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The Credit Crisis Visualized

A couple of weeks ago I wrote on the need for design, specifically in the form of visual language, to be included in our framework for rhetoric. If we take this as true, then we can apply traditionally (verbal) rhetorical principles to visual media in new ways. Let’s take an example that has been floating around the web recently, Jonathan Jarvis’ brilliantly lucid articulation of the credit crisis. (The video is about 11 minutes long, so you better have some time.)

Any homelitcs professor worth his salt won’t let you pass his course without learning this little mantra about public speaking:

  1. Say what you are going to say.
  2. Say it.
  3. Say what you said.

The idea, of course, is that the mind requires repetition to learn and remember. This applies to visual as much as it does auditory presentations and Jarvis is a clear example of this:

First, the characters in the story are drawn consistently. I can tell the difference between investors and home owners, investment buildings from houses. This visual consistency (consistency being a form of repetition) helps smooth out the categories so I can begin to focus on their relationship to each other.

Second, the characters location is always fixed: the investment banker is in the middle, the morgage broker is to the left, and the home owners are alway left of the broker. The actual layout is a simple map of the players, and Jarvis simple zooms in and out to highlight the relationships. The staticness of their place allows the mind to focus on the fluidity of the relationships, so that in each return to an interaction between the characters we become more comfortable with how they are related (visually “saying what you said”) which, in the case of the credit crisis, is the meat and potatoes of the idea.

Now, these methods are probably nothing new to those who work with the visual medium professionally (read: “not me”), but I wonder how much systematic thought could be done to parsing the whole range of rhetorical devices for visual language.