A Response to Barton^2

In the chapter “Ideology and the Map: Toward a Postmodern Visual Design Practice” in the book Professional Communication: The Social Perspective, Ben and Marthalee Barton explore the map’s underlying rhetorical purposes. To introduce this subject, they first declare that all visual graphics have a rhetorical purpose and are trying to convince the audience in one way or another. Except for maps. Maps were supposedly the only type of graphic that had the purpose of simply informing the audience and not trying to convince them of anything. Off of this assumption, Barton and Barton continue to spend the rest of the chapter explaining why this is not true, organized by categories that describe characteristics of maps that can contradict this assertion. For example, one argument they described was that maps used to be attributed to war as map sales increased during wartime. People focused on maps for wartime purposes and thus constructed this stigma. Although, they also use a more opposite example, saying that maps have been criticized for portraying locations in an exaggeratedly positive light. This is most applicable when speaking to tourist maps or maps identifying spots for sightseeing, as stated, since they only include the more glorious features of the place and often times even exaggerate these features through additional graphics.

I do believe that Barton and Barton make a significant point about maps containing bias and its own rhetoric, but I don’t support their claims completely. I agree that there is not a visual graphic that does not, in some way, have rhetorical purpose of persuasion or bias. Although, I think Barton and Barton were dissecting maps to a bit of an extreme extent. I do not believe that peoples’ affiliations and personal biases with the overall genre of graphic should affect the message that is trying to be portrayed and I don’t believe they should have focused on that aspect so heavily.

My question is, which would have a more significant impact on the audience when interpreting a map’s data – the graphical bias created by the map itself or the audience’s predetermined, personal bias? Why?

Dombrowski and the Celebrex Ad

In the article “Well, ‘Technically’ It Is Communicating: An Ethical Critique of a Celebrex Ad,” Paul Dombrowski explores the stylistic choices made in this ad and how they do not accomplish the ethical purpose the producers should have. Instead, it clearly illustrates an immoral, unethical (from the the consumer’s perspective) purpose that is exercised and focuses only on the ‘abstract visual aesthetics’. This is because vital health information and health risks are only stated in illegible, microscopic text. This text is only present to form large graphic pictures, therefore distracting the audience from even trying to understand its warnings. This is particularly distasteful, because this type of medication has a history of progressing illness instead of helping cure it, so the fact that they are not concerned with communicating the risks with the audience is unjust. Dombrowski also speaks to how this advertisement could be particularly insulting to those with the medical issue, as they misrepresent the severity of the medication. The video is presented with a soft blue background and simplistic white icon-people living out lighthearted lives performing simple, everyday tasks. All of this makes the risks of this medication nearly disappear from the audience’s viewpoint, something that is vital when communicating information.

I think Dombrowski raises some critical points about the differing ethics between the producers and the target audience for this particular medication and I think it can be applied to many other instances, but be more detrimental for some. It mostly depends on the different things the two opposing sides value. In this case, it is a particularly shallow contrast, for the producers who made this advertisement value the amount of money gained from sales for this medication, so they want to create a friendly, aesthetically pleasing graphic. In contrast, the audience simply values their health and wants to make the best decision for their well being. There is evident disrespect in the comparison of these two values.

My question is, do you think the success of a graphic depends more heavily on how it is ethical for the audience or the designer? Why?

Response to Visual Ethics

In the article “Visual Ethics”, Manning and Amare elaborate on the idea and definition of ethics. They say that ethics is the most effective way to accomplish one’s goal, all depending on the frame of reference. An example they use to demonstrate this would be when a salesperson tries selling a customer a more expensive phone. Their actions are ethical from the salesperson’s point of view, since they are trying to sell the most expensive products, but it is unethical to the customer as their goal is to buy a cheaper product. This can be applied in to visual graphics as we discuss the rhetoric of the graphics and apply them to society’s moral philosophies. Visuals should be categorical imperative, or should be portraying objects and information accurately; utilitarian, or beneficial for the majority of the audience and not focusing on any single members; hedonism, or aesthetically pleasing; visuals should have a golden mean, or not in favor of any single extreme; should practice the golden rule, or not hurt or harm others as it is assumed they care about themselves; and finally, visuals should be practice the veil of ignorance, as in treat everyone equally and not acknowledge any prejudice.

While focusing on these moral aspects of visual rhetoric and its application to ethics, I think it is an interesting combination of being aware of humanistic emotions that might being affecting the construction as well as the overarching goal to transmit information. I think this article helps us qualify these biases and emotions when creating visual graphics, but assists in redirecting us to a more scientific driven goal. For example, Manning and Amare consistently preach to remain unbiased, accurate and thorough in efforts to portray the information as ‘ethically’ as possible. This article brings a more rhetorical focus to visual graphics than we’ve seen in the more recent class readings.

This represents an unethical graphic.

