Composing Digital Media
This semester in Composing Digital Media has brought forward a lot of surprises and challenges for me. Upon entering the class, I believed that I had a lot of knowledge about media and that the course would be a very basic walk-through of different platforms and technology. When I saw the syllabus for the coming weeks, and how intense the projects would be, I felt overwhelmed. How would I ever accomplish learning and excelling in these programs I’ve never heard of? While many of these applications were difficult to grasp, I found myself enjoying some of the projects, especially the image and audio ones, and I was proud of the work I compiled together for my final portfolio by the end of the semester. Analyzing my progression and experience in this class, the workshops and in-class discussions were important in helping me be successful, and I will take the skills that I acquired during this course into my professional life.
For the projects that focused on visual elements, the advice from my peers and the book were the most beneficial for my improvement in the class. I really struggle with visual design, as I’ve mentioned before, so I think that having other people examining my piece useful. When I presented my flyer, I assumed that having a white/light blue background would be a good use of contrast against my bright pictures; however, when I presented the project to my class during workshop, many of them felt differently. They suggested that the flyer was too plain and that having Niagara Falls as a background didn’t match with my genre of eco-friendliness. They also felt that I should incorporate more Pittsburgh elements to target the audience of Pitt students more effectively. When developing the project, I hadn’t even considered these other aspects. As a freshman, I remember how most of my English classes had workshop sessions to help make our projects and papers more efficient and artful. But, as I continued with college, this step was no longer mandatory. I was pleased that we had this opportunity in Composing Digital Media because not only does it make the creator aware of elements they are lacking, but it also teaches students who are observing how to encourage evaluators and contribute feedback and critique in a positive manner.
I also thought that many of the sections in Writer Designer were valuable. The chapter that highlighted different techniques when creating projects was especially insightful, such as how to use tools like contrast, alignment, organization, etc. I often don’t consider all of those instruments of design, or I used to presume that only certain elements could be used in specific mediums. For instance, I never thought about how alignment could be involved in sound, but after completing the Audacity project, I realized that it is an essential element in timing music or noise cleanly with different components of sound. The rhetorical situation of projects was also significant to me, because I don’t usually think about context or genre when producing some type of art other than writing. This disregard is most likely because I haven’t studied digital media enough, and it was interesting to question the message and purpose of an image, audio track, and website. Finally, being educated about licenses was one of the most prominent and crucial aspects of this course. At the publishing house that I interned at this past year, my managers focused on revamping their website on WordPress. They wanted to use pictures offline, and I was able to help them accomplish this task legally by knowing how to search for images that are free for use. Many of my peers in other classes are convinced that they won’t ever need to know about licenses, especially if they are in a STEM field, but I disagree. A person could be sued for even just using pictures on a blog and not giving credit. I wish that this subject matter was mandatory for all students to learn because I think it would make people more conscious about images and music they obtain on the web.
My strengths for this course were most emphasized in the audio section. Audacity was easy to use, mostly because I didn’t have to manipulate multiple layers like on GIMP and I didn’t have to learn a whole new language like in Atom with HTML and CSS. I also think this project was easier because I have been trained in music and I understand how contrast in loud soft tones, as well as emphasis in pronunciation, is essential in an audio piece. I could also see how the different audio tracks would be aligned and knew what would please my audience more when listening. I would have to use sounds that would grab people’s attention, but not be too obnoxious. While I did still master a lot of new skills in this section of the course, I was steady for the most part in terms of transfiguring oral elements to send out a message.
The techniques that I improved upon the most was in the HTML and CSS section. I had never had any experience in that area, but by following the tutorial, I felt that I began to slowly catch onto the language. I think the most challenging part of this section was that I wanted to move the text and images to either the center or left side, but I wasn’t physically permitted to do that. Every change and movement had to be done through code. While I still don’t consider myself to be an expert in that area, I think the strides I made were notable. The fact that I produce a website from complete scratch is monumental to me.
The goals that I set for this semester at the beginning were to just generally learn more platforms, specially I wanted to learn how to build websites off of WordPress. Well, clearly, I learned a lot more than that. Due to the sustainable number of new features I was taught, there were more challenges than compliances. In every program we used, I had to learn all new tools, and each of them were utilized differently depending on the application. It was a stressful process, but I felt extremely accomplished when I edited something correctly. At the same time, though, I realized that I could not have the same aspirational goals as others in the class. Perhaps I should’ve spoken up and suggested to lower the standards for aspirational criteria in projects that were new to me and most of the class, such as the HTML and CSS web building. However, I also think that while it is simpler to remove barriers by adjusting objectives, I also think it is admirable that my class and I attempted to reach them. Overall, I’ve made a lot of strides since the beginning of the semester and I’m proud of myself for it.
