Monthly Archives: February 2015

Comment on Alyssa’s Post 4: “Color”

Alyssa’s Blog 4: “Color”

Like Alyssa, I am also struggling to find the right color palette for my WWII-era Web page.  She and I share the same reticence about inserting outlandish color schemes into otherwise historically focused Web sites.  Perhaps if the subject is actually “fun” — say, like 19th Century children’s games — then such palettes are appropriate. However, Alyssa and I both share subjects that are  serious in nature: war and disaster.  The challenge is to find a color scheme that represents the period without making light of the nature of our historical topics.  In these cases, I agree fully with Alyssa: grays, blacks, off-whites, and other neutral colors seem to be most appropriate. But they don’t catch one’s eye, and that’s the approach we need to follow to grab someone’s attention and impart our historical knowledge upon him or her.  She and I are contemplating the same things right now: how to find a proper but historical color scheme for our Web projects that meet that one key mandate of good design — grabbing one’s attention. Thanks for the insight, Alyssa. I take comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one struggling with historically appropriate color.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Jordan’s Post 4: “Color me #C60C30, #002244, & #FFFFFF”

Jordan’s Blog: “Color me #C60C30, #002244, & #FFFFFF”

My thanks to Jordan for his inspiring comments on dealing with color schemes in Web design. Jordan commented on my post — the one in which I lamented my difficulty in finding a good WWII-related color scheme — by advocating the same thing he discussed in the context of using maps: use the color schemes represented by the terrain as a way to find a middle ground in effective color representation. I found that guidance to be remarkably insightful because, as many have stated, “green” is the color that comes to mind when thinking about WWII. Ironically, green is a postwar representation of WWII uniform colors and equipment. The real color was “olive drab,” which appears more brownish and, in some cases, tan-like than green. I own over 200 WWII U.S. uniforms (I know, I know — but the veterans gave them to me!), so I know those colors extremely well. Therefore, working the postwar “green” a la MASH and other TV representations of military situations into my color scheme technically misrepresents the period. In effect, it is anachronistic. But by focusing on the landscape as Jordan suggests, I can incorporate “green” as one of the period’s true colors, capturing both the true color scheme of the scrubs and hedgerows above the D-Day beaches while meeting my audience’s expectations for “green Army stuff.”  Thanks, Jordan. As always, you’ve been a great help to me.

Steve Rusiecki

Reading Blog 4 (History 697): Blinded by the Science and Art . . . of Color!

Like most people, I like exciting color combinations that are evocative, attractive, and interesting.  In fact, stark contrast, a key rule proffered by Rebecca Hagen and Kim Golombisky (H&G, 132), tends to be the most exciting aspect of experiencing various color schemes.  And, as Robin Williams points out, nothing makes more sense in developing contrast than to employ the “amazing color wheel” (Williams, 96).  But for me, finding the right color palette to evoke a specific time period has been challenging, particularly for the period reflecting my primary research area of interest — World War II (1941-1945).

Hagen’s and Golombisky’s brief guidelines for selecting colors that evoke historical periods are useful but, in many ways, quite obvious (H&G, 120-121). They don’t address methods for finding color schemes that evoke periods in which color imagery was not omnipresent. The low-hanging fruit always tends to be the 1950s (turquoise and pink) or the 1970s (orange and avocado — yucch!).   We know of these color schemes because, by the mid- to late-1950s, color film was emerging and slowly eclipsing black-and-white film.  But during World War II, for reasons of wartime necessity,  black and white had become the exclusive domain of film, newspapers, and magazines. Color film and photography, although extant between 1941 and 1945, required too many critical materials needed for the war effort. In fact, Life magazine, America’s preeminent photographic periodical of the day, only used black and white photographs on its covers and in its interior layouts. For the most part, color pictures appearing on magazine covers throughout the war had been “colorized” by hand, giving them a “washed-out” appearance that subdued the colors’ effects. The overall impact of this situation was to to make black, white, and various shades of gray the dominant colors of the time period.

