According to Hassett, business document design needs special attention to four “basic rhetorical functions”: alignment, invitation, credibility, and persuasion. Since business document design has come to include digital writing and design, I thought it would be especially useful to analyze a website with these points in mind.
I’ve chosen the popular realty website Zillow, which allows users to search for both rental properties and those listed for sale. The website does not base its income from ad revenue, but through referrals made on the website to local realtors. This frees up space for the website to meet some of those rhetorical functions of design instead of focusing on revenue creation, which may impact the execution of those functions.
To begin with, the home page offers a lot in the way of alignment and meets the expectations of the website genre in a simplistic way. It offers several top-level pages and menu. If you scroll past the search bar, you will see that the home page offers several clickable options as well. After searching a specific location, the website meets alignment expectations with a map of the search area—giving readers an expected way to search houses by location.
In terms of invitation, there are several points of invitation on the home page. On the home page, the reader is clearly invited to engage with the website through a large, white header text, a smaller header, and finally, the search bar placed over an inviting image of a home. The placement and sizing of these headers are important: they guide the reader to the search bar. The rest of the webpage is white and simple, using text to invite readers to different pages or menu items.
Zillow establishes credibility using the above rhetorical tools, mainly through visual communication. Additionally, they also establish credibility through their use of realtor photos on specific listings.
Finally, they persuade the reader to engage through the headings on the first page as discussed above, but also through the use of the map and photos of homes. The map is interactive: a reader can scroll, click, enlarge, or zoom in. As they do so, the images on the right side will change based on the position of the homes on the map.
Hassett’s basic rhetorical functions are applicable to both print business document design and digital design such as a website.