Call to Action: Introducing Not Your Mom’s Travel Guide

This semester has been anything other than a clear, linear path. It was manic and fragmented and interrupted. But that is what our world is now: interrupted. In times of incredible catastrophes or depressions or pandemics, one thing is certain amidst all the uncertainty— change is inevitable.

Our world is more connected than ever with every country just a flight away. But, that ease of travel was the catalyst for this pandemic, and it is bound to be rethought.

These days I’ve been trying to look for the silver linings in things. I’ve been able to spend more time with my family. I managed to escape a Michigan winter and found solace in the South Carolina heat. I’ve been thinking about the silver linings that exist outside of my personal life and the small bubble I live in, too.

This is the perfect opportunity to examine not only how to make travel safer but to also consider sustainability in our travel. How do we travel consciously? I’ve found comfort in the idea that all this destruction could allow us to reimagine the travel industry, to think about the intersection of cultural, economic, and environmental impacts.

It makes me think of my project in a new light. Not Your Mom’s Travel Guide is not just a podcast that explores my own traveler’s guilt. It is not just a series of conversations discussing the past. It’s a call to action. How can we address the negative impacts of travel? How can we learn from our mistakes and use our guilt as a force for change?

Explore. Reflect. This is the sign you’ve been looking for. This is Not Your Mom’s Travel Guide.

The Create-Your-Own-Journey Website Genre – Inside the Mind of a Website Designer

Since senior year of high school with creating an online women’s clothing business’ website, I have always found websites to be an enjoyable medium that conveys a plethora of information. Unlike a book or newspaper, a full-fledged website can contain unlimited information that is bound only by the mouse scrolling of the reader. Every single mode fluidly translates into a website, from the visual mode of animated .gif imagery, spatial mode of the placement of elements in certain places, and so on.

It was not until recently with my decision to create an interactive website did I realise the difficulty in the genre of create-your-own-journey websites. Unlike any regular website, these interactive websites must somehow combine the user’s uncorrelated input into a coagulated result. Further, it is crucial to ensure that the reader really understands the end-game result and that the reader feels his/her choices were valuable in deciding the fate of the result. This is where perspective-taking and empathising with the reader’s experience comes into play.

There are many complications associated with creating an interactive website, some technical and some more centralised on the reader interpreting the content. After analysing several examples of text, there are some positive and negative trends in how these interactive, create-your-own-journey websites operate.

  • Acknolwedge that the reader is a user. The reader is an active of a reader as he/she will ever be. The reader is trying to grapple with the content on the page through interacting with it. By using the mouse cursor and pressing on elements on the page, the reader is making decisions. Consequently, the writer must think beyond simply ‘how is the reader interpreting this information,’ but also ‘what is the reader’s experience navigating through this website?’. This is where the design of the website, particularly the spatial mode, is enormously vital for the reader to understand the meaning of your text.
  • So, hand the power to the reader. Unlike your typical BuzzFeed ‘What Dessert Are You?’ interactive website, often these create-your-own-journey websites have a reason behind their existence. To avoid sounding like you are simply educating or arguing a point across to the reader, you have to make the experience enjoyable. Simply put, an effective way to do this is by granting the user full autonomy, which is something we, as writers, are not used to doing. The reader is writing his/her own story, not the writer. You simply facilitate the reader’s imagination to inspire a narrative. Once the reader creates his/her own narrative, the reader will take ownership of that work and feel responsible for the result, allowing the reader to better empathise with the website’s purpose.
  • Then reward the reader for taking the reins. After an arduous journey traveling through the website, the reader must feel satisfied. To be satisfied does not necessarily mean a happy ending, but simply a sense of closure and that the reader’s decisions mattered. Make sure that the reader’s choices accurately match with the result that he/she received at the end. This also means that all results should be equally satisfying for the reader to experience; the choices that the reader selects should not impact his/her satisfaction, but only the characteristics of the result.

Figure 1. A happy ending is not always the best ending, especially if you are trying to convince the reader of an argument. An ‘a-ha!’ moment can make the end-game of a create-your-own-journey website very fulfilling, especially if the reader leaves the website learning something they didn’t know before. Think in the lens of the last minutes of a film, which viewers often use to rate the film’s quality: you don’t spoil the end of the film’s plot but show how everything that has happened throughout the film has built up to that moment. Source: http://jug-lviv.blogspot.com/2013/01/fridays-fun_1938.html

More generally speaking, there are also plenty of trends in the broader genre of a website, which are dissected below.

