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Buy or Sell?

I’ve played the virtual stock market game for at least the last eight years. It’s a game for stock pickers who don’t want to risk real money but still want to try their hands at picking stocks. Last year, I had a “sure thing”. I was convinced ADSK (the ticker symbol for AutoDesk, Inc, a software company based in California) was set to fall in price. I shorted the stock at $76.34, which means I bet against it. In other words, when the stock went down in price, I would make money.

But, I did not make money. Today, the stock is at $106.20, which means I was wildly Philippine-stock-market-board.jpgwrong. Yet I still play the stock market game. Why? Because of the thrill of picking a stock that soars 35% in one day. This moment of euphoria is the Holy Grail for traders and is immortalized by the ubiquitous “ticker tape” on any financial news show or website. These news sources are constantly scrolling through dozens of stocks to let the audience know how a particular company’s stock is doing that day. For example, a ticker symbol might read MCD $150.68 ↑0.57%. This means that MCD (the stock exchange shorthand for McDonald’s) stock sits at $150.68 per share, up 0.57% on the day.

Stock Prices

The price of a stock is the statistic to know. It’s like batting average for a baseball player or GPA for a student. Though it doesn’t come close to telling the entire story, it’s a reliable vanity metric that people can use as a benchmark. With this in mind, MarketWatch.com displays the stock prices and daily changes prominently on its website.

The first thing a user sees on MarketWatch in the current price and daily change of the most notable stocks, indexes, and commodities. Today, prices for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, an ounce of gold, and a barrel of oil are displayed prominently to give readers an overall feel for the mood of the market.

These numbers tell a story. Today (June 14th), it’s a rather bland story. All of these benchmarks have moved less than 0.50% on the day. Without having to read any articles, a reader can already ascertain that there is no major unexpected news or events occurring in the US financial markets today. This is a great use of user-centered design by MarketWatch. By starting with broad information in an easily digestible format, readers are able to gather the overall shape of the financial market that day within ten seconds.

Today’s Top Story

A reader can gather more specific information by scrolling down the page. There are dozens of articles linked on the first page, but there is clearly one that is most important. The article nearest the top of the screen (underneath the ticker updates) features a large image and headline text twice as large as any other on the page. This article tends to focus on one of the important benchmarks represented at the top of the page. This article focuses on more specific details about just one part of the overall market, but its subject is usually still important enough to gain widespread attention. The editors realize that a front-and-center article about an obscure and insignificant company or event would be of little value to most readers.

Buy or Sell?

Because MarketWatch as a company is not trying to get you to buy a particular stock or other asset, the rhetorical strategies employed on the website vary. One article suggests that it’s time for the smart investor to buy gold. On the very same page, another writer argues that it’s best to avoid buying gold at this time. How can both opinions be represented by the same company? Because MarketWatch doesn’t benefit one way or another from its readers buying gold. Each writer has his or her own agenda when it comes to promoting certain stocks. MarketWatch’s purpose is much different; its goal is to present intelligent information and opinions to people interested in financial markets.

News ninja

I am a news ninja; I visit madison.com and quickly (but silently) scan the page from top to bottom.  I’ve been here many times before, but I am a ninja, and I know the situation ninja-152415_1280changes with the wind.  I know the article I am searching for will be at the very top of the page, and that is immediately where I head.  I read only what catches my eye, and I disappear (in a cloud of smoke).

News ninja? Maybe.

Graphic designer? Definitely not.

Fortunately, that doesn’t matter, because I know what I like.  There’s that, and the fact most of the commercial websites I visit do employ graphic designers and writers.  Graphic designers and writers who take advantage of elements of rhetorical awareness, user-centered graphics, and visual rhetoric to guide the reader to exactly where they want to be and get exactly what they came for.  Many of these elements can be identified within the design of madison.com.

Rhetorical awareness

Clearly, the website is aware of its audience; news ninjas and other people who just want “the news” – nothing fancy, straight-forward, and up-to-the-minute.  The site also understands its simple purpose;  it exists only to deliver news through a web page.  A news ninja may not be persuaded by anyone to do anything, so there all no calls to action (aside from the occasional, small ad to pay for it), and likewise, there is no need for the site to explain why it’s there.  The context of the rhetorical situation does not matter to the reader, and neither does anyone else who may have an interest in the site – the stakeholders 

User-centered design

While the ninja will use a flashy katana, shuriken, or nunchucks, the website author employs more subtle tools: document design, information design, and sentence design.  With these tools, the author is able to meet the readers’ expectations and help them meet their goals. Did madison.com wield their tools effectively?newspaper-159877_1280

  • Document design – the top Navigation Bar allows the user to quickly navigate from one news section to another.  The designers have added a nice touch – the Navigation Bar is “frozen” and will remain at the top of the page even when scrolling.  A clearly labeled “Menu” button will open an easy-to-read index of the contributing newspapers and the news sections are repeated.  There are plenty of headers to help guide the reader’s attention, but there is too much white-space (a ninja can’t hide in white-space).
  • Information design – providing information (articles) is the purpose of this website, and that information is presented logically.  Each article is presented with a title and a picture, and the most important articles also display the first line or two of text and are at the top of the page.
  • Sentence design – each article has its own sentence design, but usually they are simple and easy to read.