Admittedly, I was surprised by the amount of time that we had to finish the projects. I understand that the course is supposed to expand our knowledge and skills in media design, but I expected the semester to move at a slower pace for us to fully absorb and explore a platform or learn code. Perhaps for the visual or audio project it wasn’t necessary to have the project span longer than two weeks, but coding felt too intense to have in such a short time frame. I would propose maybe condensing the course to two projects or allow workshop to extend for multiple classes and cut back on reading about different design elements to allow for more time. I think that would let our projects to become high quality and for future classes to feel confident in web design by the time they leave the class.
My plans for developing my digital skills for this class is to use them if I enter a PR or publishing field. With social media booming, businesses need writers who can not only send out messages to the public through press releases or posts, but they also need them to create visually compelling forms of media in order to interact and engage with their audience and customers through different kinds of mediums. I hope that I further my techniques in WordPress, such as how to use code within it, because I know that many companies and organizations use that platform as one of their main websites. I’m also taking a poetry class next semester, and would be interested in turning my poems into spoken word that can be edited through Audacity. I would like to make transitions smoother and figure out how to make background noises more intriguing and in line with my poems. Whether I use my skills from this class for personal or professional reasons, I hope that they become stronger and I can feel assured enough to volunteer to work on graphic design projects for businesses.
Each of my projects have portrayed the growth of my digital media skills in this class. For the visual project, I knew nothing about the program GIMP, and it was very difficult for me to grasp how the different layers of images could be mended together. After analyzing the various tools, such as the size, text, and color ones, I was able to meet the baseline criteria of merging several visual elements together, altering an image by using the magic wand tool, and using contrast in color to guide the reader’s eyes to the event I was advertising for at Pitt. I struggled more with the aspirational criteria. When my project was being workshopped, my peers told me that I lacked a target audience and genre. I had never considered either of those aspects in digital art, and I had to do a lot of analyzing as to what pictures and other visual elements were compelling for students. After receiving feedback on my first draft, I was mostly given suggestions about changing the size and color of some of the pictures, like the Honey Blume Water and the EKO symbol, and the alignment of the back flyer. I am still unsure as to how to make a straight line in GIMP with the paint tool, but I attempted to put one down the middle and split up the restaurants on either side of the page so it would look more organized. I really didn’t have to change much with GIMP because I felt satisfied with all of the baseline and aspirational criteria.
For the Audacity project, I felt like it wasn’t necessary to make a lot of changes to the track. I had met the baseline criteria of using multiple tracks and cutting and aligning them. I had also specifically targeted the audience of poets and those interested in listening to spoken word, and enacted the genre of mystery by changing the depth of my voices and picking specific tracks that sounded creepy or chilling. Combining all of these elements together, I think I changed the original meaning of my soundtrack from being empowering to almost unsettling, another component of aspirational criteria. I tried to use the envelope tool to control the loudness and static of some of the background music like the Alien soundtrack and the ‘Rocket Ship Taking Off” track, but it still was loud and felt chaotic. However, I’m not too bothered by these aspects because I think that for learning a whole new program I’ve never dappled in before, the project was very successful and enticing the first time I turned it in. I had received a decent grade on it and I don’t think that the loudness and slight imbalance of these tracks took away from the dark tone or message of strength, if anything it only proved the dominance of the piece.
