Alan Lui discusses the use of visual metaphors from older media in web design and argues that such metaphors “naturalize the limitations of the new medium by disguising them within those of older media” (Reader, page 228). Discuss while giving an example of a website.
In this subject, we have focussed on the rise and rise of ‘new media’ or perhaps more specifically, ‘Web 2.0’ applications. We have identified a number of features that help characterise a website, or a software application as ‘new media’: user-customization; interactivity; on-demand, and; community/network focussed.
But up until now, our studies have not considered how these Web 2.0 features are presented in the online medium. While we love the idea of ‘new media’ (as if somewhere along the timeline of history, someone performed a firmware update), for ‘new media’ to be an effective medium, audiences and individual users must still be able to interpret and understand the information presented.
Alan Lui (2004) explores this idea. Lui (2004) contends that information presented in ‘new media’ applications is represented within visual metaphors of ‘old media’. Essentially, he argues that although we describe interactive and network-based mediums as ‘new media’, the ways in which information is presented to users is the same as the way information is presented in supposedly ‘old media’ platforms.
A few examples provide a better explanation.
Here, on the Boost Juice website is an ‘encyclopaedia’ of fruits. As a company that emphasises the use of fresh fruit in their products, they have included a sort of fact book that examines each fruit available in their stores. The designer of this website has used the familiar layout of a book (with pages, text and illustrations) to present the information on a new media platform. Essentially, the information that is presented on this website is presented in the same style and fashion as it would be if it were presented in ‘old media’.
Another example is the iBook app that operates on the iOS system software used on iPhones, iPods and iPads.
The iBook software attempts to take the experience that users have with information in old media, and recreate it (or “disguise” it) in the ‘new media’ platform (Lui 2004). With iBook software, users consume, interact and engage with the information in the same way as they would if the information was presented in a physical book.
Another iOS app that uses the visual metaphors of ‘old media’ in on a ‘new media’ platform is the Flipboard app.
As the video demonstrates, Flipboard serves as a “personal magazine” that shows the genre of news and information that you are interested in, in a magazine-style format. Again, this application presents information in the same way that we are accustomed to in ‘old’ mediums like physical, published magazines.
I think that it’s always interesting to consider, whenever there is an instance of revolution or evolution (either in technology, social norms or politics), how much the new is similar to the old. While it is easy to find oneself swept up by the superficial changes between old and new, invariably it is the basic elements that will remain unchanged.
“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.
- Lui, A., ‘Information is Style’ in Laws of Cool: Knowledge, Work and the Culture of Information, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 195-230, 2004.
- Apple, ‘iBooks for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad on the iTunes App Store’, iTunes Preview, 2011.
- Flipboard, ‘Flipboard for iPad’, 2011.
- Boost, ‘Products/Encyclopedia’, Boost Juice Bars, 2011.