  • A website designer is fluent in all modes. Or at least they should be. A true website designer should be able to utilise all modes throughout the entire website. The code on the website grants full freedom for the writer to convey information how he/she pleases. Linguistic mode can easily be communicated like any text through words and phrases, visual mode can be seen by uploading and inserting image or video files, spatial mode can be structured with the website’s formatting and placement of HTML elements, aural mode can be heard with uploading a sound file or even implementing a music file that plays when entering the landing page, and gestural mode can be presented through visuals of people’s gestures. The writer can choose to use only specific modes on certain pages and then interlace all these pages together as a single, cohesive website.
  • The audience of a website can be specific, but it is always published globally. The potential generalisation of the audience to anyone in the world should always be on the mind of a website designer: it defines the threshold between public and private information to display on the website. However, this also means that you must understand many readers could be visiting the website without an actual interest in the website’s topic initially. For instance, readers must intentionally go to the library or store to obtain a book after considering beforehand what they were looking for. In contrast, ‘website surfing’ could mean that many website visitors appeared out of curiosity, with no incentive to stay. This means the ‘hook’ that attracts the reader on a website is significantly more important than in a book or other genres, as many visitors have no reason to continue browsing the website if they are not initially interested.
  • There is no limit to how much information you can communicate. As stated in the beginning of this post, the only restriction on the amount of information you can convey is barred only by the reader’s mouse scrolling. There is no real limitation on information. If you don’t want the reader to scroll, you can always redirect them to another website page as well. Unfortunately, having no limitation on how much information you can convey means that many website designers incorrectly overload the reader with far too much information. This is dangerous as it works against the writer. Not only does it ruin the reader’s experience, but also makes it difficult for the reader to parse the important concepts in a text to remember. The freedom of information is thus both a blessing and a curse.

Figure 2. A reader can only handle so much information. Even if you could speak for hours on the topic, the reader may have only opened up your website assuming it would be enough to entertain them for a 5-minute coffee break, not a 90-minute lecture. When the size of the scrolling bar is shorter than the width of your thumb, you know need to start cutting the amount of content on your page. Source: https://gifer.com/en/3b8

The new genre of the interactive website, and more specifically the create-your-own-journey website is a phenomenal avenue for writers to convey their text. Although website design is somewhat more complex than more traditional mediums of text, it is important for writers to keep up with new technology to engage all forms of readers. And, there is no better time to create a website than now—the number of free website builders that exist allow for full creativity in an easy-to-use platform. With these tips about the interactive website genre, why not try making your own right now?

Project Update

Figuring out what I wanted to do for my final project was easy, but figuring out how I want to present it on my website is much more difficult. Originally, I had built a site on Wix that displayed a collage on the home page with images relating to my subject matter. My idea was that each image would link to a different tab on which some short essay (a few paragraphs) would discuss one of the several elements of my subject (i.e. bootycalls, “things,” romance in the media, etc.). Although I like the idea of breaking my writing up into segments based on content, I decided to create an entirely new site because the first felt disorganized, and didn’t represent my tone correctly. I think on this new site I want to have the tabs displayed on the homepage so readers can pick and choose which portions they’d like to read more directly. Currently, I’m debating whether I want to keep this collage format in any way, of if I’d rather just do a series of blog posts. The blog posts feel more fitting in a way because I want the tone to be conversational and personal, and I think with the images it could come off like I’m making some sort of statement or claim about how things should work, which isn’t my intention

Building a Website

When it came to building my website, I had predetermined that I would use Wix to host my content (I didn’t even consider, until after, that I could have chosen from a number of sites). The main, and really only, reason why I chose to use this site was because I had seen a number of well thought out and visually appealing capstone projects completed on Wix. Even though I went into the site with the thought that this was the only one I could use, I really enjoyed it’s easy to use interface. I chose to use a blank template, which I simultaneously regret and applaud. Creating a website is difficult, and as I found out, especially difficult to do from scratch; I have many drafts for what the best layout for my content would be. At the same time, I am happy I chose this direction because it allowed me to have a lot of freedom and creativity in the way I shaped my web pages. In the end, they may not be as beautifully and seamlessly laid out as a lot of the templates that Wix gives you, but my site will allow my content to flow in the exact way I want it to, without having to cram anything into predetermined boxes.