(For some reason my pictures aren't uploading onto my website but when I open them from my file they are on there? I hope this won't affect my grade)
The HTML and CSS project was by far the most strenuous one that I had to work on the whole semester. I had assumed that I would be working with WordPress whenever I saw that we had to build a website, so I was surprised when I realized that we had to start from complete scratch by learning a whole new language. For me, I felt like there was no baseline criteria, pretty much everything I worked on was aspirational. I think what made this difficult for me was that the structure of the HTML had to extremely specific. For instance, if I forgot to close a code, such as a link or a picture, or I didn’t list headers or divs in the right order, everything would be skewed, or it wouldn’t appear on the website correctly. I attempted to download a Free for Use CSS template onto my Atom, but I couldn’t figure out how to properly unzip it from a folder. I also had no idea how to unzip files from a folder onto HTML. When I handed in my first draft, the website was very basic, and the text and pictures looked jumbled and off centered. I felt frustrated because I had spent hours, in fact most of my weekend, working on the project. For the final project, I decided to be more patient with myself and that if I only accomplished one more item off of the aspirational criteria that would be acceptable. I spent several days just learning how to make flexboxes. Of course, I still have no idea how to properly align them. I tried to stretch them and make them vertical, but I could never get pictures or text to follow that command. I also still had problems with unzipping pictures into the project in the grid flexbox, and eventually I just had to retrieve the link from my Pictures folder on my laptop. My flexbox on the front was also not appearing, and it took me two hours to realize that I hadn’t closed all the divs at the end of the code. I think that was another difficult part of the tutorial. I thought I knew the basics well enough at a certain point that I just skimmed over some of the code, but when learning, you should pay attention to every part of coding. In the end, I added a bar that had the name of my website, an area that would have potential “Home” and “Login” buttons, and I created a grid for my photos and a link to another website. I also added a creative commons license to the page and inserted a Free for Use font. While this is only an extra step in the aspirational criteria, I think I really pushed myself and put forth a lot of effort into just learning flexboxes. For someone who has never had any experience in web design or coding, I created a page that is sufficient enough to get a message across about the literary community and to effectively communicate the purpose of the page while having some pleasing elements, like bright colors, organized pictures, and emphasis in the shape and boldness of text. I wish I would’ve had more time to work on it, I know that there are still weird borders around the pictures and I don’t have links that move readers to other pages of the website, but once again, I am immensely satisfied for meeting some of the goals, considering I came into this class knowing nothing about HTML and CSS.
The final project was less intense because we used WordPress and communicated well with one another. I thought it might be overwhelming to have a big group of people work on one project, but everyone got along really well and enjoyed working with one another. We chose to work on Jappman’s proposal of creating a Pittsburgh food guide just for students in the area. Each of us researched restaurants in the neighborhoods of Squirrel Hill, Lawrenceville, Downtown, South Side, Oakland, and Shady Side. We wanted to separate ourselves from websites like Yelp, which can be very unreliable since mostly angry customers write in their reviews and they don’t give specific prices, and we wanted it to match needs of students, such as celebrations or breaks from studying. After gathering information, we compiled them into a google slide and decided that we would break down the pages into the different areas within Pittsburgh with a Special Occasions tab as well. We used a template for WordPress and made sure that all of our pages were uniformed with prices, hours, and locations. When we revealed the website to the class, they mostly focused on our logo, which was a simple background picture of Pittsburgh. They said that the picture felt too specific to Downtown and didn’t represent all of Pittsburgh. After reviewing their critiques, my group also agreed. We wanted the logo to be inclusive of all the colleges in the area, but how would we do that? Jappman pitched us several different ideas of designs for the logo. There was one that had navy blue and gold colors that we all really liked, but in the end, we felt it was too illustrative of Pitt, so we chose a red and gold one. It was clean and simple, and set the tone for the rest of our website. We had initially wanted a lot of pictures and a banner, but we felt that a professional, clean theme of black, white, and red colors placed greater emphasis on the content of the restaurants and wasn’t distracting. We also tried to use CSS within the template, but the code was honestly very complicated, and after an hour we had only changed the color of the About Us header. We think this challenge is because our list of restaurants was registered as categories and not pages. We overcame this barrier by just using the toggle toolbox. While our website appears to be very basic, we think that its minimalist look looks more professional and it uses the design elements of emphasis, organization, content, and alignment, and our peers agreed in the final presentation. Even though we did not use CSS or HTML a whole lot in this project, I was happy that I finally got to learn how to build a WordPress site and that it looks neat and has received a positive response from other college students. WordPress is user-friendly, but a person still must put in a lot of time and energy to learn the different way to categorize pages and use widgets. We also had to consider what templates were CC0 licensed. Each of us contributed a lot to this project, and we not only grasped how to use a new program, but we also learned a lot more about the city that we love.
This course presented me with a lot of high expectations, but I’m grateful that I took this class. I discovered more about digital media than I would’ve ever absorbed in another class, expanding my perception about elements such as a target audience, mood, theme, genre, as well as the design aspects that we emphasized from Writer’s Digest in class. As a beginner, I felt intimated, but I was also reminded that all of us entered with different levels of knowledge and experience, so I think this course was flexible and understanding in the digital design process. Looking to the future, these skills will make me more versatile for a job and further my communication skills. I really enjoyed this class and I hope that I continue to think about art in different mediums either in my educational career or in the professional world.