Project D: Summary of Exploration

For my analysis, I chose to explore playing cards. I considered investigating playing cards in other cultures, cards in person versus online, using cards to gamble versus using them for fun, the cultural connotation of playing cards, or even a comparison of different types of card games. I was most interested in pursuing further research on symbols used for card suits in different countries.

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Chinese playing card designs: three of “strings of coins,” three of “coins,” symbol for “myriad of coins,” and symbol for “tens of myriads.”

Spanish playing cards: coins remain coins, myriad become cups, strings become clubs, and tens become swords. Potential values: wealth, treasure, conquest, combat.

Swiss playing cards: coins become roses, cups become bells, clubs become acorns, swords become shields. Potential values: peace, art, music, nature, defense, non-aggression.

German playing cards: roses become hearts, bells remain bells, acorns remain acorns, shields become leaves. Potential values: love, music, nature, peace.

French playing cards: hearts remain hearts, bells become tiles, acorns become clovers, leaves become pikes. Potential values: art, design, mass production, equality.

(American playing cards use French symbols while editing the names to be hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. The names “clubs” and “spades” relate back to the Spanish/Italian suits. Potential value(s): cultural melting pot.)

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My hypothesis for this proposed research was, “There is an observable correlation between the cultural values of a country and the symbols used in their playing card suits.”

My proposed testing method goes as follows:

  1. Conduct an in-depth analysis of relevant art and literature from the same country and the same time period as the selected playing card set.
  2. Make note of the frequency and context in which symbols from the cards appear in other forms.
  3. Read relevant studies published about the cultural values from that country and time.
  4. Observe whether or not the symbols are used to by the culture to represent their values.


Johnson, J. (2011, November 7). Design History: The Art of Playing Cards. Retrieved April
29, 2017, from

McLeod, J. (n.d.). . Games classified by type of cards or tiles used. Retrieved April 29,
2017, from

McLuhan, M. (1964). The Medium is the Message. In Understanding Media: The Extensions
of Man
(pp. 1-18). New York City, New York: McGraw Hill.

Suit (cards). (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2017, from

Wintle, S. (2016, December 1). Angler Skat. Retrieved April 29, 2017, from


Reading #6 McLuhan

In Marshall McLuhan’s book Understanding Media, he makes a point about how technology is always an extension of our bodies. Roller skates are an extension of our legs, binoculars are extensions of our eyes, telephones are extensions of our ears and mouths, etc. In chapter 4, “Gadget Lover,” he writes “the walled city itself an extension of our skins.”


Project C: Summary of Interrogation

For my analysis, I wanted to analyze a series of objects with both interesting symbology and cultural significance. I considered coins, state license plates, or state flags. I chose flags because of their interesting symbols and relation to human culture. I narrowed down the flags to Iowa and 5 surrounding states: Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri.

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I used the Chapters 4, 5, and 7 from Theo van Leeuwen and Carey Jewitt’s Handbook of Visual Analysis as three different methods of analysis: Cultural Studies, Semiotics and Iconography, and Social Semiotics. I answered questions about the images posed by the various methods. For example, Cultural Studies asked about the context of the image and the point of view it is viewed from. States flags are typically viewed from below near a government building because the flag is for everyone. Everyone can see it and it represents the government’s jurisdiction over its people. My Semiotic and Iconographic analysis resulted in comparison charts of the denotative elements of the flags in order to locate commonalities.

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My Social Semiotic analysis led me to consider what it means that almost every analyzed state flag has some reference to the United States in it. My theory is that since these states were added to the union much later than the thirteen original colonies, they felt the need to prove that they were a part of the team. In the same vein, the Social Semiotic method asked the question “how are elements arranged in the image?” In almost every case, the flags had a central, circle containing information specific to the state like mottos, names, founding years, etc. surrounded by a plain background. This could signify state pride, individuality, and heritage within the larger context of the country as a whole.


Reading #5: Media: Film, Television, New Media & Conclusion

One thing I found interesting in Richard Howells’s and Joaquim Negreiros’ book Visual Culture was their analysis of how film and camera angles evolved. Cinema goers are no longer in the position of being human spectators exclusively (as they would be when watching a play). Now, while watching a film, we can be flies on the wall or helicopters or birds or even cars in a chase scene — all while staying motionless in a seat.


