Tufte’s book is filled with interesting concepts and pushed me to think about data differently. So many points he made really pushed me to think about the visual impact of my site rather than the content. While our projects are content-driven, without visual appeal no one will stay to see the content. Now, we have the additional concern of clarity. If my content is not clear, even if it is pretty, it still won’t keep people on the site. So now I have a three-tiered problem to solve: good content, with visual appeal, while still presenting the data clearly. Actually, it’s more a circle than anything else. Either way – I can’t crack the nut without addressing each point. It’s the addressing the 3 points (and however many more I discover over the next few weeks) at the same time that’s proving difficult.
Regarding data: Even if my data is words, there is still a massive range of ways to present my data. And I’m talking about things other than Wordle.net. There are so many different ways to present data visually, and privileging my words simply because they’re my words is doing a great disservice to digital media. I’m back to brevity and clarity. My 20+ page paper simply won’t translate to a digital format as is. I have to take my own advice and make every word count.
To color: The web visits are focused on color, and I face a common dilemma. My source image for color is Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter, with its American flag background – and Rockwell’s signature color was red. Vermilion, to be precise. So my choices are Rosie’s red, white, and blue, and I feel that no matter what I do, if I’m talking about Rockwell that vermilion MUST appear. I want to use it as an accent color, and I have to be subtle about it (because it’s vermilion, and that’s far too vibrant and bold a color to feature prominently). This is where Tufte is coming into play. On page 112, Tufte shows an example of misuse of color. “Accidental communalities in design can easily induce false groupings in the eyes of viewers, who are often busy searching for visual hints that help to boil down, organize, group, and otherwise make sense of multiple images.” From which I infer that purposeful communalities create actual, intended groupings for viewers, and will help them boil down, organize, group and otherwise make sense of my data.
One final point: The concept of visual confection is intriguing, but, frankly, a bit over my head. I understand it to be a version of collage, taking multiple images to create a different image. A confection is a composite image that conveys both the information of the component images along with the information of a larger (meta?) image. If I have understood the basic concept correctly, this is an immensely valuable tool for digitally presenting information. Our data (words) are infinitely connectible. We can combine it with other, different, data to covey information on different levels.
I think that my application of this would be not just the use of vermilion as an accent color on a page about Norman Rockwell. It would also include a separate accent color for (theoretical) future pages. For a piece on Carolina Gold rice, my accent color is the pale gold of the raw grain. If there is a piece about Japanese internment, the accent color would be the steel gray of barbed wire. Unfortunately, carrying the color theme to the home page becomes an issue. Do I use these accent colors on the home page, therefore cluttering the page with too many colors? Is there such a thing as too many colors if they all work together? And how do I know they work together? The glaring example of the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (p. 76-77) clearly demonstrates that there absolutely are groups of colors that do not work together. Frankly, though, so does watching “What Not To Wear”.