Written for History 697: History and New Media
This week’s Clio class readings cover visual architecture in site design. The presentation of Carole Guevin’s article, Visual Architecture: The Rule of Three ignores her own best rules, yet demonstrates perhaps equally relevant points for historians that Wroblewski emphasizes in Visible Narratives: Understanding Visual Organization Images illustrate content rather than overpower it; text is image in the sense that it provides a visual link to the hierarchical organization of information; visual organization leads viewers to the information we seek to convey and that they want.
Some rules influencing site design have become perhaps sacrosanct: pull viewers in in six seconds, or they’re gone; play to the quick fix, MTV generation. I doubt that’s true for the preponderance of history sites, perhaps even for sites in general. Why? I’d surmise that more often than not, history sites are destination locations, whether they are sites for public history venues, archival sites, or topical sites developed to disseminate research and information. The visual organization of history sites doesn’t necessarily have to hook in the dubious; it has to tell the visitor that the information that they need is there and where it can be found. And the more expeditiously visual architecture enables that process, the better.
So, let’s go back to Carole Guevin’s article. It is cleanly on the page and easy to follow; but the above-the-fold section is not visually compelling; it’s text. I am there because I chose the site and I want to know what she’s got to say. It’s a destination location; I’m not browsing. Regardless of her presentation, I’d stay there long enough to find out what I need to know, and the minimalistic visual cues keep me focused on the organization of her material without distraction. It’s not pretty, but for this kind of message anyway, it works.