This black-and-white dominance, however, does not bode well for a Web-site design that seeks to attract users while still evoking the time period. Some color has to come through. One of the oft-used colors that appeared throughout the period was a dull, subdued red, which sometimes founds its way into the typography of some newspaper headlines and in other print media, particularly in Army-produced print magazines like YANK and Army Talks.  Vivid, cobalt blue, which exemplified the earlier 1930s art-deco period, carried over somewhat into the war years. For those reasons, I’ve settled on combinations of blue, red, gray, black, and white to evoke the World War II period. I’m not sure how my final product will appear, but at least black, white, and gray, according to Hagen and Golombisky, fall into the category of “works-every-time-colors,” so I think I’m on firm ground (H&G, 123). I used all of these colors in my portfolio page (minus the red), and they seemed to work well.  I tried to use the “Check my Colours” app to validate the color contrast on my Portfolio page, but I could not get the app to work properly. I guess I’ll just have to go with my “gut” and the good ole color wheel. I look forward to the final result.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Eric’s Post 3: “Don’t You Dare Center ANYTHING.”

Eric’s Post 3: “Don’t’ You Dare Center ANYTHING.”

I would like to echo Eric’s thanks to the entire class for providing positive, constructive feedback on each of the Portfolio Web pages. Everyone’s page was just great. Like Eric, I used those comments and things I learned from the Lynda.com tutorial to make improvements to my Portfolio page. I must admit that I am extremely proud of that page — even though it has a loooong way to go.

I am in the same boat as Eric when it comes to having a history of engaging in what I now know to be  design faux pas.   I, too, am someone who would have centered everything.  When  Prof. Petrik demonstrated how crappy a centered Web page appeared, I was astonished that I once thought it was a good thing to do. Not any more! I get it now! And I agree with Eric that designing in Dreamweaver through both code and in live view can be challenging, especially when considering grid and aspect ratio. I’ve begun sketching out my typography Web page, and breaking the layout into thirds and then making it happen on the site are both very challenging — but certainly not impossible.  And thanks, Eric, for the hilarious Puritan Valentine’s Day cards.  Classic stuff.

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Ben’s Post 3: “Structure” (Week 4 Readings)

Ben’s Post 3: Structure

I agree with Ben that viewing the Lynda.com tutorial “Creating a First Website in Dreamweaver CC 2014″ would have proved very helpful as an up-front viewing requirement, perhaps even before the first class meets. I stumbled upon the tutorial after our first class meeting and watched about half of it, which allowed me to build a practice Web site from scratch and then post it online. For me, that was an amazing feat, because I am not very comfortable dealing with new software.  I always seem to be the guy who hits that one button or clicks on something that causes the entire country to go to DEFCON 5 and launches the bomber fleet. The biggest problem I encountered, though,  was that the Lynda.com tutorial instructor explained how to open a new site and start building a Web page using a vastly different approach from our in-class practicum. For me, seeing something done on a computer the same way over and over again is the easiest way for me to learn it. I think reconciling the different approaches would be helpful — at least for someone like me!

Steve Rusiecki

Reading Blog 3 (History 697): Going with the Flow . . . of Layout!

Of all the principles and elements of Web design that thematically dominated this week’s readings,  three of them have always been extremely important to me: color, focal point, and flow (or movement). Rebecca Hagen, Kim Golombisky, and Ellen Lupton all provide critical guidelines to Web design and layout that, in addition to the three I have already mentioned, are indisputably essential to what I want to see in a Web site that will keep me interested for longer than two minutes. These three principles and / or elements are what guided me in developing my Portfolio page; but, as I quickly learned, knowing what you want and making it a reality on a Web site are two different things.

Color is an important design element for me, but I dislike in-your-face, gaudy colorization that assaults the senses.  I like bold, striking, and contrasting colors. In a historical Web site, I want to see (and replicate in my own work) color schemes that evoke the period under examination. Moreover, if the theme is war ( in my case World War II), the site’s colors must reflect the gravity of that event and a sense of respect for the lives lost and sacrifices made by many, many people.  In my case, dealing with the subject of D-Day and media representations of that event, I feel torn between enhancing through color what the contemporary audience of 1944 could not see at the time or instead creating a pastiche of what “was.”  The black-and-white visualizations of that day — and the dreariness captured in grainy photographs taken on the assault beaches — have made me consider more subdued colors, like varying shades of gray. But eye-catching contrast is important, especially in coloring the typography. For the moment, I’ve settled on a color akin to cobalt blue; but, as a design principle, it seems to clash with Jakob Nielsen’s guidelines for visualizing links.  I have to rethink that design approach, because I don’t want my typography color to become a roadblock to the site’s flow and movement.

