Images and Text

In informational literature, images are almost inescapable. Graphs, tables and other visual aids make raw data easier to interpret. Scientific texts almost universally make frequent reference to explanatory diagrams and figures; even fiction has a significant tradition of illustration. Reproducing images in book form is inherently more expensive than printing volumes of pure text, and some books only include visuals on a two- or three-page center insert.

Computer monitors allow much less constrained image use. Digital presentations allow visuals to be tightly linked to the information they present, especially in the widely used (and abused) slideshow programs like Microsoft PowerPoint® Web media expands the possibilities even more, allowing in-line display of images and even flash files or movies with regular text. The only constraint on online images is bandwidth, and even with a large portion of the digital community still limited to dial-up modems many countries are actively aiding the spread of nationwide high-speed broadband networks. While there are many art communities that focus on images, and a smaller but still vocal number of pure-text minimalists maintain their own websites, any web designer has to at least consider the layout of their words on the screen. The simplest dividing line between columns or paragraphs in a minimalist webpage can have just as much impact as a highly visual, interactive website, as long as thought is put into its use.

Hypertext authors of informational material have a strong tradition of scientific literature to go on. As in most textbooks, the tried-and-true method for the presentation of data is a linear body of text with key points presented adjacent to in a clear relationship with relevant diagrams and figures. Most major newspapers maintain websites that include thumbnail pictures next to headlines, an expansion of the traditional cover story that allows more minor events to be similarly presented with visual documentation. This sort of image use is mainly a holdover from print media, although it is highly logical and effective in an informational context. The possibilities of image use in internet hypermedia show up most when looking at fiction.

Most writers are not artists or graphic designers. People seeking a method of expression tend to gravitate towards media that supports their specific talents and mentality. Even the use of text for visual effects (as in the poetry of e. e. cummings and others) is more an extension of that poetís personal style than a deliberate attempt to reconcile imagery with the written word. In an environment so conducive to the marriage of text and graphics, however, there is pressure on hypermedia authors to straddle that line (note: breaking of boundaries, c.f. Haraway). It is a dilemma familiar to comic artists. While many comics are the product of one individual responsible for both the text and the visuals, it is highly common for a writer and an artist (or several artists with different skills) to create a finished strip. In graphic novels common practice has the writer working in conjunction with one artist who does pencil sketches, one person to ink those in, somebody to reproduce the writerís text on the page by lettering the comic, and finally a colorist. Some of these jobs may be omitted and others combined within the skills of one individual, but the interaction of artist and writer creates the comic, not any one alone.

Web documents may be created by a writer alone. Basic structural HTML is all that is needed to present a text, and even images, online; many programs will create the code without any additional input from author. This use of WYSIWYG web editors democratizes the web, but does not realize the full potential of web design in hypermedia. Even in the world of webcomics, a second or third person often handles site design and maintenance. By freeing the writer and/or artist to do what they do best, the web designer can focus on presenting material in an effective way. The inclusion of a person with some experience in web or print design in any hypermedia project would allow a much more intelligent combination of the authorís text with web-based images or even animations. Significantly more creative possibilities open up between the combination of text and graphics.

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