What are Multimodal Projects?

In chapter one of Writer/Designer we are taught that a surprising amount of the things around us can be described as “texts” and those texts are all multimodal. For example I never would have thought of an academic essay as having multiple modes of communication other than the words on the paper. However it becomes clear through this chapter that all texts are multimodal! Specifically there are five modes at play that affect the way we perceive what we are viewing. Visual (think color, layout, style, and size), aural (what sound effects are happening, is there music or silence?), gestural (facial expressions, hand gestures, body language, interactivity), spatial (how the text is organized), and lastly linguistic (how/what words are being conveyed).

To demonstrate how these different modes work together among everyday texts I have presented three examples I came in contact with over the past week. The first is an emailed advertisement from the clothing brand Free People. These advertisements flood my inbox daily, because I am too weak to click unsubscribe, but for the sake of this blog they serve as a great example of multimodality.

Free People Advertisement
Free People Advertisement

This image appeared in one of the emails I received from the company. It uses visual, gestural, spatial, and linguistic modes of communication. Spatially the  layout is centered around the model. In this case it makes sense that she would be at the center of the advertisement since the ad is trying to sell the clothes she is wearing. The words that appear next to the girl are communicating with viewers in a visual and linguistic way. The words themselves are trying to convey a message about what the clothing brand represents–something that no one else has and that makes dreams come true (in reference to wishing on a dandelion). Visually the words appear in large lettering as if they were hand written. The font says something about the whimsical style of the brand and the size communicates to us that the message is important. The advertisement also includes interactivity (a gestural mode), because clicking on the picture will take you to the website where you can purchase what the model is wearing.

This next example is a commercial I was recently shown in one of my communications classes. The Under Armor advertisement features Michael Phelps and plays off of his looming retirement.

The commercial begins with footage of Phelps swimming underwater in silence and then begins to play a song about the last goodbye, clearly referring to his last olympic games. It then shows him going about his daily routine, eating breakfast, working out, swimming, etc. The commercial doesn’t just show us these mundane tasks, but shows us the behind the scenes too. The parts where he is sweating and struggling to push through. It ends with a transition of Phelps shivering in the dark after swimming to standing in the spotlight amongst a roar of applause.

The only words in the commercial appear at this time, “it’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light…rule yourself.” The combination of the visual and aural modes here work to make the viewer feel a sense of sadness for the swimmer who has worked his whole life to do this and now has to say his last goodbye. The visual footage allows us to catch an inside glimpse into his life and makes us feel a connection to him while the sad tone of the music makes us feel a sense of melancholy. If it were hype music like rap or metal rock we as viewers would feel much differently about the message they are trying to convey. In fact it isn’t until the end that we even know the commercial is for the brand Under Armor. The organization (spatial mode) is key to how the company wants viewers to think and feel when their product is finally revealed. Had it been given away at the beginning, we may not have felt as sentimental as we were at the end and maybe would not have been as inclined to buy the product or “rule [ourselves].” It should also be noted that the words at the end of the commercial are the only words ever stated other than the song. Phelps never speaks, which makes this use of the linguistic mode that much more powerful. Less is more in this case.

My last example is from the iPhone app Snapchat. One of the features of the app is an interactive discover page that allows users to click on any of the bubbles to view the stories from that specific publication for that day.

All of the modes are working together here to communicate with users. Visually the page is very colorful, with each publication having its own specially designed icon. This allows people to easily differentiate between them. Part of this is also spatial in how the app is organized. While it is hard to see from this picture alone, each bubble is extremely interactive (gestural). For example Cosmopolitan typically has images thrown in-between their stories that you can draw on, send to friends, and save to your phone. Additionally, some of the stories and images are accompanied by music/sound effects (aural mode). This works to communicate a fun and upbeat tone to users. Linguistically words are presented in different ways for different parts of the app. The titles are presented in the bubbles and arranged in neat rows so that users have an easy time navigating their way around the app. However, once they click on one there is a stream of articles and stories, which present the app as more of a news source.

The takeaway from the examples above is that all of the modes work together to communicate meaning and each has a hand in what that meaning is. Taking one mode away could greatly alter how the text is viewed or understood. Although none of these texts are the same all of them are multimodal.


3 thoughts to “What are Multimodal Projects?”

  1. I like the diversity of your examples, Brenna. One is from social media, one is more of a print type of ad, and one is television advertising. I thought that the Michael Phelps commercial was particularly engaging for its audience. I would say that, just like the Snapchat example, the commercial also uses all five modes. The gestural mode could be in play when Phelps is grimacing during his workouts, or when he is shivering towards the end. By showing these expressions, the viewer can connect with Phelps. I could feel the grind of his workout, or the cold feeling of the pool (I also thought that the cold could have been eluding to the loneliness of retirement).

    I enjoyed your last paragraph where you talk about the value of each mode. Each can add so much to multimodal texts. It will be interesting to see how we can interweave each of them into our own projects.

  2. You described the snapchat feature much better than I did- I think that anyone who didn’t have snapchat would understand the basic point of it, and the visual that you included helped with your explanation.
    I love the Michael Phelps ad. Honestly might have teared up while watching it, and then was happy to hear that that’s exactly what Under Armour wanted.
    I agree with Jon that you did a great job with choosing three very different ads to talk about. It helps further confirm the idea that any ad can be multimodal, no matter what medium it is.

  3. I love the texts you chose to analyze. It’s funny to look at the advertisements that make it so hard to unsubscribe because they are so good at what they do– draw you in and make you want more. Now that we know how multimodality works, we can figure out the reasons why we become too “weak” to press the unsubscribe button. Every mode that combines to make a text makes it increasingly engaging for the viewer. The Michael Phelps text is a powerful example of this because the way that the linguistic, visual and aural modes combine creates emotion, like Larkin said. I also like how you bring attention to the fact that although each text is so different from each other, they are all multimodal and involve similar modes.

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