, or if our class can get a small grant from DePaul to help them with the costs. I was going to look into cost before class today, but didn’t have a very good idea of what sizes, quantity, or material we were looking at.

Overall, I am much more confident about our City Farm project this week. I think our team has done a good job of not abandoning the client and find new and creative ways to use our skills to help them.


Kress Visual Representation

My original visual for kress was this word cloud that transforms into Kress’ favorite term “meaning-making” which shows his goal of creating a cohesive language for multimodality.

After Michael told us we can’t use words in our representation, I put together this very rough visual that shows how differently cats are portrayed in different cultural environments.

“Multimodality” by Gunther Kress, Part 1

I have mixed feelings about reading scholarly work. Sometimes I’ll come across a sentence or explanation that breaks down exactly how I think something should be laid out, I want to read it out loud to whomever will listen (usually my cat) and tell them “THIS is what new media truly stands for!” Other times I think it’s a little excessive to take five pages to explain why a 6 year-old drawing of circles signifies a car.

With that preface, there were quite a few parts to Kress’ analysis of multimodality that resonated with me, even if he was a bit repetitive in his arguments. He begins by laying out the nature of contemporary communication culture. Kress notes that there are quite a few areas of contemporary communication that need to move beyond past definitions, including authorship and page design.

He explains how the idea of authorship is changing as content is shared online more easily. The structure, he explains, is more horizontal, open, participatory. I love the idea of authorship being more open to anyone who wishes to participate; that huge media and publishing conglomerates don’t control what ends up in front of readers. Yet there is still a stigma around open source authorship and shared information. “In all domains of communication these rearrangements in power can be conceptualized as a shift…Authorship in particular is in urgent need of theorizing. The debate here is marked by a profound incomprehension and hence hostility, which is evident in terms such as ‘plagiarism’ and ‘cutting & pasting.’”(p. 21)

Kress makes a great observation on how different generations are used to reading a page of content. Older readers are used to text on a page, columns, and a path to follow. Younger generations, who are used to the buffet of content found on websites, will seek out the information they are interested in and ignore what they don’t care about. “Unlike traditional page, designed with a given order/arrangement for the reader’s engagement, this site – a homepage, which has visitors rather than readers – is given an ordering by the reader’s interests through their ordering-as-design. The readers’ interests determine how they engage with this page.” (p. 38)

The real meat of what Kress discusses in this first half of the book is that any communicational understanding needs to be framed within the culture that is being understood. And with that, the person attempting to understand and make conclusions on the semiotic platform of a culture must only theorize to the extent that they understand. He digs deeper into this idea with his thorough explanation of the process of communication between a person and their audience. There are two sides to communication, the rhetor and the interpreter. “The social is present twice in this framework: through the interest of the rhetor, who acts with a strong sense of the social characteristics of the audience and their relations to the rhetor; and through the social location and interest of interpreters…Each brings their cultural/semiotic resources and values.” (p. 45) Communication is this complex dance between two people, each has to consider the contextual culture that the other is entrenched in order to get most full meaning from the message.

Over and over again Kress emphasizes that communications and semiotics cannot be analyzed or understood without acknowledging the cultural principles that are at play. He brings this idea home in chapter 4, when he ties this theory into semiotics to create the title theory of “social-semiotic theory of multimodality”. “In a social-semiotic account of meanings, individuals, with their social histories, socially shaped, located in social environments, using socially made, culturally available resources, are agentive and generative in sign-making and communication…Signs are always newly made in social interaction.” (p. 54) In order for people to interact and understand each other’s messages, there must be some understanding of the other’s culture, history, and social environment.

An inspired moment for me, as a designer still trying to find her place, was in the first chapter, when he explains his definition of design. Design illustrates “a move away from anchoring communication in convention as social regulation. Design focuses on an individual’s realization of their interest in their world.” (p. 6) Although there are principles that we study in design classes, design is not something you can teach. Truly good design comes when you back burner the general principles that you’ve learned and work with what your personal principles are, how you think design should be framed.