Project B: Summary of Project B: Analysis

For this project, I visited the Hobby Lobby store here in Ames to critically analyze their brand experience. I noticed the two things they were striving to convey were “savings” and “wide selection.” The treatment of the exterior of the store strengthens that message. The store is a plain, beige department store with its name in uppercase bright orange letters. From the outside, it looks similar to other department stores known for wide selections and savings like Walmart or Target. Customers might assume that since the store is large, they must have a large selection. Their color scheme and logo convey a utilitarian message. They are trying to grab attention with their complimentary color scheme and large sans-serif type. They are not trying to look refined or sophisticated but rather inexpensive and efficient. Hobby Lobby creates the myth that this is the place people have to go to get the best deals and everything required for a project. One could go to several local stores or they could save time and money by just going to one. In reality, the store doesn’t have everything necessary for a project and they don’t have to best prices either. But it is easy to assume they do.


On the inside of the store, fluorescent lights seem to endlessly recede into the distance — making the store feel immense. Endless beige shelving units also add to the sense that this store is enormous and must have a large, inexpensive inventory. The lighting and shelving strengthen the cheap, efficient, and utilitarian messages the store is trying to send. One aspect that feels unintentional is their lack of any signage. Are they trying to make people wander aimlessly until they find what they need? Are they hoping people will be impressed with the magnitude of selection? Are they hoping people will impulsively buy things they didn’t originally plan on buying? Perhaps, but it was not a wise move. By choosing to have no signs, they sacrificed their message of efficiency. It takes so long to find things that it is almost easier to go to three smaller local stores instead.


As designers, it is important that we examine what the store is trying to convey. We should look at what elements strengthen or weaken the message. We should see what make the brand experience better or worse so that we can work to improve it. In Hobby Lobby’s case, the lack of signage does not help their message and it makes the experience worse so it needs to change.

Exercise III: Downtown Ames a Text


During a 15 minute stroll east from Design on Main and a 15 minute walk back, I encountered 4 main sections of the city. The first was the commercial area on Main Street. Here I saw local shops, local bars, and a few financial institutions. Next I wondered into a city operated zone which consisted of a power plant, a water treatment plant, and an electrical services building. The third section was residential. Mostly older and smaller homes lined both sides of 6th street all the way to the dead end. The sidewalk was worn, and it seemed like it wasn’t a popular area for walking around in because a woman tending her garden seemed suspicious of my presence. On my way back, I walked through a fourth section: a city park. There were picnic tables, trees, benches, a sculpture, and a venue for bands to perform outdoor concerts.

The Main Street area definitely feels local. The shops are not chains and neither are the restaurants. It features sculptures and statues that make the area feel supportive towards the arts and the community. The sidewalks and shops encourage the area to be used by primarily pedestrians.
The power plant area was not designed to be visited or viewed. It is fenced off and there are signs advising people not to trespass. It keeps the city running, but it looks foreboding and almost sinister.
The residential area feels tucked away and old. There are vines on many houses. The people living there seemed alarmed and a bit confused to see strangers walking through the neighborhood. Has it always been like that? Or did we merely look strange walking around, observing, and taking notes?
The park provided the most interesting juxtaposition in my opinion. Both the park and the power plant are owned and operated by the City of Ames. They both provide humans with some basic needs. But they look so different. The park is beautiful, welcoming, and decorated with art. It is a place for the community to gather, listen to concerts, have picnics, and remember community members whose names are recorded on the benches and memorial stones. The park supplies a positive emotional energy while the power plant provides practical energy for the city. It keeps the lights on and serves a utilitarian purpose. It is hideous, not welcoming, and probably dangerous. It may be polluting the air right next to the park as well. Humans have reshaped their environments so much that even the patch of nature left in this area is a manicured square of arranged plants and grass. It’s not quite even natural anymore.