Visual rhetoric

The weakest element on the site is fortunately one of the least important for its purpose (and ninjas pay no attention to visual rhetoric).  All but a few of the articles have a picture, and those pictures are either stacked in columns or spread across the page in rows.  No picture is given emphasis and none immediately heighten a ninja’s senses.  The pictures are put on the page only to provide a quick suggestion of the content of the article.

Graphic design

If madison.com is anything, it’s simple, and that simplicity is exactly what a news ninja needs to see.  The focal point is the site’s icon in the banner at the top of the page – conveniently drawing attention just an inch above the Navigation Bar. Along with thumbnails, headlines, and headers there are no other design elements.  The web page is laid out to fit as many articles and pictures as possible rather than designed to persuade or argue.

This website has nothing graphically extreme, and has made no attempt to use beautiful colors. Other than bolding, the same type is used on the entire, blocky page, and there is no effective use of white space. Proof that less is more; I will continue to frequent madison.com, because news ninjas only want to get in and get out.

TheFader

In the last year or so, ever since election and political coverage picked up, I have intentionally avoided the news. I have done this not because i think it is insignificant but because I find the 24 hour news cycle tedious and stressful. Instead, I find solace in simpler things: music.

At least once a day, I visit TheFader. It has become almost like meditation – a relieving break from the dreariness of social media and entertainment news. Each day, I go to listen, I go to learn, and most importantly I go there to escape.

Engagement

TheFader just gets me. They understand their reader’s taste and sense of what is relevant and important. Each week, the “Songs You Need in Your Life this Week” showcase both underground talent and established acts, giving fans their fix of crate digging while still keeping them abreast on pop culture. Full disclosure, I am TheFader’s target demographic: Young, opinionated, and working in Music,  but that does not mean that TheFader has a niche audience. Despite one’s musical preferences, TheFader caters to a wide variety of music from Country to R&B, to Rap an Folk singer/songwriter. If you like music, at all, chances are that you will find something up your alley on the infinite wall.

Rhetorical Awareness refers to the ways that design is centered around the expectations or characteristics of the audience –a skill at which TheFader excels. Today, young users expect for information to be streamlined and essentially endless, like on social media where users can just keep scrolling forever and never run out of content. TheFader’s design operates in a similar way. Instead of homepages and menus and links, TheFader is just one big, everlasting wall. This setup is ideal for a generation of compulsive scrollers, myself included, and keeps audiences engaged with the flow of content.

When most people look for music, they do not wish to spend hours digging aimlessly to find a few good tracks. The typical Fader reader wants a convenient experience, with a large selection of carefully curated content. TheFader is unique from other music blogs or trades in that it focuses on the user’s experience. The music content is updated nearly fanatically, meaning that you are sure to hear it there first. TheFader understands that it’s audience wants an immersive experience – something that allows fans to connect with the music and the artists beyond a superficial level.

The Fader’s Design

Unlike most businesses TheFader does not sell anything. Their primary objective is to gain readers so that they can sell maximize profits from ad revenue. Thus, the website has a more relaxed and casual visual presence that conveys TheFader’s organizational culture. The importance of Visual Rhetoric is not lost on the editors – as TheFader creates and curates all of it’s visual content personally. As Daniel T Richards explains in The Importance of “Importance” in Visual Rhetoric, “Images focus our attention on certain elements of the subject and insist that these are tPARTYNEXTDOOR-for-The-FADER-5he important elements.” This is what TheFader does best. Each story or article is accompanied with a stylistic photo shoot that highlights both the artist’s persona and the website’s visual aesthetic. The resulting visual rhetoric is unmistakable and furthers TheFader’s reputation as an elegant and unique platform.

However, in this particular case, despite Richard’s assertions, TheFader is making an argument. They are making a value argument that the music they promote is important or interesting, they are making another value argument that they are trustworthy as authorities and taste-makers, and they are making a policy argument that readers should head their advice and support specific artists. Above all, TheFader is making a policy argument that you should keep reading TheFader.

