"Rhetorical Web Design: Thinking Critically about Ready-Made Web Templates and the Problem of Ease" by Jason Tham
Jason Tham is a PhD student in the Rhetoric and Scientific and Technical Communication program at the University of Minnesota in Twin Cities. His current research includes connected knowledge making and sharing, digital and visual rhetorics, and new inventions in writing and communication technology. His scholarly works have appeared in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Intercom, and Digital America: Journal of Digital Culture and American Life.
Recently, programming and web-writing courses have observed an exploded enrollment of young professionals and students who are eager to learn how to program and develop code literacy. While the rewards of creating and using such frameworks are ease and efficiency, novice developers risk relying too heavily on the prefabricated works of others, allowing them to focus more on ease than skill. Such a practice may also misguide developers to becoming unaware of the larger cultural and functional contexts within which the technology was developed. The overall ease of usability strips away the developer and designer’s ability to exercise rhetorical agency over the development of an interface. To explicate the concerns central to the use and misuse of “easy,” ready-made templates, the author examines website templates from WordPress.com to evaluate their design flexibility using the concepts of agency and techne. By doing so, the author challenges the validation of ease in using prefabricated applications and ready-made web templates – teaching users to analyze specific audiences and rhetorical situations in the design of websites, and not to compromise their autonomy in full self-expressions and identity on the web.