Critiques

 CRITIQUE TWO

Medium.com is a web-based visual storytelling platform used by many of my favorite writers. It allows anyone to tell a story and accompany it with pictures, video or audio, making the creation of visually appealing, multi-media stories available to anyone. It functions as a means of democratizing the pursuit of prestigious writing. You do not have to work for a huge company with a big enough budget to have the space to write something complex and interactive.

Medium is initially compelling because it has a simple, clean interface. You can see it from the front page, which introduces the viewer to a simple design using minimal colors. This allows the user’s visual media to stand for itself. Its top banner is refreshingly simple. It is pared down to only text—the logo, only an “m,” is relegated to the top left corner—and features only one button, to “learn more.” The interface has understated grey links to other features, like bookmarks, and this lets the eye wander down to the meat of the site, its users stories.

 

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The front-page features two large colorful pictures from other users’ stories, laid out at an imbalance: One picture is longer than the other, but both are the same length. The two-story structure repeats with the site’s infinity scroll. The layout in this way is asymmetrical but still sleek.

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Medium lets you write anything: fiction, opinions, outright journalism. In one person’s story, “One Year in China,” the author, Jordan Phillips, writes a personal essay on his travels abroad. Phillips is a product manager at a consulting firm for students trying to get into college. He is not a designer, photographer or even journalist by profession. But his story looks polished. The interface lets the user simply upload content, and the website builds the page to look balanced and professional, like a story you would find on The New Republic’s or The New York Times Magazine’s website. It is easy and intuitive to use, but the result looks like it took a lot of time.

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The platform also boasts a few interesting features. The first is that when you post a story, it is available for everybody to see. You can “like” a story or “recommend” it. Your personal profile shows up among the others who recommend or like it, which is a form of feedback. However, you cannot post comments, which I consider a pitfall, although understandably allowing comments can be a gamble. But when you whittle feedback down to “liking,” “recommending,” or doing nothing, the writer doesn’t really get the collective, communicative feedback that comments allow. It also doesn’t give a place for discussion—although perhaps that is the point.

Medium also shows how long each piece approximately takes to read. I think this is a clever feature; as I browsed, I found myself clicking on stories that said they were one or two minutes in length because I knew it would only take a bit of my time. It had me clicking on more stories because I knew what I was getting into ahead of time. As a site devoted to giving people democratized airtime, I like this feature a lot. It really makes clicking around the site worthwhile, and puts more eyes on peoples’ stories.

Medium.com does a great job in a lot of ways. It knows to be restrained and simple in its overall design to let its users content have the spotlight. It knows to be intuitive and easy-to-use, but provide professional results. But mostly it makes a platform for everyday storytelling to look legitimate and worthwhile. Although these writers do not work for a known company, their words are still useful and important. Medium.com, through its design and usability, respects that idea.

 

 CRITIQUE THREE

critiquecomicFrom The Nation Aug. 5

The Nation sets a good example for how to make a political cartoon refreshing and contemporary. It challenges the usual design of a political cartoon – black and white, usually caricatures of people, minimal text, so on– and injects humor and color into it. The result is a mix between tongue-in-cheek infographic and political commentary.

The cartoon is eye-catching and designed to pop out of the page. He pairs bold colors like purple, yellow, pink and turquoise, but dims their saturation so the palette is unified. The characters get more muted colors – black, brown, and white – but each gets a pop of red that marries them with the background. In this way, the cartoonist instantly alerts the viewer that the cartoon is playful, bold and energetic.

He backs up this first impression with the cartoon’s premise and text. The concept of illustrating a circular argument is funny in itself, because arguments like these are self-explanatory, and its name is critique of the structure alone. But the cartoonist extends the joke by making the argument infinite, implying its frustratingly constant recycling with actual arrows that lead back to the beginning. The text, too, is funny in the way circular arguments can be when you’re not in the middle of one—they’re obviously flawed, but writing it out explicitly (especially between two animals) makes it funnier.

Although the cartoon is a critique of the way people talk about the Israel/Palestine conflict, it could be used for any number of political situations. In that way, it is a critique of not only the national discussion of this situation, but the habit many people have of not using critical thinking to analyze domestic or foreign problems.

The cartoon does a good job cashing in on a potent joke and doing it in a simple way—simply writing out an argument that is inherently silly, and doing it with funny-looking animals. Perhaps its only shortcoming is some of the design elements. For example, the cartoon is noisy and overwhelming to look at. This has less to do with the colors, which are strikingly and impressively unified despite being strange hues, and more to do with the placement and sizing of the text/images/panels. Using circles instead of squares to shape the panels would have let the eye travel from panel to panel in a circle less inhibited, and given a visual contrast to the square base panel that frames the cartoon.

The text, as well, is too plain for the ultra-contemporary colors and character design. Because the cartoon involves a lot of reading, it needs to draw the reader in immediately so that they’ll do the work of reading each speech bubble. With this in mind, the text in the very center could be a thin, cartoonish serif typeface to contrast with the speech bubbles’ usual cartoon sans serif typeface. In this way it would have been even more eye catching and satisfying to look at on first glance, enticing a viewer to read on.

But overall, the cartoon sets itself apart from most political cartoons by making bold, edgy choices in color, character design and joke structure. It is playful and tongue-in-cheek, which is fun to read in its wryness. The cartoon succeeds in making a political comment without being dry or pretentious, while also being interesting to look at.

 

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