"Portage Reflects," a Milwaukee photo essay curated by David Bernacchi.
If I’m going to keep reviewing things related to art, I need to branch out. I need to be spontaneous and surprising in my efforts– three poetry reviews or multiple art reviews will never get the crowd going. Viewership on my website (where these reviews go to after submission) will surely decrease, so I must expand my horizons. Through a little bit of research, I find myself with not an art piece or poem to review, but a literary magazine website altogether. For this third installment of “Kristian Zenz reviewing things,” I will be taking a glimpse at Portage Magazine– Waukesha, Wisconsin’s premier literary magazine. I assess the website individually, but also compare it to my own as well as that of UWM’s Furrow.
In the modern age of technology, having an internet presence has never been more important. Originally, this aspect was the most fundamental key in seeing your own brand-new, grassroots, independent litmag grow from underground to above the clouds. Having an internet presence on top of a solid print presence was of utmost importance twenty years ago, and in the present day, it's even more so. Most lit mags start online these days, and your website is extremely crucial to reaching readers, if not the most crucial aspect. As a graphic designer for UWM’s Furrow Magazine, I decided to take a dive into a potential rival in the making. Portage Magazine is the undergraduate literary magazine for Carroll University, which has a strong rivalry for best college in Waukesha with UW-at-Waukesha!
That’s actually not true; no rivalry exists between the two schools. I sort of wish one did though.
Regardless of hypothetical rivalries or not, it’s a good idea to take a gander at other litmag websites and see what they’re doing, and what makes each unique. After all, you want your magazine to be up to snuff with the rest of them. Firstly, any creator or creators of a litmag want their service to be readily accessible and widespread on the internet. I’ll admit, I hadn’t heard of Portage before this endeavor. But, I must be transparent as this is likely a fault of my own and not the creators– I had also never heard of Furrow before joining the editing team. This is likely due to my sources and feeds of information regarding literary events not being quite where I want it at the time– I assumed UWM had some kind of magazine, but never exactly went to go find it. In a life busy with traffic, fifteen credits, and a website of my own, life tends to get in the way. I found Portage via The Wisconsin Poetry Foundation, so in the case of visibility, I’d conclude they’re doing just fine.
Upon entering the homepage, the website comes off as slick, utilitarian, and simplistic. I’ll admit, it's a bit more user-friendly than my website– on mine, you have to sort for reviews, and do a bit of scrolling for my social pages. Everything is right there for Portage, with little to no scrolling or hunting necessary. If you want their Twitter, it's right at the bottom. Looking for Prose? Click the pen and paper photo. The website proves to be very easy to navigate, even for those who consider themselves among the world’s computer novices. This is an important distinction to mention as a large demographic of literary magazine readers are older, in the sense that they prefer print material. If the website can successfully implement the usability of print material onto a digital platform, then that website is doing something right.
But, even though Portage has utility down to a science, it comes at a cost. Such a sacrifice of usability is evident in my website, and to a lesser degree, Furrow’s: both of these websites incorporate a bit of artistry and a bit of charm into their design. The overall aura and atmosphere is elevated for the viewer, and is usually related to a corresponding theme, product, or message. I aimed to achieve this by altering the color scheme on my website, and making the focal point my book cover. Furrow’s website is tasteful in its appearance, while still appearing very user friendly. In fact, both lit mag’s websites are actually relatively similar in formatting– top menu, bottom socials, easy access to featured material. Perhaps I’m too heavily focused on the scrolling aspect, but Furrow’s website seems to be a happy medium between my own and Portage’s– a mix of user friendly utility with a tasteful aesthetic and color choice. This is the most striking element that portage is lacking— despite being no frills and simplistic, it is almost too much of both, to the point where the website presents itself as basic and insipid.
Another very important point of accessibility and usability is that of the mobile version of the site. Both Furrow and Portage adapt their sites onto the mobile platform very well. The formatting is easy to use and invites the reader to scroll down and look for more content. Once again, Portage offers an easygoing, laidback website that might lack in taste or aesthetic, but is backed by its utilitarianism and effortlessness. It gets the job done, and checks off all of the boxes that a lot of websites should have, without any fuss. This is, of course, not to say that Portage couldn’t benefit from some aesthetic. They could dove into the heritage of either Carrol or Waukesha, applying some orange or dark blue, some foxes, and some natural springs in the corner. Any of these elements and more would really add a theme and a vibe to the website, proving that the website is there to do more than just exist as a place for their accepted submissions. It shouldn’t just be a house for its content, it should be a home— I believe this is what Furrow’s website does, and also what mine hopefully achieves as well. Our websites are distinct from each other and look to achieve some kind of atmosphere, while Portage’s doesn’t really have one. Perhaps the atmosphere could be derived from the name itself, once again alluding to the Fox River or nature. These remain as hypothetical suggestions from a novice when it comes to web design— to each their own when it comes to a literary magazine, I suppose.
In summary, Portage has a website that is extremely user-friendly and highly functional, but falls short in appearance and aesthetic. If we have to pick sides, I would argue functionality is definitely more important, but not by a great margin. A website should be memorable and invite readers to engage with the platform again and again— I’m not too confident that Portage will be memorable in this regard. But, hopefully such a lack of this will be outweighed by the content that it hosts. Ultimately, the content the site publishes will be the final straw as to what a reader determines to be memorable. We remember our friends for who they are, and not what their room looks like.
But, we do remember what their room looks like as well.
Overall rating: 7/10.
Vernacular Whirlwind: March 21.