What Are Multimodal Projects?

The first chapter of Writer/Designer by Kristin Arola, Jennifer Sheppard and Cheryl Ball introduces the concept of “multimodality,” a technique for communicating, that does indeed require one to be a writer and designer. A multimodal text is one which combines multiple forms of communication in order to get a message across. Without the combination of all these elements, the audience would not understand the message in the same way.

For example, think of the commercial about animal cruelty with Sarah McLachlan. This commercial sends an incredibly strong, emotional message– one that makes some television viewers immediately want to change the channel (including me). How does the 2-minute commercial do it? By combining different modes. The song in the background, the images of the suffering dogs, and the content of the narrator’s spoken words about the animal cruelty that is happening all trigger sadness and make your heart ache. This commercial reaches a wide array of viewers through its use of the aural, visual, and linguistic modes.

There are five modes of communication:

  1. The linguistic mode has to do with the language and words used in a text.
  2. The visual mode has to do with what is available for the audience to see, or not see, in a text.
  3. The aural mode involves what the audience can hear in a text.
  4. The spatial mode regards the way a text is laid out.
  5. The gestural mode has to do with the way movements and gestures convey meaning in a text.

(Arola, Kristin L., Jennifer Sheppard, and Cheryl Ball E. “What Are Multimodal Projects?” Writer/designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 1-19. Print.)


I have collected some multimodal texts that I’ve come across in the past couple days.

  • Spoon University Article (http://spoonuniversity.com/lifestyle/14-college-food-fails/)

On my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a link for a Spoon University article. It was titled “14 College Food Fails via Twitter.” The article’s word choice is geared toward an audience of college students who are reading the article casually, for fun and to see if they can relate. The word choice reflects this, because it is straightforward and includes generational words like, “YOLO.” Each picture of a food-fail tweet includes a caption beneath it, which is organized into short sentences that humorously summarize where the college “cook” went wrong. This represents the linguistic mode of the article.

The article also involves the visual mode. There are some images of disgusting meals, or screenshots of the tweets about these disgusting meals. The pictures of the moldy bread, bugs in ice cream, and pizza for breakfast entertain the reader and add a sense of shock.

The spatial mode is evident as well. The article shows the tweets and images in a list format, with each food no-no numbered on the side.

 

  • Video found on Facebook newsfeed (https://www.facebook.com/thisisinsiderdesign/videos/343207226020913/)

This video is another example of a multimodal text. First, the linguistic mode shows the concise captions that run throughout the video of the intricate puzzles. They are short and sweet and give the viewer just the right amount of information.

The video is visual, and shows close-up views of the carefully designed puzzle pieces and a hand putting them into place. This perspective allows the audience to be even more entranced by how each puzzle piece fits so perfectly.

The video is aural, and uses a monotonous soundtrack that provides a steady rhythm so the viewer can concentrate on what is being portrayed in the visuals.

The video also employs the gestural mode through the hand movement that is required to put each puzzle piece into place. The hand is calm, steady, and careful, which contributes to the tone of the “soothing” video.

  • Meme on Instagram
meme from @memes on Instagram
meme from @memes on Instagram

This meme combines the linguistic, visual, and spatial modes. The caption is carefully chosen to summarize the situation that the image represents. Its word choice reflects the effort to cause the meme to be as “relatable” as possible.

The meme is visual in the way that it portrays a single image. This image represents the “not knowing what someone means even after they try to tell you multiple times” situation, and the feelings that come with that situation.

The meme is spatially designed so that the caption and image are completely separate, instead of placing the text on the image itself.


All of these texts come from the current time of technology and social media. I accessed all of them on either Facebook or Instagram. None of these instances of multimodal texts include ALL five modes of communication, however those super-multimodal texts are definitely out there.

The texts that I have included in this post are similar in the sense that they all attempt to make the audience feel at ease. The Spoon University article is there to comfort college kids and give them alternatives to the nasty food they often find themselves eating. The puzzle-making video is captioned as “soothing” on Facebook. And the meme is to simply make people chuckle a little during their day.

These texts are similar but also different. The Spoon University article and the meme are most different from each other I would say. The article is written to spread valuable information that will last, while the meme provides some quick humor. The modes in the article are put together so that they can spread the information in an entertaining yet informative way, while the modes in the meme are geared merely towards entertaining.

Now I can’t help but continue to notice all the modes in the texts around me. Multimodality is effective and everywhere.

One thought to “What Are Multimodal Projects?”

  1. I like how you draw similarities between all three multimodal texts. Each is so different, but I can see that light-hearted, “soothing” element that you note in each text. But my favorite of all of these is the Spoon University article. It’s certainly relatable, and you do a nice job of explaining all the modes at play in the article. Talking about the effect that the word choice and pictures have on the reader really highlights how the article was engineered to provoke a certain reaction. I also laughed at the meme, and I would argue that in addition to the linguistic, visual, and spatial modes that you mention, the meme also presents the gestural mode. The seal is expressing that awkward/confused feeling on his face. I think it’s his expression that makes the meme effective and funny.

    I am also constantly noticing multimodal texts throughout my day. They’re everywhere on social media, on TV, and around campus. Now that we know what they are, we can better understand why they’re effective or ineffective.

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