Exercise II: Facebook Feed


On a denotative level, the desktop version of Facebook is organized into three main column, a top banner, and a chat bar on the right. Depending on the user, the top bar is unique only in the spot showing the user’s first name and profile picture. The left column has certain default links to things like the News Feed, Messenger, Groups, Events, Pages, etc. Users can customize and add links relevant to them in this column. In my case, I only have one shortcut that leads to the group “Iowa State DsnS 102.” The center column is the most unique portion that varies from user to user. Here, users can read posts from people they are friends with, pages they follow, as well as advertisements targeted to them based on internet search history. On the right column, there is a box that shows the top three trending news stories. Beneath that are two advertisements that change every few minutes. The chat window on the bottom right also varies from user to user. Some prefer to have the window expanded to form a full column with expanded information. Others prefer to have the chat feature completely turned off.

On a connotative level, Facebook represents connections. You connect with friends and organizations through the News Feed. You connect with the rest of the world through the Trending section. It fosters a sense of community. You can also tell that the site is free to use because of the ads. Facebook generates revenue via advertisements as opposed to charging a subscription fee.

What type of myth does Facebook promote? Interestingly, it can vary from day to day and user to user depending on what their friends are posting. Here’s a sample from what I just encountered in my News Feed and from my Trending category:





Most of what I found was rather depressing. News about terror attacks, refugees, economic issues, and even a post about a dead kitty to tie it all together. Facebook may cause people to be depressed from reading sad posts or depressed about missing out on fun. It’s an edited view of the world. It may make people afraid to travel or go outside if they perceive these attacks as common.

Reading #4: Media: Fine Art, Photography

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jan_weenix_-_still_life_of_a_dead_hare_partridges_and_other_birds_in_a_niche_-_google_art_project    arrow    rabbit-06


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rabbit-06 green     how-to-draw-a-bunny-rabbit_1_000000005260_5    green

letter-d-bunny-drawing-tutorials green     5cec0476f1f566618e3a9967303c65b0   green


Photo credits:

Topic: “The Riddle of Style”

Howells, R., & Negreiros, J. (2012). Fine Art. In Visual Culture (2nd ed., pp. 160-171). Malden, MA: Polity.

“Artists learn to draw realistically by not by the careful study of nature… but by the discovery of more and more effective artistic conventions or ‘schemata’, by which the illusion of reality can be more effectively achieved” (162).

“Cultures, like people, learn only gradually to draw realistically … by copying and improving upon previous drawings and paintings” (164).

“We can think of all manners of examples … in which issues of symbolic form have always been of much greater importance than ‘realism'” (170).

“Perhaps, then, the greatest limitation of Gombrich’s theory of realism in the fine arts remains in its underlying assumption that fine arts is — or at least ought to be — a realistic medium” (171).

Reading #3: Theory: Semiotics, Hermeneutics

In Richard Howells’ and Joaquim Negreiros book Visual Culture, the chapter “Ideology” addresses different approaches that have been taken to dissect and interpret art. There is a debate amongst various author about how to analyze works of art. Should you look at the aesthetic qualities or should you focus on how the work fits into the society of its time? Is it relevant to discuss how a work fits into today’s world? Roland Barthes thinks that it is worthwhile to view a work in today context because the author of the work is essentially “dead” once the work leaves their hands.
I found it interested to read about John Berger’s perspective on how the ruling class has made art seem exclusive and incomprehensible to the masses. Some of that division can still be seen today. Many people seem to be intimidated by art museums and insecure about their own abilities to understand art.
Berger’s observations about women in art are particularly interesting. Women have absolutely been portrayed as objects in Western art and it makes me wonder if these depictions are at least partially responsible for perpetuating unhealthy perceptions of women in today’s society. Female celebrities are more heavily scrutinized for how they look and dress as opposed to being judged based on their talents. The section about women in paintings frequently being nude reminded me of work by the activist group Guerrilla Girls.


How do we solve this discrepancy? Even though this graphic was made over 30 years ago, the current stats have barely changed. Should curators try to balance out male and female nudes? Should they balance out male and female artists? Or is that censoring the blatant discrimination of the past? Perhaps there should be some sort of a disclaimer that addresses how women are portrayed in art similar to the disclaimer that Warner Brother’s plays before some of their old prejudiced cartoons.