Focal point is equally important to me. I prefer photographic focal points that, in one image, capture the essence of the Web site’s subject matter and time period. Again, I don’t want a lot of images sprinkled across the page unless the page is intended to be an image gallery. If the page shares a good amount of text with the photograph, then one image will suffice as the focal point. And, for me, that image must be the entry point into the layout, a point reinforced by Hagen and Golombisky (H&G, 51). I prefer the focal point to be on the left or centered at the very top, because that image becomes the starting point for what I consider to be the third critical aspect of a good Web site: flow and movement.

Perhaps I’m getting lazier as I get older, but I don’t feel like doing a lot of work in order to figure out where I should go on  Web page.  I prefer to be led along the page by my “nose hairs” (sorry!) so that I read and grasp the nature and meaning of the content without bouncing around the page trying to figure it out. I don’t like “busy” Web pages, because I’m never sure after scanning them if I’ve understood what the Web-site author wanted to communicate. I like getting my information in “chunks” (an  adult learning principle, incidentally) that are easily digestible and crystal clear. Knowing that I can read everything on the page clearly and in the order the designer wanted me to see it is important to me. For me, the ideal flow is (1) title (masthead); (2) site outline (links that give me a quick sense of the site’s scale); (3) focal point for entering the text, preferably starting from the left side (because we read from left to right); and (4) the text in left-justified, ragged-right form, either straight across the page or in no more than two columns.

Web pages designed and organized along these areas — color, focal point, and flow — tend to work best for me. But I will admit that the more I read about good design and layout, the more I learn — and the more my preferences are likely to change and evolve.  I can’t wait to put these principles and elements into practical use!

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Stephanie’s Post 2: “The Power of Typography: Balancing Your Audiences”

Stephanie’s Blog 2: “The Power of Typography: Balancing Your Audiences”

I found Stephanie’s discussion about selecting a Web font that works for dyslexic people but that may not communicate an intended (or expected) design message to be compelling.  I never considered the possibility that people suffering from dyslexia found specific font types to be easier to read than others. I had always believed that dyslexic readers simply preferred larger type with generous spacing.  I applaud Stephanie for raising this issue and for making me aware that my typography choices could inadvertently “shut out” a significant portion of my potential reading audience.  I will need to proceed with care in the future to avoid such a terrible pitfall. Thanks for a great, and very informative, blog post, Stephanie!

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Ellen’s Post 2: “The Perception and Placement of Truth”

Ellen’s Post 2: “The Perception and Placement of Truth”

Ellen and I seem to be on the same page in our skepticism regarding Phil Renaud’s claim that changing fonts directly led to better grades. Errol Morris outlines some basic statistics behind Renaud’s claim; but, like Ellen, I need to see more studies that could replicate these results in order to determine if there is something to Renaud’s claim or if what happened was an anomaly. I’m most interested to see if people assign greater credibility to one font over another. Can font selection influence what someone perceives to be true simply because that information is communicated using that font? This question is certainly worth pursuing.

I further agree with Ellen that the subject of footnotes and endnotes on the Web  is a complicated one. Perhaps the best way to get around those pesky interruptions in reading flow that seem to distress so many people is to adopt the Marco Arment technique. Readers simply tap once for the popup note to appear and then tap again to make it disappear. But, as Ellen suggests, the presentation format for these notes is what matters. She is correct in highlighting Prof. Petrik’s cautionary discussion of getting the notes “right” on the Web because they, as Prof. Petrik rightly argues, represent that critical “breadcrumb trail” that lends power to our historical arguments. I intend to use notes on my Web site project for the class, and I want to be sure that I can do two things: (1) maintain the reading flow for all users and (2) carefully capture the sources and evidence behind my assertions so that my arguments are convincing. This effort could prove challenging, though.

Lastly, I think Ellen’s portfolio Web site looks great. Very impressive! I’m glad she shared it.

Steve Rusiecki

Reading Blog 2 (History 697): Negotiating the Typographical Jungle

Until I read Ellen Lupton’s and Robin Williams’s “essentials” for typography, I had no idea how much thought and effort went into selecting the right font for any written medium, not just the Web.  In fact, I always thought that the drop-down menu in Word offering scores of unique fonts were simply there to give people a chance to be creative and to play around with their documents. I never realized how critical a selected font could be to communicating more effectively and, in some cases, more convincingly.  But I’m not fully sold on  the example Errol Morris used in his New York Times piece in which a Canadian student, Phil Renaud, believed that his grades improved solely because he changed his font choice for all subsequent submissions — unless the contrast between his two fonts was remarkable. In this sense, I am more likely to believe Morris’s contention that a font like Baskerville would receive a more favorable response from a reading audience than Comic Sans, principally due to the contrasting nature of the two fonts and the implied aura of seriousness versus frivolity.  But now that I have made that statement, I realize that I, too, have always understood the importance of the right font — albeit subconsciously.

