chapter  10
19 Pages

Normativity and Software: A Multimodal Social Semiotic Approach: Emilia Djonov and Theo van Leeuwen


Since the software PowerPoint fi rst appeared in 1987, essentially as a tool for creating black-and-white overhead transparencies for use in corporate presentations, its multimodal arsenal of design options has been steadily growing. Resources added to the original set-consisting of a single layout option, bullet points, a long list of fonts and a limited number of shapesinclude not only color but also background texture, 3D effects for shapes and letters, animation and sound effects for text and slide transitions and so on. Many options available in PowerPoint, however, rarely appear in actual presentations (e.g., “green marble” texture background), and some may be inappropriate for particular contexts (e.g., certain animation and sound effects in a conference presentation). Such observations are likely to be similar for other software products and suggest that learning to use a software product involves more than being familiar with the resources it makes available and their individual and combined meaning-making potential. Like learning how to make meaning in general, it also involves learning the norms that regulate the actualization of this potential in different contexts. As skills in using ubiquitous software such as Microsoft Offi ce increasingly infl uence evaluations of academic and professional success, it is important to develop methods for revealing these norms and studying how they emerge, persist or change. These methods need to be fl exible enough to adapt to and account for the types of multimodal interaction that characterize the use of a software product across a range of contexts.