Formatting a Website

In my exploration into the world of site building (in which I have minimal experience), I decided, per the suggestion of my peers, that Wix would be the best resource in terms of user-friendliness and creative flexibility. Although I am not entirely set on a specific format, one thing I really enjoyed about some of the sites we explored for a previous class was the infinite-scroll format, in which sections of text were broken up by images. I worry, however, that this format will appear daunting to other users, and that they will lose interest and stop reading. I also don’t think that I want my final project to appear on the landing page, but rather on a separate tab. Another idea I had was to make my final project appear as text bubbles, as if someone was having a conversation via iMessage, which I think would be innovative and engaging, however I’m not sure how difficult it would be to execute this. These ideas are not definitive, but give some insight as to the direction I am headed.

To see my progress, feel free to check out my site

LATEST NEWS: It’s All Coming Together

Now, over halfway through the semester, I can confidently say that my capstone project is comingtogether and I could not be happier about it. With my production plan always at the back of my mind, I have somehow managed to surpass the timeline I had estimated for producing the content for my website. As of today, I have completed what I expect to be the final blog post on advertising campaigns, as well as the formatting and layout of my site. Once I got moving on the first post, the others came naturally. Thankfully, I am researching a topic I am so passionate about that I never grew tired of the content I was reading, even if that meant spending a whole Sunday researching advertising from different brands.

Looking forward, there are three main components I still plan to add to my site, all of which will be found under the “About” tab located at the top of the page. The components are as follows: “About the Site,” “About the Author,” and “About a Professional.” The content for “About the Site” and “About the Author” will come from my introductory essay, once it is written. Here, I plan to detail how my project came to be and how my interest in advertising was initially sparked. This will give the site context, as well as credibility, as I do have experience in the industry. The “About a Profession” content will most likely be formatted as a question and answer sort of layout, as I plan to conduct an interview with my mentor when we meet. As a professor, Head of Social Engagement at an agency, TEDx Speaker and Cannes Lions Speaker, I expect my mentor’s experience with advertising and engagement to be extremely beneficial for aspects of this project.

Overall, my capstone project is headed in a positive direction. Once I receive feedback from my class during class workshop, and make any edits to my already existing content I think I will be in a very good place. I am looking forward to finishing out this semester strong and having a digital project to show for it.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Creating a Rubric for a Website You Haven’t Yet Created

This week in class, we were asked to create a rubric for our individual capstone projects, based off of rubrics we were given in previous classes. Luckily for me, many of my classes this semester are paper driven, so I have multiple rubric styles to draw on. Though my capstone project is not by any means a paper, the rubric I settled on from one of my current classes helped me create a solid format for my project to be graded off of. The rubric I created consisted of a grid style format, with six different categories to analyze for a grade. Each category (row) could be given an A, B, C or D/F grade (column) based on the quality of the work provided. The grid detailed what each category would look like in terms of the grade given. Each letter grade was then equated to a certain point value (0-4). In total, the website for my capstone project could earn a total of 24 points based off of my grading scale. Coming into class I felt confident that this would be a good format to use for the purpose of my capstone project.

After workshopping our rubrics and seeing what format my classmates chose to use for their individual capstone projects, I came across another rubric format that I think would work equally as well, if not better in assessing my website. Though I would still keep the same categories (rows) I have on my current rubric, the following two columns would list an explanation of that category and then a score. Within each explanation, I would use bullet points and would assign a point value to each point. The score would be a combination of the total number of points I would earn. The scores for each category would then add up to 100. By using this rubric format, I think I will better be able to break down the aspects of my website and how many points should be equated to those aspects. Because my project is still in the works, I struggle with assessing the number of points each bullet will have. For now, I will base the points off of the time commitment and level of commitment I am assuming each task will take. There is always room for revision if anything changes.

MiW Bloggers: What rubrics have worked best for you?

THIS WEEK’S ISSUE: Ad Evolution in the Making

As we move into week six of the semester, my capstone project is in the works, but with so much leftto be done. After project pitches and project proposals, I have settled on formatting my project based off of the design of the website Ad Week, a site I spend far too much time on. Though the content of my site will be entirely different than that of Ad Week, the blog style format with a navigation menu both at the top and right side of the site will organize the points of my capstone project in a clear, cohesive way.

