Thursday, May 10, 2007

Adventures in visual communication

I've been dabbling in visual communication these past few days, and have produced, at best mixed, results.

First, based on a 20-minute stakeout of my typewriter exhibit at Portland Community College's Sylvania campus, I'd have to declare it a resounding dud. I observed the display from about 30 feet away as a stream of students sauntered past it without giving the six endlessly fascinating typewriters a glance.

Well, a couple glanced but didn't break stride. They seemed to regard the display as a fleeting visual annoyance. Others were too busy talking on their cellphones to notice anything. Talking or dancing typewriters wouldn't have attracted their attentions. Other strollers might simply have been hungry. (The food court is just across from the display case.)

But I shouldn't make excuses because next to my display is another — a cluttered but colorful mess that shows posters and puppets belonging to the campus Anime Club. In the time I was watching the inaction at my window, the Anime Club draw five or six real avid gawkers.

It just so happens that I am teaching a visual communication class at PCC this term so I asked my students for a critique. "Needs some color and the type on the description is too small to read," said one astute student.

In short, the whole thing lacks allure. "Lure" is the key part of the word. Sitting watching my display, waiting for a response, I was reminded of fishing...with the wrong lure. Or maybe these particular fish — young, in a hurry — just won't bite on typewriters, not matter what lure I use.

The other approach would be to stand next to the case and hawk.

"Hey, check these out! Vintage word processors!"

"Ever hear of Hemingway? He used one of those!" etc.

No, force feeding typewriters to this young generation is a waste of time, especially when....

I've been hard at work on a "header" for the two Hillsdale web sites I plan to launch next month. I put "header" in quotes because that is a web term. In the newspaper business we'd call these front page name displays "flags," which are not to be mistaken for "mastheads," as they often are. (The masthead is usually on the editorial page and gives the names of the publisher, top editors and other executives. Now you know.)

Anyway, here is a draft of my first attempt at a header for one of the web sites. This one is for the Hillsdale Business & Professional Association. Most of its members are located in the Hillsdale Town Center, hence the name on the header.

This time I may have gone overboard with color. I may put photos behind those letters instead of solid colors. We'll see. Then, of course, relying on ubiquitous, corporate Helvetica font is certain to attract graphic disdain. But my astute student would certainly agree that at least its large and clear enough to be legible.

I'm learning.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I noticed the display yesterday, though I admittedly did not stop to look at it yet as I was on my to work (but do plan on taking a closer look next time I'm in the building). I think our campus is a challenging place to get anyone's attention. In part I think that's just the nature of a commuter school. There may be other factors as well (such as the size of the campus and the short periods between classes). When I've done voter registration and other sorts of tabling on campus I've found it very difficult to get people to stop--worse than on other campuses. People just walk by and avoid eye-contact (I'm sure it doesn't help that the lower mall is always full of army recruiters and vendors). The display cases suffer another problem, being in a hallway away from any leisure area--it's just not a part of campus (or even the building for that matter) where students stop. It's like putting a display case on the side of the freeway. I imagine it would be more successful if it were placed in or next to the lounge, or in the upper mall near the seating.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rick: I wonder if the exhibit would receive more attention if it were titled something like:
"Evolution of the Computer"
Frank Baker,

6:00 PM  

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