Vermilion Confections

28 Feb

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  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”.


Posted by on February 28, 2011 in Project, Readings


5 responses to “Vermilion Confections

  1. Erin

    February 28, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Ha.. I laugh because I am the exact same boat. I had hoped to get rid of my red, which while it doesn’t have a pretty name like “vermilion” is quite distinct and very. Red.

    I think eventually, I’ll take the class’ suggestion to lighten my background, but for now, with regard to color, I’m a bit in paralysis by analysis. Especially now that I’ve read the section you address here. Color salad anyone? I’m worried that is what I’ll create!

    I do think it’s okay for you to use different highlight colors on different sub-pages of your final site. You’ll just need to make sure you have a complete palette and that those colors work together when they are seen together — most likely in some way on your homepage. Those of use with super colorful images have a distinctly issue from those strapped with sepia-toned images and I’m very curious to see how we all work that out!

    • zaynawoman

      February 28, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      I want to shift to a different off-white background, and I’m playing with shifting tones away from straight blue and red. However, they are still QUITE ugly (painfully so) and I refuse to subject anyone other than me to my current bumbling. Hopefully I’ll have something…not nasty…by class.

      • Erin

        March 1, 2011 at 10:33 am

        I thought about that too. Off-whites and playing with the opacity of colors, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet.

  2. Clay Farrington

    February 28, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    The “what not to wear” of web pages happens to be:

    Be forewarned that they are really, really awful.

    I would love to see some of the “confection” examples Tufte used transformed into home pages, but from the examples he gives, I can see that there is a very thin line between a sumptuous confection and cluttery kitsch.

  3. Kellie

    March 1, 2011 at 11:00 am

    I love the fact that you point out the various things that show us how not to mesh certain colors together – particularly What Not to Wear. Although my problem is that Victorians over used colors so much that I think I have become blind to the mismatched over-the-top color. And it doesn’t help that I have never had a sense of color prior to my studies on the Victorian period.
    I think your three tiered problem – good content, visual appeal and presenting data clearly – has to be a four tiered problem. I think we need to also include the 4th point – clarity of words since you are absolutely correct when you say 20 pages is too long for a web project. Editing an argument into a brief abstract or even into 8 pages is a necessary skill to develop for the web as well.


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