Corporate websites, like many other forms of new media, are constantly changing. Early websites were generally text-based, with links shown in a different colour, as dial-up connections would not permit bandwidth-heavy visual and video resources. The evolution of pages since then has been shaped in part by the development of technology and web plug-ins, and is also driven by changes in webpage design (Boardman 2005). Nevertheless, webpage designers generally use an increasingly rich range of resources for evoking corporate images. Accordingly, approaches to exploring them have become increasingly multimodal (Pauwels 2012). This increase in multimodal resources has also gone hand in hand with differing patterns of interaction between the user and the website, with current sites needing to be attractive, able to draw users in and easy to navigate. Blogger Myia Kelly (2013) characterises the webpage as going through a number of distinct iterations, which she characterises as Antiquity (text only), The Middle Ages (column-based formats with some graphical elements), The Renaissance (features such as Flash enabling a more dynamic appearance), Enlightenment (Cascading Style Sheets [CSS] enabling separation of website design and content, and improved design sensibilities) and The Industrial Revolution (incorporation of the Web 2.0 dimension of social media). Both the websites discussed in this chapter are continually changing their appearance—the Shimano website even reorganised its fundamental design and structure during the period when I was analysing it. Accordingly, while it is possible to look at monomodal written texts found within the website, such as the written text of the user manuals, any contemporary account of how website design contributes to the language of websites would benefit from considering them as multimodal spaces drawing on a range of semiotic resources to evoke corporate identities.
My aim here is to consider how this is done in terms of both linguistic and multimodal resources, and the relationships among the modalities. As the two main texts and the homepages from which they derive belong to two quite different corporations within the same industry— Shimano and Surly—this analysis also looks at what kind of corporate identity is conveyed and how well it is suited to the marketing of its products.
In her book Designing Brand Identity, Wheeler describes brand identity as follows:
Brand identity is tangible and appeals to the senses. You can see it, touch it, hold it, watch it move. Brand identity fuels recognition, amplifies differentiation, and makes big ideas and meanings accessible. Brand identity takes disparate elements and unifies them into whole systems. (2012, p. 4)
This description suggests that brand identity signals are spread across a range of semiotic resources, so that exploration and critique of such identities benefit from the kind of multimodal analysis developed by Kress and van Leeuwen as well as the many scholars who have contributed to this framework (Dreyfus et al. 2012; O’Halloran and Smith 2011; Royce and Bowcher 2007). The following sections examine ways in which a disparate array of elements, across a range of modalities found in the two homepages, contributes to the evocation of a brand identity.