All posts tagged writing

  • Why rhetoric?

    A writing exercise of little importance.

    During my thesis review one of the advisors and I got into a back-and-forth discussion about whether rhetoric was the correct way we (designers) should thinking about and approaching design. He believed it should not, I believed it should. He believes in working with the “direct perception” or “embodied knowledge”  JJ Gibson describes in his work on ecological perception (designers, you know, affordances) as you approach your designs. I also think we should.

    I spent winter break balancing both philosophies in my mind. I can appreciate using rhetorical analysis as a tool to approach design and learn/discuss how it does work on people. I initially chose to use literally theory to approach design for vague, personal reasons. I have cherished how much my English background influences how I think about problems, people, communication, and design….the world really. I say it’s vague because I don’t know the specific way to apply what I felt I got from four years of English coursework into design.

    What I ended up ultimately doing for my thesis, I used different linguistic and rhetorical theories as a framework to analyze different elements of interaction design. How is our actions on device metaphorical? What kind of persuasive communication techniques might they be applying? How are they stylistic and what does that do to create identity? It ended up being an exercise in thinking critically about what design elements do and broadened the way that I thought these elements (or others) could be used. Whether it be visual, auditory, haptic, or whatever other kind of information that can be sensed.

    On the other side of things, the professor argued that this “languaging” of interaction creates a level of abstraction away from what our body inherently knows about an object. It takes it further from it’s context and its use. It might lock us into one perception of what and object is and can do. If we call something a chair, we are forever forced to think of it conventionally (what our learned patterns of interactions are with a chair) whereas it might have so many other possibilities. Or, things we don’t imagine to be chairs can be just as sitable. Design can have embodied knowledge by designing for the relationship between man and object/experiences. Chairs reflect certain needs that our body has: to bend at the knee, to have a flat surface a certain height from the ground and, for comfort, might have support for our backs—all working together to help the body rest. Compare this to poorly designed objects that might more function-driven rather than relationship driven. For instance, he described this cartoon of what an alien scientist might predict humans look like based on what our computers are designed like: A person with a hand that had one finger for clicking the mouse, a hand with like 84 keys to use the keyboard, one eye for staring at the screen, and just a giant bottom to sit on the floor while we used our device.


    I couldn’t find the comic but I came up with my own version.

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  • Observer Portrait: Draft 2

    Narrative & Argument:

    I changed this from class after getting feedback that Evan was too perfect in the first one. I called Evan again and told him my dilemma and just talking to him helped me work out some of what I had gotten wrong. It was kind of like a therapy session too. This one is really choppy as I tried to get down some of my thoughts before they left me, apologies

    — —

     Evan sat to my right and there were three other people congregating around the other side of linoleum kitchen table with us. Though the average age of the people at the party was around twenty, the house was decorated in 70s-style décor complete with a floral print couch and macramé owl. The time warp was surprisingly fitting for the shabby basement apartment. I watched with guilty fascination as they lit up a joint. As any good host would, the girl holding the blunt looks at us and asks, “Want a hit?” I decline and her eyes move to Evan. She raises her eyebrows to silently ask the question again. I am aware of how hard I’m staring at him to see what he’ll do. We’re not dating anymore, so he can do whatever he wants. What does he want?

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  • Observer Portrait: Draft 1

    Narrative & Argument:

    Typos and all!

    — —

    When we walked up the pathway to the house and I saw all the trendy Nebraska-bohemians lounging around the porch in their vintage dresses, leather boots, dyed hair, and loud prints, I had the burning sensation of being an outsider being brought in to display. I was introduced to the first person, a girl named Jacquie, could see her a flash of recognition in her eyes and then a distinct evaluation of my responses as she put together the pieces of stories she’d heard about me. This is what happened when you introduced two different worlds to each other.

    Privately, I mention my discomfort to Evan who shrugs, “I don’t think they’re judging you. I think they’re just curious.” I got the same feeling the first time I met people from the art the department, where Evan was already a much-loved figure by students and faculty. What was someone like him doing with a goody two-shoes like her? We didn’t even look like a good couple. At just under six-foot four, Evan was an exceptionally tall person and at exactly five feet, I am an exceptionally short person. My Vietnamese heritage has given me a petite frame, straight dark hair, and a slightly tanned complexion whereas he is an ideal Swede with his curly white-blond hair, blue eyes, a prominent nose, and fair skin that he himself has described as “impressively white.” And Evan did leave an impression on you. Even in the plain gray t-shirt, dark slacks, and brown shoes he was felt more special than the people on the porch advertising themselves as unique. On a shorter person, his muscles would have allowed him to pass for a lean man, but because his limbs were so elongated, he appeared more gawky than strong. Combined with the blonde curls that cap his head like a well-brushed sheep and no matter what he wore he’d be memorable.

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  • Observer Portrait: Physical Description

    Narrative & Argument: 

    (Pre-draft, just setting up the physical presence of our subject)

    — —

    During one of those first-day-ice-breaker games, one of Evan’s 10 fun facts about himself was that he was “impressively white.” It was true that he didn’t just happen to be a person that was pale, but his lack of color became one of his features. True to his Swedish heritage, his fair skin and blond hair is rounded out by light blue eyes and angular features. He has a prominent sail boat nose, high cheek bones, and a square chin. At just under six feet four inches, most people would take notice of him anyway, but as look at his elongated monotone figure, he leaves and impression on you.

