Writing to the World Wide Web
Rhetoric is the practice of analyzing who your audience is - figuring out what motivates them, what they value, and what they need - and based on this assessment, tailoring your communication message so that they'll respond to it. This is an Aristotelean definition; Aristotle defined rhetoric as "the ability in each particular case, to find the available means of persuasion."
If you read my article, you know that "For Aristotle, there were three means of persuasion: logical appeals (logos); appeals to emotion (pathos), and appeals based on the credibility or character of the speaker (ethos). Most technical communicators use these appeals in their work, perhaps without really thinking about it, as they persuade the users of their information products about such things as the credibility and usefulness of the information they provide. In traditional hypermedia and hypertext projects that technical communicators undertake (in which the goal is to present information to a specific group of users to help them complete a specific task), technical communicators frequently make appeals based on logos by ensuring that there is a logical structure that the users can follow so that they don't get 'lost in hyperspace.' Moreover, technical communicators might make an appeal based on ethos by using language that is clear, simple, and concise and that therefore appears understandable and credible. And finally (though perhaps less frequently), they might make an appeal based on pathos by designing interfaces that use metaphors for calming nervous users by activating familiar frameworks."
In print documents, ethos could be conveyed in part through the materiality of the document, that is, through the quality of paper, the type of printface selected, the consistent use of graphics, etc. You are able to tell, to some degree, the credibility of the information based on the fact that it was printed, and due to the way it was designed and layed out. The web is changing that this materiality because of the impermanence of the documents created online. However, one result of the transformation from print to electronic media is the ability to establish a different sort of ethos, one that I think is more communal in nature.
In my article I talk about three ways: by establishing links to others who share similar interests, information, etc., by using the Web as a means of expressing personal creativity, and through reciprocity, that is, providing information that is useful to a specific web community with the expectation that you'll receive something in return.
In Mok's view, identity is established or affirmed with any interaction a client has with a company. This interaction can come through either direct communications or through products. Some examples are through the interface of a computer product (think of the ethos expressed through the Macintosh interface); through an interaction with a customer service rep on the phone (if you've ever talked to a rep from Sprint, MCI, or AT&T, you have a good idea of what this is all about); or through a corporate sponsorship of an event or product (think of the Pepsi arena in Albany, or the numerous corporate sponsorships present at the 1996 Olympics).
The "right question" is that of figuring out what the problem is before you go about designing a solution to it. As Mok says, "Whre identity is concerned, a business needs to define problems clearly before beginning the planning and organization states of any project, and such clarification is best accomplished in collaboration with design consultants" (p. 78).
Mok talks about "being explicit" in his discussion of a product's look and feel. Because digital media such as the web are so new, many people are trying to map existing experiences with other media such as print onto digital media. This isn't a good thing to do because, as Mok points out, "the subtleties that can lend sophistication and beauty to content (in print and film) do not automatically carry over to electronic media" (p. 88). As a result, "It's important for designers to be aware that articulating a simple idea in digital graphic form can be more difficult than anticipated...Being explict in the graphical interpretation of ideas is an important design consideration."
A product's look are those visual and physical elements that establish it identity: the graphics and typeface used, the size of the product, the paper stock, etc. The way the physical parts work together constitute its feel. Obviously, when a product is on a computer screen, it loses that tactile, physical manifestation that people have relied on to gain a sense of the identity expressed through the product. As a result, when designing for digital media, you have to think of ways to re-establish the "feel" of a product in "virtual" ways.
In the first ad, the company described itself as a "fast-growing and exciting," and then provided a lot of detail..."we've hired 100+ people in the last year." The ad was oriented toward the company, not toward the type of people the company was looking to hire. In contrast, the other ad was entirely "you"-oriented. It was written in the second person, and it contained several references and buzzwords that only people who are of the mindset they're looking to hire would understand.
In one of the ads that Philip showed the class, there was a line that said something like, "You know that content is king," meaning that the information that a company, person, institution, etc., conveys over the Web is more important than the bells and whistles - animation, sound, graphics, etc. -- used to get your attention. The assumption made in this statement is that there is a split between form and content, and that content is better or more important. I think there many cases where the designers of websites have spent far too much time designing graphics, animation sequences, etc., without thinking about the message they want to convey. But I think that ideally, form and content are inseparable. The content is best delivered in conjunction with the other "bells and whistles" you put in.
This is one of those cultural references that we talked about when discussing language conventions, similar to the Car Talk guys mentioning Ralph Nader. It's a reference to a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Anyone who has seen the cartoon is part of the culture, and therefore part of the audience, that the ad is aiming for.
Brownie Point Bonus: Give me an example of a website that has successfully established a "professional" ethos and explain how this was done (through language, graphics, etc.).
As with last time, if you answered this question, it gets you credit in my evaluation of your contribution to the class.