In reflecting on past font choices for written products that I have produced for the  Army, for publication in journals, and for publication in books,  I realized that the right font did in fact make a difference. Back in the day, the Army hammered us into using Times New Roman as the “approved” Army font because it ostensibly saved paper and was easier to read.  Like most of us emerging Word users back in the early to mid-1990s, we just shrugged and followed the guidelines. But over time, many of the documents I encountered written in Times New Roman were just plain tough to read. My eyes became tired after reading a few pages, and I began to dread reading anything in that font.  Many of my colleagues felt the same way.  When I took over the Army’s Inspector General (IG) School in 2003, I made a unilateral decision to switch to a font that was easier to read and more inviting to the eye: Arial. Granted, Lupton, Williams, and company have all panned Arial as an unwelcome stepchild in the font world, mainly because it scores low on the Lupton scale (legibility, flexibility, readability, etc.) (Lupton, 20).  However, when my school began producing procedural guides in Arial for IGs to use in the field, we found that those IGs were actually using them.  I can claim with great certainty that the guides’ “readability” — as well as internal design features we employed that channel many of Robin Williams’s guidelines — made our Army IG system more productive and effective.  In other words, IGs stopped free-lancing their approaches to problem-solving and instead stuck to the procedural guidelines in the texts. Readability and design were significant factors in the feedback we received from our field IGs, but I never realized until now the true importance of selecting Arial for those guides.  I did it simply because of my own personal preference. And now I feel compelled to revisit my school’s use of Arial and to apply what I learn in Clio-Wired II  to enhance the effectiveness of my school’s doctrinal publications. Maybe another font will prove to be even better?

Selecting a font for readability is one thing; selecting a font to evoke a specific time period is another.  I want my Web site to capture the time period that encompasses my dissertation topic: media and memory on D-Day, 6 June 1944.  Searching the Web for fonts that will capture the period and the seriousness of the war have proved daunting for me. Many of the fonts aligned with the 1940s seem to evoke that art-deco, nightclub motif with a vertical stress, much like the example for “Modern” used as an example by Robin Williams (Williams, 177).  I thought that I finally hit the mark when I ran across Gotham, which is a slab-serif font that seemed to suggest bold power and authority. Yet the more I looked at it, the less it worked for me. And then I realized that, since my topic would focus on the media’s impact on America’s memory of D-Day, I should try and capture both the 1940s as an era and the way print was presented in the media during that time — or was at least produced by war correspondents in the field.  These war correspondents used portable typewriters for everything. For that matter, the Army produced all of its orders, combat journals, and the like in precisely the same way. So I stumbled upon a unique font that seemed to fit the bill: JohnDoe. This font looked precisely like the type produced by those portable typewriters of the 1940s and gave a feel for both the media and military side of the war. But for headings, I found one that, in keeping with Robin Williams’s design principles,  contrasts  perfectly with JohnDoe: Headliner. Headliner captures perfectly the bold headlines splashed across the mastheads of most major newspapers on D-Day, many of which proclaimed in super-large letters “Invasion On!”  At least for now, I feel that I have settled on two good candidates to evoke the period of D-Day on my Web site. The real test will be to see if they accord with the design and typography principles outlined in our readings. I can’t wait to test them out!

Steve Rusiecki

Comment on Peter’s Post 1: “Drucker’s Difficult Graphesis”

Drucker’s Difficult Graphesis

I am in complete agreement with Peter that Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production fell flat as a book designed to offer techniques in the practical application of visual knowledge production. Her 2011 article, which we read in Clio I last semester,  was extremely engaging and offered examples of how capta (her term for interpreted data) could be represented visually to demonstrate its inherent subjectivity.  I appreciated her historical overview of visualizations as producers of knowledge, but her final chapter, Designing Graphic Interpretation, was only 12 pages long and offered very little in terms of practical application. Her 2011 offered much more in this regard. In fact, I was quite impressed with, and drawn to, her theory of all data as capta and the need to capture the “messiness” of this data in any depiction of that information graphically. Unfortunately, she ventured into too much post-modernist territory and stayed there for the book’s duration.  I’m with Peter: Johanna Drucker passed up a great opportunity to put theory into practice.

Steve Rusiecki