Monday, April 16, 2012

On Multimodal Online Journals

Over the last few weeks in New Media Theory and Practice we’ve taken some time to review a variety of online journals that allow scholars to present their research through multi-modal avenues or present research that explores multimodal texts.  We’ve examined Technoculture, C&C OnlineCCC Online, Kairos, Enculturation, and Flow.  Each of these journals has a slightly different scope, purpose and audience, but they all have this common thread in the way they value multimodality. 

As I looked at these, I was particularly interested in observing interface decisions and design choices.  While the field has had decades to establish good design choices for print journals, it’s clear to me that we’re still developing this genre for the digital world. 

One interesting observation I had while I was looking at each of these was the dominance of blue in the design.  With the exception of Technoculture, all of these journals use blue as a dominant design color (though Enculturation’s might be said to be a bit more purple than blue).  Having noticed this pattern I started to wonder why this coincidence occurred.  This led me to an article on a site called Web Design Ledger called “55 Beautifully Blue Web Designs toInspire You.”

The author of that post, Gisele Muller actually encourages design using the color blue because of the associations that go with it.  While the connotation of sky and sea that Muller references is one reason blue might be a good design choice, another reason might be accessibility. 

In an interview with, Garr Reynolds, author of Presentation Zen talks about color choice and says, “You need to realize that lot of people are color blind, so it is safer to use shades of blue or gray than using lot of colors. There are really no hard and fast rules for colors” (Read the whole interview).

Thus, blue might be a go-to web design color because it’s more interesting than gray while retaining accessibility to those who are color blind.  Interesting stuff.

Screen Shot of Flow
Screen Shot of Flow
As I considered the design of these sites, I think I was most drawn to the ones that were simplistic and straight forward in design.  Flow, whose content I find most interesting because they welcome articles that are somewhere between journalistic and academic, was the least appealing to me as a navigator, though the page as a whole is not unattractive.  It was hard for me to prioritize my viewing experience because there was so much to choose from.  

Instead, I preferred Technoculture and Enculturation's interfaces.  
Screen Shot of Enculturation
Screen Shot of Enculturation
Screen Shot of Technoculture
Screen Shot of Technoculture
I had a slight preference for the latter because all of its navigational options were on one side, rather than on both left and right of the main column of the page.  As I think about these preferences, however, I cannot help but to assume that I have these preferences as a result of my book-biased cognition.  I think I am used to and comfortable with the linear consumption of knowledge.  Perhaps it is not that Flow has a problematic interface, but rather my mind is uncomfortable with the prospect of having to learn as a means to gain access to a document.  I wonder if the next generation will feel more comfortable in such interfaces and if my comfort will grow as these things become more commonplace?

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