My question is, do you find the ethics of a visual graphic to be more impactful on the audience or the message/statistical conclusion? Why?

A Response to The UnEmpathetic Art

In the web article “DataViz – The UnEmpathetic Art”, Mushon Zer-Aviv discusses the relationship between abstract data graphics and emotions and what kind of boundary is drawn between the two, if any. He begins by elaborating on the definition of empathy while relating it to a viral graphic that displayed data on the lives lost from the atomic bombing or Hiroshima. He defines empathy as the ability to understand the emotions from experiences happening to another person, or in other words, being able to put yourself in their shoes or frame of reference. The issue that is brought up from the relationship between empathy and data sets is that data sets are to represent data specifically, which generally refers to gathered statistics and facts, not emotions. He explains this discrepancy by focusing on yet another example of this, being the graphic of deaths from gun violence. This video displays such emotional, poetic information in an equally emotion-driven context, which leads him to the definition of framing. Framing is defined as the set up or environment for the graphic that is constructed by the designer in an effort to establish a desired emotion from the audience. The gun violence video is a clear example of that with how the victim’s lives are placed on a timeline, the dimly themes color scheme and the animation of the dots falling.

When discussing the ethics behind framing a data graphic, I think it is important to distinguish the purpose of the graphic, whether it is to persuade or inform. For the definition of rhetoric, the purpose is to display information to persuade the audience, so I believe the framing of a graphic is a perfectly honest method in displaying the information. Design elements should almost always have a rhetorical purpose, connecting the design to the overall message of the graphic, so if framing helps establish the emotional context for the information, then it is simply a more successful graphic.

My question is, can the framing of a data graphic ever be damaging to the graphic’s pathos? Why or why not?

A Response to the Clarity Conundrum

In the article “The Visual Rhetoric of Data Displays: The Clarity Conundrum”, Kostelnick dissects graphic design’s application in to data displays. For this, I will be mainly focusing on his first explanation, which is the application within science. He primarily used the word “clarity” as his focal point of this section. Clarity is the extent in which the data itself can reach the audience and how well and clearly this information is interpreted. To further describe this term, he explains that clarity is more significant for statisticians and researchers, who are focusing only on the data itself, as opposed to the graphic designers who are producing the graph and displays. This is because graphic designers are primarily concerned with the audience’s attention and perception. He then identifies Tufte specifically about their stance on data display. He attacks their methods of cropping down the data in order to make the display more simplistic and appealing to the audience and only leaving what is absolutely necessary to interpret the data. Kostelnick claims that this crops out important sections of the data that help the audience accurately submerge themselves in the data. One thing he agrees with them on is their idea of “chartjunk”. He seems to be equally as critical, but he also qualifies it as being sometimes appropriate, that it depended on the kairos.

On Kostelnick’s stance on scientific data visualization, I feel that he may be a bit too harsh on the negation of information. He thinks everything holds at least minor significance in reception of the data, which may be a stretch. I think that it may play its part and have a purpose, but I don’t think it necessarily takes from the audience’s ability to clearly understand the information. Although, I definitely appreciate his explanation of chartjunk and its connection to kairos, because sometimes the data truly speaks to itself and chartjunk is necessary in the context it’s displayed.


My question is, what are some scenarios in which chartjunk may be useful and when does it take away from the data? Why? Kostelnick gives a few examples, but can this be elaborated on?

A Response to Tufte

In the article “Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative”, Tufte focuses more on how text in a visual data set plays its part in the whole and how it contributes to the data being presented. He outlines a successful method in which you can have the text portion appropriately highlight what the data set is saying. He first discusses the importance of assessing cause and effect and how you might display data for this purpose. He suggested focusing on the take-away message for the cause and effect, so when presenting the data, concentrate on what impacts the cause and effect message. Then, he describes the purpose of making quantitative comparisons. Statistics have always been an effect way to clearly illustrate ideas, but comparing this data to others helps solidify the applicability for the audience. The next piece of advice he gives is to mention alternative explanations and other cases. This increases the credibility of your data when conflicting evidence is obviously avoided. This shows that the topic has been researched extensively and you still hold the same conclusion, solidifying the ethos of your data. The last piece of advice he mentions goes along with the third, which is openly assessing possible errors in the data’s results. This, again, shows that the data has been extensively researched and strengthens its ethos.

I found this article particularly interesting, because I feel like it has talked about text itself the most out of anything else we have read this semester. Not only does it talk about methods for the text alongside the data, but he elaborates on the unification between text and images. Also, the context is mostly statistical data, so Tufte even covers a more scientific approach to text and its visual graphic. On that note, I thought the redirection of the article towards the specific example f the rocket accident was not very related and did not have as much of the visual graphics, rhetoric application as I would’ve hoped for.

This caption is a good example of text being to the point and elaborating on only the necessary trend.

My questions is, in what ways could using any of these elements he’s outlined be a negative asset to the graphic’s purpose?