Yet, these complex arguments are masked by the simplistic design of the website. In the video lecture Before and After by John McWade, McWade asserts that simplistic design maintains the audience’s focus. In essence, TheFader draws in readers with flashy visuals, but it keeps it’s audience by sticking to fundamentals: easy reads, good music, simple layout.

That’s why I read TheFader – because it’s easy, because it’s relaxing, because I know what I am getting every time I hit enter in the address bar.

News Swiping Right with Data

One thing that has always bothered me about news companies is that the majority of stories reported are based on little to no data. In our crowded world of growing information, I found it difficult to consistently depend on a website that eliminated this issue while also reporting on news that’s current and matters. Introducing FiveThirtyEight, one of the only blogs I know that integrates sports, politics, culture and more under a simple, data-driven framework.

The Reader

Data is facts. There’s no argument of fake news or bias when the numbers are presented to the user in a seamlessly integrated fashion. FiveThirtyEight uses this fact based approach to persuade or rather inform its readers based on careful analysis and simulation. Overall, the purpose of this approach is for the readers to have a better understanding of the background of why articles are being reported in the first place.alejandro-escamilla-6

FiveThirtyEight’s audience is likely to appeal to young, tech-savvy adults. My reasoning behind this is that since this isn’t a typical news source, it may seem overwhelming to a person who’s used to getting their news on the old-fashioned black and white paper. It appeals to these young adults through easy headlines and powerful colors throughout their website.

Although it may largely appeal to these young individuals, the stakeholders it impacts can’t be forgotten. FiveThirtyEight is just like any company and its stakeholders matter. When conducting their everyday analysis’, one can’t forget that errors in polling and execution occur. After wrongly predicting the most recent presidential election (after getting the past two correct), FiveThirtyEight was caught in the crossfire of many news outlets arguing their methodology. The majority stakeholders such as ESPN (their owner) and the readers became frustrated and confused since they put so much trust into this blog.

Where Data Meets Design

One area that FiveThirtyEight goes above and beyond is their user centered design. The website’s functionality has me clicking through categories and articles absorbing up information with ease. The titles to the articles have me intrigued and prepared to find more information about a topic while once within them; graphs, pictures, and more data are used to fully capture a scene for the readers. Even the articles themselves don’t use vocabulary and diction that would be difficult for the youngest of readers to understand.

Furthermore, the layout is also pristine. From top to bottom the website fully utilizes the space while preventing it from feeling too jumbled or over cluttered. Additionally, within each article are numerous links to support ideas or identify where they originate. Overall, FiveThirtyEight’s design is easy, appealing, and functional further supporting their user-centered design.

Visuals & Why They’re Great

Data might be awesome, but if no one can understand what the data means it becomes useless. Luckily, FiveThirtyEight has mastered visual rhetoric and only includes the most important visuals to support their point. FiveThirtyEight’s visuals are used to set a scene of an article through pictures of people involved within a story, graphs about the story, and other media to fully embrace the point they’re attempting to make. These are the elements that FiveThirtyEight believes “must be seen” for the message to be clear, as the Daniel Richards article states.

From a graphic design standpoint, once again FiveThirtyEight hits this aspect right on the head. Their ability to use the contrast of the white background with a pallette of various colors makes the website appealing, yet simple. FiveThirtyEight stays true to its roots and has visually appealing fox with a tri-color design. One of my favorite graphic design features is the use of beautiful colors in the interactive graphs that make messing around with them even better.

Based on the information, FiveThirtyEight is the perfect blend of rhetorical awareness, user-centered design, visual rhetoric & graphic design to appeal to a quickly growing user base.

Shop Planet Blue

A website I wish I had never found out about is an e-commerce clothing store called Planet Blue. Planet Blue has a few stores in Southern California, only offering some of their clothing and accessories, but the main goodies are on its website. The super-chic, bohemian clothing line is unique and difficult to pass up… even though most of their merchandise is very expensive.

The Audience and Interface

Planet Blue tends to a very specific audience. Young women who consider their style as bohemian is the main target. From beach outfits to winter clothes and even to formal dress, Planet Blue has a unique variety of clothing that is not offered at many of places. They pair their high end clothing line with a large selection of accessories, including belts, hats, jewelry, and shoes. Planet Blue specializes in what is called “festival clothing” and Because their selection is so unique and high end compared to other e-commerce websites, they can charge a great deal for their products. And because most of their audience is familiar with the styles they sell, they are very profitable.

The website is set up in way where the customer is warmly greeted, and the business is working on marketing. When a person visits the page for the first time, a welcome message or promotional ad will ask for the user’s email to keep them up to date with fashion blogs and latest trends. When the user is taken to main page after this message, they are given the option to shop new trends, shop based off their personal blog, shop based off what celebrities wear from them, or shop based on a category of clothing (tops, bottoms, accessories, etc.). With beautiful models and celebrity and big music festival endorsements, it’s hard to pass up on their unique items. The website moves very smoothly, with many photos from each angle of their online merchandise. Their photos are stunning and make all of their merchandise seem very appealing, regardless your body type or current style. When you add an item to your shopping cart, a small box asks if you want to checkout or continue shopping, and most of the time I would bet people decide to continue shopping.

