Old and New

Chapter 4 of Digital Literacy For Technical Communication presented insight on technical communicator’s ability to bridge generational differences. Salvo and Rosinski stated, “Second, technical communicators are well positioned to bridge past and future work involving information design” (105). In essence, because of the rate at which technology and communication mediums are advancing, different generations of information users are accustomed to different communication mediums and designs. Thus, technical communicators must find ways to communicate effectively with all generations—young and old, who make up the demographic of their clientele.

This concept is reinforced by the example of early web page design. Salvo and Rosinski noted, “Many new web designers, as their attention moved from communicating on the page to communicating through the screen, ignored traditional principles of page design in their eagerness to invent new design styles and practices” (106). This comment reminded me of a newspaper design class I took a few years ago. During the first portion of the class, we learned about content layout for traditional print style newspapers. The class then moved to designing layout for online newspapers. Beyond having to learn how to use Dreamweaver, we also had to design content pages for mock newspapers based on actual papers. Our professor was adamant about the need to retain some of the traditional print aspects of the layout such as headline and column font. In addition, the web version was to look fairly similar to the print version so users could recognize key aspects. Essentially, we were designing an electronic version of the print newspaper that traditional readers could, in theory, use and read.

However, within the electronic version of the newspapers, we added links to additional stories, images, and videos that readers could not access from the print version. That is, we retained certain aspects, but added features that allowed access to information only available via the internet. This concept parallels Salvo and Rosinskis’ notion that, “Since then [early web pages] many have rediscovered the value of font design and use of white space, and perhaps more importantly, the benefits of collaborating with users. . .toward the creation of readable and usable documentation,” (106). Indeed, while information design is certainly changing, communicators need to consider all possible users of information, and utilize the best methods to reach these users effectively. In terms of newspaper design, fundamental design principles are generally retained for identification purposes, (the newspaper looks the same in print as it does online) and so readers can quickly locate areas of interest.

As virtual space becomes more and more the standard for communication, technical communicators will need to retain certain aspects of tradition document design to reach all user groups. However, technical communicators will also need to develop new design layouts (such as incorporating links etc as in the case of online newspapers) to fully take advantage of the capabilities of virtual spaces. As I consider how the technology of my generation enables new spaces and practices for communication, I can’t help but wonder how things will change as future generations continue to advance information technology. At what point will my generation be the generation of old technology?

Posted on October 28, 2012, in Society. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi, Paul. Great post. One additional point that came to mind is something that Salvo and Rosinski touched on. They basically explained that the format of a communication piece is what allows readers to form context and meaning. (For example, a wedding invitation has a much different appearance than a parking ticket.) Beyond enabling easy navigation, I have to imagine that retaining print features in online newspaper publications provides context and credibility to the publication. Readers of newspapers likely consider them a news authority–carrying that over to the Web is invaluable for these publications.

  2. There really is something to be said for the visual identity of different forms of communication–parking tickets, wedding invites, and newspapers. By preserving the same visual cues when moving from print to online, I guess that the newspapers are hoping to reassure their audience. I guess we’ll know we’re old when kids no longer no the origin of those cues.

    In a few years, there will be a generation of kids that have never seen a newspaper that is actually made of paper. Whenever a band releases a new collection of songs, we still call it an album or a record, but most kids have never owned a round vinyl disc. Even email has the word “mail” right in it and often shows items in envelopes, but no paper is ever involved in the process.

    I wonder, are newspapers doing themselves any harm by trying to make their online selves too much like their paper selves? Should they be taking more of a clean slate approach to delivering information to people? For example, a lot of news sites still use Times New Roman on their online pages, but I hate serif fonts online–it hurts my eyes.

  3. I haven’t taken a newspaper design class since 1991 or ’92; I’d love to take such a class now and see what’s changed and what’s expected. The idea of retaining some of the images of traditional forms of communication to act as a bridge to the newer digital forms must be important; I use an app called “Notes Plus” on my iPad when I’m taking notes while reading or during meetings. When I create a new notebook, the app asks me to choose the style of notebook cover I want (black or brown leatherbound, or blue plastic ringbound) and style of notebook paper (Cornell notepad, yellow legal, or white college-ruled). It really has no influence on the function of the “notebook” but it looks like I expect a to appear.

  4. Wonderful post about the old and new. I’ve had undergrads tell me that they feel they may be the last generation to be know and distinguish the old and new ways of doing things. I mean, schools are no longer teaching cursive, right? So isn’t it a matter of time before the laptop campus gives way to the ipad campus?

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