In the next chapter, “Semiotics,” the arbitrary nature of signs is discussed. They used examples of car names needing to be changed based on the country they are sold in. In the U.S. a Pinto is a type of horse whereas in Portugal it is a slang term for male genitalia. In that case, the sign remained the same but what it signified changed.
In the same way, logos sometimes have to change between cultures. For example, the Red Cross seeks to provide aid worldwide. However, in Muslim countries, the “cross” symbol can be seen as hostile because it looks like a Christian symbol. To accommodate these perceptions, the organization also operates under the Red Crescent (to be more Muslim-friendly) and the Red Diamond (to be more neutral).


In the next chapter, “Hermeneutics,” the authors tackle the difficult task of defining the word “culture.” It can be used to mean educated and cultivated. It can be used in the anthropological context of human customs and beliefs. The latter is significantly more broad. The chapter title refers to the study of interpretation. I thought it was interesting how difficult it is to understand cultural customs. Researchers like Geertz admitted that the study of cultures is not scientific.
Slightly related to cultural customs— when I was traveling around Europe, my friends and I walked almost everywhere around towns sightseeing. I noticed there was no sidewalk rules or etiquette. Here in the U.S., we always walk on the right no matter what. That way it is easy to pass slower people by zipping around to the left. Sidewalks in Europe were just pure anarchy and I found it frustrating when we were in a hurry. I’m not sure why no one was bothered by this.
I found an interesting BBC article about this. Apparently there are rules about sidewalk etiquette in Great Britain, but nobody follows them.
BBC Sidewalk Etiquette

Project A: Summary of Project A: Decoding the Map

For this map analysis assignment, I received a topographic government issue map of Tenino, Washington and its surrounding areas. The history of the map itself and the agency that made it was interesting, yet sparse. There isn’t a lot of information about the map because the Defense Mapping Agency (the creators of this map) was dissolved and restructured in 1996.

I analyzed the contents of the map based on Denis Wood’s  10 Cartographic Codes listed in Rethinking the Power of Maps.


A. Intrasignificant
1. iconic [Rivers, lakes, pipelines, railroads, parks, neighborhoods, landmarks, highways, roads, schools, airports, valleys, mountains, elevation changes, regional boundaries, churches, watermill, windmill, wind pump, mines, quarries, control station, woodlands, vineyards, swamps, waterfalls, and rapids.]
2. linguistic [English, Hanaford Creek, Prairie Creek, Monarch Mine, Scott Lake, Deep Lake, Church of God, Olympia Municipal Airport.]
3. tectonic [Scales are detailed and prevalent. The scale is listed at 1:50,000. The elevation is measure in meters from 0 to 5,000; yards from 0 to 5,000; Statute Miles from 0 to 3; and Nautical Miles from 0 to 3. The main contour intervals are every 20 meters with supplementary lines every 10 meters.
4. temporal [1975]
5. presentational [simple, printed, mostly green for forested areas, blue for bodies of water, map at center/ top, keys along the bottom and edges. Nothing on the back, thin off white paper, perhaps a very thin gloss/wax/plastic coating]

B. Extrasignificant
6. thematic [scientific, accurate, official
7. topic [Tenino, Washington topographic map]
8. historical [It shows what schools and churches and things have been around since 1975.]
9. rhetorical [Official, accurate, governmental.]
10. utilitarian [road maps, calculating distance, hiking, planning construction, stealthy missions: red-light readable]

 C. Side notes:

  1. The symbols they use are very small which seems to imply that it is not meant as a sightseeing/tourism map.
  2. There are a lot of scales with instructions to teach people to navigate and calculate magnetic north versus grid north versus true north.
  3. The map says it is made by the Defense Mapping Agency Topographic Center in Washington D.C.
  4. You can tell that it is part of a series of interconnecting maps because it is labeled sheet “1477 IV” and there is a subordinate section labeled “adjoining sheets” that shows where is fits in between 1478 III and 1477 III
  5. Hand written notes on side relate to reading azimuths, calculating angles, and properly record grid coordinates.
  6. Arrows at the top of the map tell you how far it is to Olympia, Washington (the capitol).