Thematic: Affordances & Constraints

Every interface or tool each comes with their own positives and negatives of use, and Thematic is no different. Unfortunately, after careful examination, it seems that Thematic’s constraints might outweigh its affordances; however, let’s first examine its benefits.

Affordances

Thematic’s affordances first start with its “Explore” page. The “Explore” page is extremely powerful, extremely useful, and extremely easy to use. The different categories listed on the side enable users to browse through a variety of different stories based on the topics they are most interested in. Additionally, the users are able to gain inspiration from viewing other users’ stories, and potentially carry over that inspiration and insight into their own stories to make them better.

Next, Thematic’s “Help” page is a great resource for all users whether they are design or photography beginners, or experts who have been using similar tools for years. The “Help” page is broken down into three subpages (uploading photos, design tips, and tech tips), which helps point users in the right direction depending on what type of help or advice they are looking for. It seems that the authors have tailored the information on the “Help” page based off their own personal experiences using the tool in the past and what they believe users will have the most questions about.

Another positive to Thematic is that its use is free and open to all, and its easy. All one needs to sign up is an email account or a Facebook account. Additionally, unlike other social media networks, Thematic will not hound its users with pointless emails, spam messages, or annoying advertisements. In my own personal experience with the tool, I have only received one email, and that was upon signing up for the tool when they welcomed me to Thematic.

Finally, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, affordance to using Thematic is that it is just really, really cool. The final product of Thematic leaves its creators with a unique, visually powerful story compiled of all images with little text. Upon viewing a Thematic story, visitors will scroll through the photos and feel like they are actually experiencing the journey that has been created. Whether it is action shots of a soccer game leading up to the final goal scored, or scenic pictures of New York City while one makes their way across the Brooklyn Bridge, or even just a small personal journey of one’s life from their time as a little kid getting a picture with the Hokiebird to the day they graduate as a student of Virginia Tech, Thematic really does have the power to produce impactful material if designed in the right way.

Constraints

Unfortunately, Thematic’s constraints outnumber its affordances. The first constraint that I found is that Thematic is only available on the computer; there is no mobile or tablet application form. It’s disappointing that this tool cannot be used on the go, especially considering that it is so similar to Instagram, which is mainly accessed from its mobile application. Although users are able to pull up Thematic in an internet browser on their phones or tablets, there is not even a mobile version of the website available. Because of this and the lack of an application, Thematic can really only be used from a laptop or a desktop computer.

An additional constraint when its comes to usability involves the need for users to have at least a small amount of design and photography experience. While anyone can use the tool and create a story, to use the tool at its highest success level of operation, users need to be very design savvy and have strong photography skills. The key to creating the best Thematic stories is to have very, very strong visual images. If the photos that one is using to create their Thematic story are not interesting or eye-catching, there is really no point to using Thematic at all.

Similar to the need for strong photography skills, another constraint of Thematic is that the interface is designed to support landscape style photos and does not support portrait style photos. Although the tool will accept both styles of photos and will still place them into a story upon upload, portrait style photos are cut off and cropped unevenly. As you can see in the screenshot below, I attempted to include a portrait style photo into my story, but unfortunately Thematic cropped off half of the picture. This was actually a very annoying constraint, and its easy to see how users could get frustrated by Thematic’s inability to adapt to both styles of photos.

Cuts off Portrait Style Images

Additionally, Thematic lacks the ability to edit or enhance photos inside the tool itself. Users must pre-crop and pre-edit their photos before uploading them to Thematic, because once they are uploaded, they are inserted straight into the story and cannot be changed. I found it very surprising that Thematic did not offer an edit or enhancement tool in its interface, especially since it is so similar to Instagram, which allows users to crop, edit, and enhance pictures in the program itself. Also, while Thematic offers the ability to add text to photos, it limits how much text as user can add. Users are influenced to use a minimal amount of text, because using a lot of text over the photos on Thematic ends up looking very cluttered and unorganized.

Finally, the last constraint of Thematic is that it lacks sound and video, completely leaving out the aural Mode of Communication. In my opinion, the integration of even just some background music to a Thematic story would enhance its style even more and would be a cool additional. Also, it might be neat to have narration or the creators voice talking over the story. Furthermore, being able to insert videos, not just photos and still images, into a Thematic story could make its presentation even more powerful. Unfortunately, none of these ideas are options in Thematic, as it just allows its users to include still photos and images into their stories.

As we move onto the conclusion of our journey and examination of Thematic, take a moment to consider whether or not you are interested in exploring the tool further or using it for your own personal use. I’ll share my overall thoughts on the next page!

Previous: Design & Modes of Communication — Next: Conclusion

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