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Thoughts on design

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Shawn Telford
CEP 817
April 2011

                                    Thoughts on Design

       In thinking about design ...
we make creating the site and the type of content we add. It also matters how simple or

complicated that site can be and ...
types of nonfiction text features. I went to my favorite resource to look at my options

(http://cooltoolsforschools.wikis...
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Thoughts on design

  1. 1. Shawn Telford CEP 817 April 2011 Thoughts on Design In thinking about design as this course progressed, I do not find that my thinking revolves around McCloud’s six steps of Idea/Purpose, Form, Idiom/Genre, Structure, Craft, Surface and User Testing. While these elements are important, I find it easier to focus on design in regards to Context, Usability, and Functionality. Context New designs often spring from dissatisfaction with old, as times change, the needs of people change. It follows that design needs to change with the times. Also, some designs might work for one situation and not another. One example of this was in our Good/Bad Design presentation of the window in the bathroom over the bathtub. At one time in our history, people mostly bathed in the tub instead of taking a shower. Having a window high enough above the tub would be fine for this purpose as it allows for ventilation and air flow. Obviously this does not work in the situation presented in the design example from Florida, as bathtubs are considered areas of safety during a hurricane. This is an example of a design that may have been fine in the past when people took baths instead of showers, but does not work in most situations now and certainly not in hurricane zones. In thinking about context in terms of web design, designers need to consider their audience and how the site will be used. For our assignment, we needed to create a site that teaches a concept to our end user, whether it be a young student or an adult in the professional workplace. Our audience should be the driving force behind the decisions
  2. 2. we make creating the site and the type of content we add. It also matters how simple or complicated that site can be and how much information can be presented on a page. All of these things have an impact on the final creation of the site, but in different ways to each of us. All of these decisions lead to whether the site will be usable by our intended audience. Usability If a design doesn’t work for the end user (or majority of end users) is it a failure? I would say, “Yes.” If the end user cannot use the design for its intended purpose, then it becomes art. Usability relates to the ease of use. I encounter usability issues often in the classroom. There are tons of books and websites that have printable worksheets for students. I find that I often have to redesign these worksheets because some aspect is not user friendly for my students. The concept is there, but the layout or font or spacing is awkward and cluttered. Sometimes there are too many things crammed on the page or students cannot figure out where to write the answer. Other times there are too many distracting graphics or the lines given to write the answer are too close together for young students who still have large handwriting. I end up taking the concept and reconfiguring it so my students will be more successful in completing the activity. Usability is a very important consideration in creating our websites for this class. Each of us was given the task of teaching a concept to students through a variety of media. The web now offers an endless selection of technologies to use, but as designers we needed to choose the options that provided the greatest usability for our audiences. One of my original ideas was to create a slide show displaying different
  3. 3. types of nonfiction text features. I went to my favorite resource to look at my options (http://cooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com/). There were over 50 sites that will let you do something with pictures or photos. Many of them were variations on a slide show format. I wanted a slide show where I could add audio, so that narrowed it down. I also wanted one that would be easy for my students to use or where I could embed it into my page. After a long search keeping my parameters in mind, I ended up checking out VoiceThread to see if that would fit my needs. Even though it is not a slide show program, it turned out to be exactly what I wanted – easy to use and a great way to present the concepts to my students. In my user testing, it turned out to be a favorite part of my website. Usability also applies to the end user being able to use the website to do the job you intended it to do. I wanted my students to learn about nonfiction text features. Each time I added a new presentation tool, I questioned whether this tool would teach the information in a way that was easily accessed by my audience. I also want teachers to be able to use my site to help them teach this concept in their classrooms, too. Functionality Functionality relates to usability, but where usability is the ease of use, functionality refers to whether the parts serve a purpose. It goes back to whether something is art or not. If there are parts on the website that do not have a job that furthers the content of the site, then it is more like art – nice to look at, but nothing more. In thinking of a site I once saw that had an overwhelming number of flashing, blinking pieces of clip art scattered around, those icons were art, which did not further the content of the site in any way. The blinking detracted from the message of the site,
