Final Steps for Module #1

When Revising Consider the Following

Lay Out Clearly What Design Activities You’ll Engage in Through Your Objectives

My focus thus far is on the content of the website and the information design needed to improve it and make it attractive. I would prefer to focus on this and let this lead a redesign that would abide by the elements, principles, and theories of design (and avoid layout sins). The website needs to be attractive and easy to navigate; focusing on having a bold or drop-dead gorgeous design (could detract from the usability of the site.

Notice how the author of the above clearly lays out the items they’ll be redesigning and the overall purpose of doing so.

Identify Specific Issues With The Current Design

There are a few edits that should be completed to make the menu bar simplified and user friendly. It is currently a stagnant bar with all pages and subpages displayed at once. A sleeker appearance to this area would make it easier for users to find what they need without being distracted with all the information presented at once. The main menu consists of four sections in the following order: ‘The Gallery’, ‘The Soda Fountain’, ‘Artists’, and ‘Events’. The submenu consists of 10 items that deal entirely with material types that the artists use. With this list being so extensive, it adds another diversion for the user seeking information. The Soda Fountain’s tab separates the gallery from the rest of the art-centric selections. This organization seems careless; similar items should be grouped together. The homepage, which contains information that can be found nowhere else on the site, such as the hours of operation, a link to the online store, and the newsletter signup, can only be accessed through the logo at the top. Not all users would think to click on the logo to arrive back home. Likewise, the contact information can only be found in the footer, a location that isn’t overly accessible on longer pages.

Notice how the author of the above lays out specific issues with the current design that they will be repairing.

Use Client-Sensitive Language

It can be easy when writing these types of proposals to forget about the people on the other end, people who are often not designers. You generally did a good job not using jargon, but need to work on softening your tone.

It’s important in these documents not to use language the client will be unfamiliar with, such as “negative space” or “ROI.” More commonplace terms like “font,” “visual design,” and “color scheme” are ok. As you edit your documents, ask yourself: what would someone with no knowledge of the subject matter of this class not understand? Then replace those terms with more commonplace ones.

Your tone needs to be that of a gentle teacher/guide, however, not a drill sergeant.  When I read things like this (a personal favorite from a past class), I cringe:

Beginning with the layout issues, the website falls for the first of the layout sins, “centering everything.” Except for the mailing list box at the bottom of the page, every piece of text is centered. Centering all of the text makes it easier to find the limited information present, but it also clashes with the visuals that break apart the text, which makes the flow of information hard to follow.

It’s not that this information is inaccurate, but from years of working with clients, I can’t imagine sending this report to one, which some of you might be doing. Consider the following revised version, which conveys the same information without coming across as snarky:

The layout of your website could use some revision. Modern websites typically avoid centering information, for example, so this might make your website look dated to some customers. Though centering all of the text makes it easier to find the information present, it also clashes with the visuals that break apart the text, which makes the flow of information hard to follow.

As you revise your documents, ask yourself: how would you feel if you were on the receiving end of the document? When in doubt, report objective information rather than using adjectives or other descriptive parts of speech that come across as value judgments rather than constructive feedback.

To Complete the Module

7) 2/10/21 by Midnight ET >>

Revise your document and hand it in. The point of receiving feedback from your peers, and also from myself, is to help you improve your writing. This process will be negated if the draft you submit to the course website is the same as the draft you hand in as your final. Revise, revise, revise.

  • An individual Cover Letter and a final draft of your Design Brief are due to Canvas by Midnight ET

Teacher Response to Homework #1: Designing Information Design

Business Keeping

Grades will always be posted to Canvas. Check for them there.

What Is Information Design?

The two main definitions of information and design are:

a. The complete process and development of a successful document.

b. The way content and information are presented and prepared on a page or screen.

c. These two definitions relate to each other by their shared ambiguity. They both allow the viewer and creator to interpret them however they see fit. – Nora

“Document design” is somewhat of an antiquated term at this point. It originally referred to the design of print documents: books, pamphlets, brochures, etc. Then the Web happened.

Now it looks like a combination of a variety of interrelated fields:

  • Information design: the creation of usable information
  • Graphic design: the creation of visual communication
  • Print design: the creation of print artifacts
  • Technical writing: the translation of technical, specialized information into a usable format

What Does Information Design Do for People?

Effective information design allows for easier access to the information for the viewer when done correctly. The best way that information design can be used is when it takes into account what exactly the information is and then displays that in a way that is most sensible, and aesthetically pleasing, for the viewer. Information design in a sense reads the situation that is presented and chooses the best path from there to present said information. – Emily

At its center is still the creation of information products that are visually well-designed and usable. Throughout this course, I’ll use “information products” instead of documents, because this broader term simply covers more. By “information product,” I mean any material artifact that has been created specifically for the purposes of passing on information to a user.

You might argue: “but, that could be anything! Soup labels are now information products!” And yes, that is correct. “Information product” is much broader than “document” and its broad usage might get us into trouble. If something is everything then it’s also nothing, in a philosophical sense.

When we say “documents,” we mean artifacts like these:

  • An assignment for this class produced as a Word document
  • A user manual for a software product produced as a PDF
  • A flyer for a local music event produced in Publisher
  • A brochure that a non-profit hands out at community events explaining what they do for their clients

The problem is: we can’t just say “documents” anymore. Consider some of the following material artifacts and tell me if you would be comfortable describing them as documents:

I think you get my point. I’m not here to say what we should call “document design” in the future, but we could do a lot worse with “information design.”

