Um, this started as a meditation on this previous post, but I felt that it was quickly outgrowing the “comment” genre, so I’ve turned it into a post of its own.
Thoughts on “The Page”
Most of these thoughts will make reference to Meadows’ interview with Scott McCloud on pages 127ff (which, by the way, I found to be the most rewarding of the interviews and case studies that Meadows includes in Pause & Effect.) I went and checked out McCloud’s homepage, by the way, and it’s definitely worth looking into. He’s done some neat work, I think.
First of all, here’s the question I asked at the end of Week 5’s blog:
Question: Other than feedback on my design at this point, I’m curious to hear what metaphor you think is most appropriate for websites. Are you comfortable with the print metaphor (“the page”), or does it cause problems for you? Is Meadows’ wall particularly helpful, or is there another one that you use when you design? (The word “web” itself is certainly full of implications here.)
Two points McCloud makes struck me as important in regards to that question: our use of spatial metaphors to describe narrative, and our use of monitor/page metaphors to describe comic texts. Specifically, I’d like to make a few comments on and connections to web texts here.
Point the First. McCloud points out that “almost any means of describing narrative that we have uses spatial metaphors” (127). This is an interesting point–our understanding of narrative is very much connected to how we experience space. This, of course, is all about time as well (without getting too much into the physics). We experience place over time; as many of the artists/designers that Meadows interviews point out, the most important element of interactive narrative is time. At this point, I’m just noting the space/time connection (or continuum, if you will… hah.) for myself–I’m not going to take this anywhere incredibly original at the moment…
Point the Second. The other point that interested me was the following: “I would like to see the shape of any given work [not be dictated by] a pre-existing arbitrary or technical requirement which–I think–the shape of the page is.” (127)
I’d originally asked about the power of the print metaphor in how we read, watch, see, interact with, and understand the web (the fact that I listed “read” first is telling, isn’t it?). I won’t revisit the answers (they’re all recorded in the comment section for Week 5), but most of my colleagues seemed to agree that the print metaphor works for them–generally because of how the page functions. (We read it, the web’s still largely a text medium, etc.) A few of us were uncomfortable with it, though. I think that what McCloud points out is what I’m feeling uncomfortable with. It’s not the notion of reading text that’s the problem–most pages I’ll create, at least for myself, will undoubtedly (at this point) be dominated by text, and thus “read” like a print text for the most part (left-to-right, top-to-bottom, etc.) Hypertext is only the first of many things that get us all mixed up here, of course. The notion of “linear” text is brutalized by the tangential nature of the hypertext.
(Go read a random Wikipedia article and see where you end up… You back? What happened? You cliked on something and lost twenty minutes, didn’t you. Okay.)
Meadows eventually asks McCloud about the possibilities for the monitor–McCloud goes this direction: “Not the monitor specifically, but to the notion of a limitless space, treating the monitor as a window” (128). This is a metaphor I can work with. We’ve not only changed the vehicle, but also the tenor of the metaphor as well.* That is, we’re not just thinking of the website as the medium, but of the monitor–this is a bit shift, I think. Now, the page metaphor is right out the window (literally and figuratively). Sure, we can look at “pages” through a window, but to think that it’s the only possibility for perspective out there is to focus on only one tiny little foveal bit. There’s also the sidewalk that the page is lying on, the tree casting a shadow over it, the wind blowing the page away, and the goofy kid chasing the page across the quad before his homework hits the sprinklers. My point? The page works, sure, but it’s a pre-existing requirement that’s got arbitrary conventions (edges that can’t be crossed is one that comes to mind) that work in its own context, but aren’t the only possibility with the monitor. There are important spatial elements out there; and I still like Meadows’ wall/architecture metaphor as well. In what way can we compare our homepages to “houses” (or apartment buildings, as the case may be)?
Closing Reflective Question: In many of our designs that we’ve looked at thus far, text still predominates–not that it’s a bad thing. But still, are we (as McCloud asks on 129) choosing paper, or are we having paper chosen for us? Are we making our publication choices based simply on the metaphors we’re used to working with? Or are we taking into consideration the possibilities offered by all that space out there? I’d like to think that it’s the latter, but I’m not sure yet…
Random Side Note 1: McCloud’s discussion of interactivity & authorship is great–the threat of interactivity is only as threatening as you let it be…
Random Side Note 2: Didn’t you all find Meadows’ interview with himself to be HORRIFICALLY pretentious and mind-numbing?
Random Side Note 3: This is probably just being nitpicky, but they weren’t really paying attention to the text and column layout on a lot of these pages. Some white space in some really strange places was really quite distracting to me. Especially in a text about design…
*Quick definition for the unfamiliar: a metaphor has two parts, a tenor and a vehicle. The tenor is the idea being expressed, the vehicle is the means by which the idea is expressed through comparison. So, in the metaphor the fall of my life, the tenor is the concept of getting older, reaching one’s thirties. The vehicle is the season fall. There ya go.