  4. 4. because it was so visually distracting. To me, this reduced the functionality of the site because I had to wade through the commotion to find the content. Some people might say the flashing, blinking clipart represents creativity. I would say that since it distracted from the main purpose of the site, it was not functional. In creating my site, I wanted each part to serve a function to further the user’s knowledge of nonfiction text features. I wanted to use a variety of ways to present the information, but still keep it functional. When looking for a technology to use to present the material, I always asked myself if this was the best technology for my purpose or was I choosing it just to be different. This was a major consideration in choosing VoiceThread, as stated earlier. It was usable and functional for the purpose of presenting my material. My Design In deciding on a topic for my site, I wanted to do a project for language arts since I really have not done a major language arts based project since one of my first classes. I also wanted a topic that was not going to be tied only to second graders, as I might be teaching a different grade next year and wanted something that I could “grow” in the future without starting from scratch. The topic I decided to present was nonfiction text features. Our first assignment was to come up with an introduction that did not follow the standard PowerPoint format and my first thought was to use Prezi. I had wanted a reason to try it out. I found it quite intimidating at first. It was intimidating for two
  5. 5. reasons: one it was a huge blank canvas and two because I am a more linear thinker. Once I got started, however, I liked the freedom and creativity it inspired. Our second addition to the site was to use a tool we had researched as a group. I was lucky to have learned about LibraryThing in my group project and was able to apply it to my site. I want students to be able to connect their learning in my site to real life, so I thought it would be good to give short book recommendations to books I have in my collection (and that can be found in the library) so kids can apply their learning on the site to real life context with books. LibraryThing offers code for embedding purposes that puts a nice, visual icon that allows students to click on an interesting book to get the recommendation and then click through to the site, if they so choose. True work on my BK project began after I jotted some notes and let it simmer in my mind a while. Then it was time to sit down in front of the screen. From then on it became a process of adding things and moving them around on the screen, walking away from it, and then returning to add more and move more things around. I was thankful that this was not my first website. One of the things I realized in this class is, like most everything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets. You learn “work- arounds” to get things to appear as you want them. I wanted to use Glogster to make a poster showing information about using a Table of Contents, but ran into lots of problems. Sometimes the program would not let me in or would not load. Then I would work on it a little bit, but it would not let me save it. So I started looking for an alternative and came across Nota. This was suggested in a blog as an alternative to Glogster. In my search for an alternative, I also found sites where there were lots of complaints about Glogster and its issues (similar to what I was
  6. 6. seeing). As frequent users of technology, we get so used to expecting technology to work like it is supposed to; it is very frustrating when it does not. After exploring Nota, it just did not have the design pizzazz of Glogster. I spoke with a coworker who had used Glogster with her students and did not have any problems, so I went back to Glogster and tried again. This time I was able to get everything to work and I could finish my posters. In the end I was glad that I stuck with Glogster, as I really like the visual appeal and now that I have used it, I feel more confident trying it out with my students. At this point in the design process, I looked at the text features I still wanted to include in my site, but realized I needed to organize them into groups so I did not end up with a dozen mini-presentations. I decided to group the remaining topics into 3 main categories. A side goal was to use programs outside of my usual repertoire to get familiar with them, so that I might be able to use them in the classroom with my students. That goal needed to be managed in light of having the best finished product for my project. The context/usability/functionality balancing act came into play. I spent some time looking at the http://cooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com/ wiki to get some ideas of programs that I might use to present my information (refer back to my thoughts about VoiceThread). Content for my site was underway, but I wanted some initial feedback on the general look of the site. I liked the colors I first chose for my site (black background on the sides with a yellow banner across the top, center section for content was white background with black words). I had made a coordinating Wordle that looked very sharp. I liked the look, but felt it was not quite right, so I ran it by my husband for a