No One Person Is Every Kind of Designer

Design has rules that it must follow or intentionally break. Design combines functionality with emotional response and creativity. While disciplines in marketing are meant to persuade someone of something temporarily and disciplines in communication are meant to share information, design is creating lasting ideas that can be remembered for decades to come. Design is timeless and ever changing at the same time.

With design, form follows its function. You can form something any way you please, but does it serve a purpose? How something is put together/designed depends on how it will be used. Billboards must be quick and under a certain word length so that it doesn’t distract drivers but sends a message. Someone wouldn’t design a billboard the same way they would design the headline on a website that is meant to grab the audience’s eyes and hold it there. So, how will this design be used determines how it will be formed. – Brianna

The other thing I hope you get from our very excellent textbooks for this course is that the term “designer” has been misused in our culture for a long time. If you tell most people you’re a “designer,” they probably think you mean “graphic designer,” which they probably think means “someone who makes pretty graphics.”

In reality, however, there are lots of different types of designers, including:

  • UX designers
  • Web designers
  • Print designers
  • Graphic designers
  • Information designers
  • Industrial designers

These designers help create products that range from full-fledged enterprise applications for large corporations to the interface on the self-checkout machine you most recently used at the grocery store.

What you should take from this is that over the past 20 or so years, designers have specialized. There’s no one person who does all six of the above jobs. There may be people who are versed in a few different types of design (i.e. graphic design and web design), but most designers working as design professionals are very good at a specific kind of design and that is how they market themselves.

Introduction to the Course

Welcome to ENGL 6700: Information Design and Production

Greetings!

A Bit About Me

I have been working in collaboration with folks in the technology sector, mostly as a consultant, for about eight years now. I have taught courses in technical communication and related topics at the college level for around 15 years. I also have my Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing from Michigan State University. I have been researching and practicing design for about five years.

I’m stoked to share some of the insights I’ve gleaned during these professional experiences with all of you.

How This Class Works

In the interests of helping you acclimate to my style of online teaching, here are some highlights of this course website, and thus the course itself, that you’ll want to keep an eye on:

Deadlines

I’m a big fan of deadlines, small and large, and so I tend to scaffold assignments pretty tightly.

  • The best place to check for deadlines is always the schedule page, from which you can view the schedule for each course module, or learning unit, as it’s posted. All deadlines for each module can also be found within the module itself.
  • Your first deadline is 1/22/21, when Homework #1 is due by midnight ET.

Technologies

As this is an online course, and an online design course no less, it is obviously going to be technology-driven. In this regard, there are two main technologies to concern yourself with: WordPress and Canvas.

  • WordPress is the Content Management System that runs our course website. If you ever have problems with it, I invite you to first be good technological problem-solvers and take a look at WordPress’s excellent documentation, both within the CMS itself and on their website.
  • I’ll assume you’re all familiar with Canvas and so won’t go into that one, except to say that all you’ll be using it for is turning in assignments and downloading readings.

Interactions

I like to think of teaching as a series of interactions during which knowledge is made. The main interactions of this course are: homework assignments, modules, and discussion on the course website.

  • Homework assignments and their due dates can be found via the schedule page, under the schedule specific to each module. So, for instance, if you go to the schedule for module #1, you will see that homework #1 is due to Canvas by Friday, 1/22/21 at Midnight ET. Homework assignments will always be the first thing due when we start a new module.
  • Modules are larger assignments that are due every 3 weeks or so. You can see modules as they’re posted on the modules page, but like everything else, they’re included in the main schedule.
  • Finally, you are encouraged to post stuff (questions, comments, interesting news articles, whatever) to the course website that you think your peers would like to hear about, and every homework assignment after the first one will require you to do so. That way we have a nice active online community with interesting content constantly being posted.

Reaching Me

All my contact info is available on the syllabus page, which of course you should read through thoroughly in case you have any questions or concerns about any course policies (you’ll be prompted to do this for homework #1).

  • I’m pretty much always available via email and phone during normal business hours (M-F 9-5). I am slower to respond on weekends, but still check my email.
  • I have virtual office hours listed in the syllabus when you can talk to me via Skype or Google hangout.
  • I have obviously also worked hard to build a robust course website with a lot of information and interactivity, so please do read through it before asking me simple questions like “when is such-and-such due” or “how do I access X?” If you can’t figure out how to do something or are struggling in any way, the best way to reach me is to post a comment on the course website itself. I will receive an email every time you post something to the website, so it will be the equivalent of emailing me, and often another student will beat me to the punch with an answer to your question. Most importantly: other people who have that same question will see it and the answer that gets posted, saving us all a lot of lead time.

Working Hard

If you aren’t intimidated by the massive course website or omnibus introductory post, I should just mention that I teach a tough class. I also provide a lot of support, however, so if you’re willing to work hard, ask questions, and engage with the material, you should be fine. If you are NOT fine, reaching out to myself and your peers early and often is always the best response. If you are feeling lost in the course, which can often happen when working in online learning environments, touching base with another human being can help ground you and get you back on track. I have high expectations for students, particularly graduate students, but I don’t want anyone struggling needlessly. That’s what the assignments are for ;-).