Originally, when I proposed the idea of researching the evolution of advertising, I had planned to organize my site into four distinct pages: “History,” “Departments,” “Evolution” and “About.” After sitting down with my professor to discuss the aspects of my project, we came across the conclusion that the “History” and “Evolution” of advertising pages would become too similar in research and that the “Departments” of an advertising agency page would become a separate project in itself. After some thought, I have decided to remove the “Departments” and “Evolution” pages and go with a different approach.

Though I still plan to keep the “History” and “About” pages for context, upon entering my site, readers will be directed to a series of advertisements (in the blog format) on the landing page. If they click to “read more,” the advertisement will open, explaining specifically how that particular advertisement has progressed in its advertisements over the years. This, for example, could feature a Coca-Cola print advertisement from 1917 and a Coca-Cola digital advertisement from 2017 and explain how it has changed over the years, both in terms of creation and format.

Though these ideas are still very much so up in the air, this should allow me to fully engage with the pages of my site, making it more interactive for my readers by avoiding repetition and overwhelming content.

Addicted to Houzz

After working as a in intern at a cabinetry and tile store this past summer, I am very familiar with the website Houzz. I used to have to update a Houzz account regularly for my internship, but after a while, I began visiting the website in my free time as well. In short, this website provides visitors with home decor and architectural inspiration and information. The layout and functionality of the website are very appealing, and despite being image heavy, it provides its visitors with an abundance of information.
The top of the home page displays the different pages that exist on the website (i.e. bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, etc.). There is also a search bar so that people can search for specific styles or items (i.e. spanish kitchen, mediterranean house, etc.). If you continue to scroll down the home page, you are greeted by a variety of images with short textual captions. There is a combination of articles, household object descriptions, house tours, landscape tours, and more. The images are set up in a consistent pattern: 3 rows with 3 images followed by one row with a large image (repeat, repeat, repeat). This simple, recurring layout helps the visitor to not feel overwhelmed by the variety of stories and options on the home page. After clicking on an image, a short description typically pops up, as well as additional information that may be relevant, such as pricing, location, style, and similar pictures or stories. This website appeals to me because one can mindlessly scroll through the site for pleasure and inspiration without ever running out of content to view, or one can visit the website with a specific goal in mind and accomplish it quickly. This website also strikes the perfect balance between text and image, allowing the viewer to first see more image, and then see more text only after clicking the image or seeking further detail about the image.

#STYLECHALLENGE: Navigation

From the very start of my remediation project, it was a goal of mine to incorporate the “journey”/”travel” feel that my repurposing project consisted of. After deciding to create a website for my remediation project, however, I knew this would be a bit more difficult than it was for a magazine spread. How was I going to incorporate this journey/travel aura on a multi-page website? I needed to find a way to string all my pages together, in a way that would allow the users of my site to feel as though they were traveling to different places in the world.

After meeting with Professor Silver, she gave me great insight into how to fix this problem. Instead of simply having a menu at the side of my site with different tabs, I figured out how to link the different pages under particular tabs together. For example, one of my tabs is a review of different restaurants in Ann Arbor that serve unique and tasty salsas. When you click on the tab, which is called “HOT” SPOTS, you are taken to an introductory page about Ann Arbor in general, and how it houses many Mexican restaurants. Then, instead of putting information about the three restaurants I chose to include (Isalita, BTB Cantina, and Chipotle) all on that same introductory page, I created hyperlinks that takes users to separate pages, each with information on just one of the restaurants. This also solved the problem of having too much text on a single page. The “HOT” SPOTS page now looks like this (the red words are the links):

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 4.39.38 PM

In addition, Professor Silver also mentioned that instead of forcing users to click on the tab menu each time they wanted to get back to the introductory page or read about a different restaurant, that I should string the pages together. At the bottom of each page, I put a link/button to help users navigate through, or “travel” to the next restaurant. This way, they can move back to the previous page they were on, or move ahead to the next page, without having to go back to the introductory “HOT” SPOTS page and search for the link for the restaurant they want to read about. An example of this new style feature on my site looks like this (the links are in yellow):

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 4.43.40 PM