  7. 7. second opinion. He agreed that the look was great, but not for my audience. It looked too sophisticated for second graders. I started playing around with other designs (in Weebly) and came up with something that looked more appropriate. For some reason, I had really wanted black along the sides, but there was not a choice that allowed that and the type of heading that would accommodate photos. I know enough HTML to get everything messed up and get it back to where it was, but not to do any major stuff. I found a template that was simple and uncluttered that also let me add my own photographs. I tried it, but still was not sure it was “the one,” so I let the design “sit” for a while. In the end I really like the cleanliness of an all white page. It adds to the simple look I was going for. I added pictures of my students reading nonfiction and redid the Wordle with complementary colors. I really like the final look. A great part of the course (and one of McCloud's six steps) was to have our group members critique the websites we each created. I found the feedback from other educators who are familiar with web design to be very valuable. One of the suggestions I received was to add a blog to my site. I had not considered that before, but I liked the idea of allowing students to have a more meaningful interaction with the content of the site. Weebly offers a blog that can be added to the site, and I was so pleased to discover that students do not need e-mail addresses to add a comment – a big consideration when creating content for second graders. I look forward to using it with my students. The user feedback that was completed with one of my students and two of my colleagues was also very valuable. I definitely see the value in doing this in the future with any new websites I create. After a while the website creator (me) has looked at the
  8. 8. site so many times it is hard to see the forest through the trees. Having a fresh pair (or even better – pairs) of eyes can help to tighten up some of the finer details that may have been missed. If there had been more time for the testing, I would have liked to test the site on a couple of other students – one with limited computer experience and one with moderate computer experience to see how they differed in their experience with the site. Since my student user testing took almost a half hour of sitting one on one, I just did not have that kind of time available to repeat the procedure in the week we had to test and complete the write up of the testing. Overall, though, the feedback from group members and users was helpful in making final adjustments to the site. The Designs of Others My final thoughts about design involve the design of others. My husband and I were talking recently about how everything new seems to be about getting someone to part with their money so the corporation (individual, whatever) can get richer. It seems that design has suffered in some ways because of that kind of thinking. Often it is more about making money and less about quality design, as seen in the bad design examples that were presented throughout our class. The discussion about the apple peeler/corer brought up whether it is needed to have a special gadget to peel and core apples versus a paring knife that will do the job and peel and cut other foods as well. That led to the discussion of the myriad kitchen gadgets designed to solve one specific problem and the cost and space required to have them. In this case, I guess it is like design overload. At some point enough is enough.
  9. 9. This semester I also took another class where the final class project was to create a wiki page about reading online. Each student was responsible for a page (or pages) on their chosen topic regarding reading online and the pages are a part of one comprehensive wiki. It really made me think about whether being a designer of online content is somehow like being an artist – some people have a talent for it and others do not. Some people seemed to have a good sense of visual balance, font size, color, etc. while others struggled. Maybe my participation in this class has made me much more sensitive to such issues about design and I am looking at their pages with a more critical eye than I normally would have. It did make me think that this course on design should be a required part of the curriculum, not an elective. With more and more content being presented online, teachers and other students in the program should learn some design basics, as it was clear in my other class that such design skills are not naturally present in all people. If the direction of education is toward more online learning, teachers need a basic understanding of how their presentation of content can positively or negatively affect their student’s experience. As long as I am on my “soapbox” more attention needs to be paid to basic writing and editing skills. It used to be that taking a class meant that the papers and projects that were completed were presented to the instructor and maybe shared with classmates. Now, with online courses, these same types of papers and projects are put on the Web for everyone to see. A design consideration that was not really addressed was the importance of using Standard English and editing for errors, as well as revising the content. Having material published online that is full of spelling, punctuation, and typographical errors, as well as improper word usage, reflects badly on the author and
  10. 10. reduces the author’s credibility – if they cannot be bothered to fix such basic errors, how much of the content is accurate? Unfortunately, for all of the advances in technology, there is no electronic substitute for a thorough proofreading – Spell Check does not catch everything. Overall, I think the work that we did and the concepts of design that were discussed are very important to all aspects of educational technology. Teachers and students of technology need to pay closer attention to how Context, Usability, and Functionality relate to the material they present to the world via the Internet. Their work may just be a project to fulfill a requirement, but when it is put it on the Web, it has just published it for all to see and use and design plays an important role in how this final product is received.

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