early fall

I feel like I’m always in some sort of intense balancing act. Maybe I’m trying to do too much at once, but probably I just need to learn how to juggle. I thought that this semester would be a breeze with only taking two classes and all, but I guess when you combine that with working full time and traveling out-of-state just about every other weekend, two classes is kind of a lot.

This is becoming especially apparent as I try to figure out in which direction I want to take my Master’s project. I will admit that I’m getting to the point where I just want to be done with school. To this day, I don’t know that going straight into grad. school was the best idea I ever had, let alone whether grad. school at all was the right decision for me. At the same time, the topics that drew me to the Written Communication/Professional Writing program still resonate with me. That was a refreshing/confidence-boosting realization that I made tonight after I realized that I had literally just spent the past seven hours researching and reading and writing about possible project ideas. I can’t remember the last time I was so engrossed in something.

Specifically, I recalled a book I had read for a Visual Rhetoric class last year: Alberto Cairo’s The Functional Art: An Introduction to Information Graphics and Visualization. Reading this book was kind of an “a-ha!” moment for me in the sense that it helped me draw a connection between my interest in rhetoric and my love of design that I never realized existed. There’s a section in the book about minimalism in the design of information graphics (specifically, charts and graphs) as championed by Edward Tufte. It has apparently long been debated whether or not a minimalist approach to these data visualizations is more effective in terms of interpretation and retention of the data.

Example:

Snap decision: Which chart is better?

So a minimalist would argue that the chart on the right is better than the one on the left. Somebody like Tufte might even go so far as to say that the chart on the left is insulting to its readers in that it insinuates that they are stupid or unable to interpret the data without having it “dressed up” for them.

While at least a couple of studies have been done on this, there’s at least one gap that I’ve found in the studies I read today. In The Functional Art, Cairo speculates that, when it comes to the minimalist debate, “It is my perception that those in the [minimalist] group typically come from technical backgrounds (statistics, cartography, computer science, and engineering), while those in the second group are graduates of graphic design, art, and journalism programs.” (Cairo 61) No study that I have been able to find compares professionals from “technical” vs. “design” fields in their interpretation of the data. Instead, they seem to use random samplings of students without taking their fields of study into consideration.

So what I’m working on, then, is an attempt not only to contribute another study to the minimalist debate, but to analyze the rhetorical component of audience that has–to my knowledge (need to look into this further)–been ignored in these studies thus far. And I’m oddly really excited about this idea. Now, as far as the specifics of how I’ll carry it out…that’s still to be determined.

I guess the bottom line is that, despite the fact that I’m really really really ready to be done with school (at least for awhile), it is super refreshing and energizing to feel this engrossed in something again. And so regardless of what I end up doing or not doing with this Master’s degree, I will be proud if I can contribute at least this one useful thing to a field that I really do care about.

On a completely unrelated note, I love this time of year. And have I mentioned lately that I’m a very lucky and super thankful girl? Because I was reminded of that about ten thousand times this past weekend.

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