    The second thing people notice is his hair which is more white-blond than yellow. I most remember it as a wooly mass of curls, like a sheep. When he wears it short, it forms a textured wave. When it’s long enough it has these playful waves that make you want to touch the cloud-like shape or muss it up like a little kid’s. The longer it gets the more like a bleached Ronald McDonald wig it becomes as his tight curls really get start taking over. Right now, as it reaches down past his shoulders and gravity has pulled the ringlets of his once-fro down, it’s hard to compare it to anything familiar because even a janitor’s mop seems to be more organized. It gives you the same impression as the coat of the Hungarian Puli.

    Evan gives off a very disarming presence. This is partly because his lanky features make him look uncoordinated and harmless (which isn’t true, he’s actually quite athletic) and partly because he is very quiet when placed a new environment, again, not because he’s shy, but because he doesn’t feel the need to talk unless he’s responding to something. His smile is sincere and his beaming cheeks will allow the emotion to reach his eyes. He doesn’t hesitate to open up conversation with someone he thinks looks interesting and it’s that warm smile that I’ve seen charm whoever he was talking with.

    He’s always been very fit and lean, but his length creates the optical illusion that he’s gawky. Lately, he’s managed to put on enough weight (a uniquely male problem) in order to gain mass and now his arm and chest muscles easily show under a shirt. It’s still hard for me to remember these new proportions when I see him now.

    He can most often be found in a t-shirt with some bold graphic on it, either a drawing he’s made or one featuring an artist he admires. He has a slight curve of to his back and, compounded with his long torso, many of his shirts will form a small tent in the back and reveal his belt tightened as far as it can go in the front. The majority of his jeans have a rip in the knees, some of which have been patched up but most not. Inevitably there is a splatter of paint somewhere on him if he was trying to be tidy especially if he is wearing one of his dedicated painting shirts. Event still, he is quite controlled when he works and none of his clothes are ever coated in a paint like we’d like to imagine an artist to be. His hands, especially around the cuticles will sometimes have some colored residue left over or a smudge of black if he was working on a charcoal drawing. But most of the time he has a super natural diligence when it comes to washing all the paint or whatever off his tools and hands so they are usually clean but dry.


  • Self-Portrait: Draft 3 // Final

    Narrative & Argument.

    This is what I ended up turning in for class. I’m happy with it, but of course after all the revisions I made, I can’t help but also feeling like I’m not that good of a writer.

    I decided to really focus it on New York to shrink down the scope of the writing assignment. I even tried to make it only include events in New York so I deleted the Colorado example and tried using this:

    Not that I had enormous problems, but I started imagining that the excitement of The City—the one everyone talked about it—would rub off on me. I fanaticized that every day I would be bombarded by requests to go to this wild event or that one-of-a-kind art show. In my head, I would have to politely push away all the competing offers for my attention, while being secretly delighted by all the possibilities. By default, I would become a more fascinating person by living in the city, wouldn’t I?

    However, I forgot to pin down exactly who could conceivably be asking me to go to these events since I only knew two people in the entire city and that, if presented with a platter of options, I hate making decisions. Just three days ago I had spent approximately five hours at Ikea painfully going back and forth between options. I left miserable with only a duvet (no cover), a single set of hangers, a curtain rod, and a list of items to research before making the next trip. It had been Valentine’s Day. 

    I mean, it’s a little entertaining, but not as strong and really was a different tone than everything else. Well, it just didn’t work for lots of reasons.

    Below is the final paper and I also recorded it to make it a little easier to digest.



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  • Self-Portrait: Draft 2

    Narrative & Argument

    I felt like my first draft was a little week, like I was more interested in writing about the experiment but the reader is left with this uncertain conclusion. There’s not thing learned or taken away, it’s just kind of this moment that I wrote about. Professor Kaufer agreed. I also just try to write everything I could remember the first time and it became a little long-winded. I tried to cut some stuff out but I think it could still use a bit more pruning. 

    A part that I think is unclear is that I’m not trying to show this magical moment where I transform into a new, confident person, but a small victory where I feel a freedom from my paralyzing over-thinking. I mean, yes I do feel like I’ve gotten better and I really do call upon this idea of “wearing my beret” now, but I am by no means a self-assured person in the world. Kaufer seemed to be pushing me in that direction, and I tried a little to make it more clear in this draft that this was not the case by introducing the little girl at the end. 

    — —

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  • Self-Portrait: Draft 1

    Narrative & Argument

    Living without regrets includes both doing things you want to do and doing things you would regret not doing. Unfortunately, you never know if you’ll regret something until you do it. For me, this has included forcing myself to go to a bike carnival called Tour de Fat thrown by New Belgium Brewing Company despite disliking beer nor being an avid biker and joining a pick-up soccer game at the neighborhood park even after my friend told me they couldn’t make it. At the first, I ended up meeting my future roommate and best friend while I was in Colorado. At the second, I realized I should never try to participate in community athletics again.

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