The checkout process is very simple and Planet Blue will offer to store multiple credit cards and addresses to make the process require even less effort. This is an extremely profitable tactic because when something can easily be bought with a few clicks, rather than putting in heaps of information, the buyer is likely to do it without regarding the cost as much as they normally would. Planet Blue also provides the benefit of free returns for all packages, and this sets them apart from many other retailers. Their customer friendly buying process combin

 

ed with their unique products make it nearly impossible to not shop with them.

 

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The Design Elements 

 

 

Planet Blue offers a warm and giddy feel to their website through their design. The front

page of their website offers a beauty pictures with models enjoying the sun and relaxing. While shopping the website makes use of white space with he whole background being white and their headings black and their classic logo in light green.  This creates a sense of professionalism and does not overwhelm the user with processing too much. There are pages and pages filled with a large picture and small title of what the item is. The photos are titling are all very cohesive and improve click rates through quick view options.

 

 

Revolve’s Effortless Evolution

In January, I targeted two of my worst habits with my New Year’s Resolutions. The first: become less reliant on my cell phone. The second: stop wasting money online shopping. I blame both of these habits on being a millennial living in the digital age, but that’s not the point. Revolve, a fast-growing, e-commerce clothing company, is a website I visit frequently to further encourage these bad habits.

Understanding the audience

Calling all fashionistas! If you are a young female who enjoys trendy clothing, pop culture, and social media, congratulations! You are Revolve’s target audience, and you most likely will not escape the website with as much money as you went in with. You will begin to casually scroll through the pages and pages of merchandise, modeled by your favorite models and socialites. blog 3 imageMagically, your wallet will find its way into your non-scrolling hand, and before you even realize what’s happening, you’ll hear the PING of a confirmation email arriving to your inbox thanking you for your purchase (but if you fit the aforementioned description, you already knew this).

With a target audience in mind, and a strong understanding of how they think and shop, Revolve caters every aspect of its website to them. Purdue OWL’s article, “Rhetorical Awareness and User-Centered Design,” states that to achieve a user-centered design, one must consider the audience’s expectations, characteristics, goals, and context. Revolve’s target audience is young women in their 20’s and 30’s, who are up-to-date with fashion trends, and who use social media.

The typical Revolve shopper wants a convenient online shopping experience, with a large selection of trendy pieces. Revolve sets itself apart from other online retailers, by capitalizing on its audience’s heavy internet and social media use. Revolve’s blog content and merchandise section is updated daily, and features popular models and celebrities sporting its products. Revolve understands that its audience follows these individuals, and wants to wear the same styles.

Revolve’s design elements 

Like any business, Revolve’s primary objective is to make sales (and they have been). The website has visual features that convey Revolve’s message: “Buy these items.” In Daniel T. Richards’ article, “The Importance of “Importance” in Visual Rhetoric,” Richards explains that the fundamental choice when creating images is the choice of representation. When using images instead of words, the images represent the desired message.Revolve’s website is persuasive to shoppers without ever making an “argument,” because when shoppers can see celebrities in Revolve merchandise, they are assured that products are trendy and desirable.  

Revolve is unlike many other e-commerce stores, because it has a blog-style home page, that details the latest fashion and beauty trends. By combining a blog with a retail store, Revolve advertises its own products on its own website. This is the perfect layout for the busy, multi-tasking, young woman that Revolve markets to. She can visit just one website to gain knowledge on current fashion trends, and also to purchase them.

The blog- style homepage is laden with colorful images, and fun text to draw the shopper in. However, with the exception of the blog content, the entire website has a black and white theme. The website’s logo, text and headings are all black, and the background on every page is white.

In the Before and After video lecture with John McWade, McWade explains that a simple design keeps the audience’s focus on the message. He suggests that a design should have a main “focal point” to give the viewer something bright and bold to focus on, but be otherwise simple. McWade also suggests using “white space” to maintain the simple look, which is what Revolve does with white backgrounds.

The white backgrounds make it easier to view the details of the merchandise. The small black lettering for the prices and item names also keeps the focus on the clothes, and draws attention away from the price, to further encourage sales. Each item also has a “one-click to buy” feature, to further cater to the targeted young, busy shopper. Revolve’s simple layout is a calculated strategy to keep the shopper’s attention on the apparel, and keep them from getting overwhelmed while browsing through thousands of items.