Thursday, April 23, 2015

Digital Design Theory: Design and Layout Matter

Ann Arbor is one of the “book capitals” of the world.  My favorite boss, John Lazaars, Typographic Insight, used to brag that there were more printing presses in Ann Arbor than in Heidelberg, Germany. The senior staff at the Computer Mamas grew up in the publishing industry. Jeanette was a proof reader for Edwards Brothers and I was one of the highest paid key liners.

Typographic Insight had dozens of typesetters who entered manuscripts into the system. The typesetting machines handled most business Fonts and sizes: Arial, Franklin Gothic, Helvetic, and Palatino. Specialized fonts were inked by hand and enlarged in the dark room.  

Rolls of Type:  A key liner was responsible for creating the actual books.  The type setting came out of the machines as long rolls of type. One roll would stretch across the office floor if you knocked it off the drawing board.  The key liner cut and pasted the type, chapter headings and graphics together into pages. These pages were actual size, ‘camera ready ‘for printing.

Printed Books:  There is a purpose to the layout and design of good books.  The font sizes and page layout are visual landmarks.

All chapters begin on the right page, not the left. The first page of the chapter is embellished, so it is easy to recognize and find again. It has been this way for over 500 years: This is our common history and experience that we have all shared.

Scrolls Online:  The early days of the Internet were interesting. Many people who had little or no publication experience were creating web sites.

I remember reading corporate web pages that seemed to scroll down through 20 feet of type. Sometime around the turn of the century people realized that the computer monitor, laptop, or iPad is horizontal, not vertical. Today’s webpages keep important navigation elements and headlines at the top of the screen.

Designed for Print:  Most books are still designed for print; portrait (the classic print layout), not landscape (the current digital layout). The eBooks, whether Adobe PDF or some online Reader, print out beautifully.

Reading an eBooks designed in portrait is a tedious task: scroll down, scroll right, scroll to the top of the next page. Repeat: scroll down, scroll right, scroll to the top of the next page. Repeat 3,146 times for the number of pages in the Microsoft Office Specialist certification books.

Design for the Device:  Our Computer Mama books fit on the screen. The ratio of height to width mirrors the current devices. There is no need to scroll left or right, up or down.

Our Users say they are easy to read. Imagine that: happy users!

“I have enjoyed updating my skills in general office procedures and learning new skills in Excel, Power Point, Word, and Outlook. I recognize the time and effort which was put into the text books for the MS 2010 software programs.

“The books are user-friendly and I liked the idea of adding a personal touch to the lessons by using pleasant pictures, words of encouragement, and extra information about an activity.

“I've had a very good experience and would consider taking more online classes in the future.

- T.L., Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Emmitt Kelly Jr., Artist at Work,  from the Precious Moments Collection of Marni Frank
Digital Design Theory: Observation, Orientation and Notation

Good teaching has a method for transferring knowledge. In math, students are taught theorems and proofs. The results may be written as a formula: a2 + b2 = c2. Chemistry has a specific language for teaching and documentation as well: H2O. Music has a written language, too, or we would have lost the works of Beethoven and Mozart. And so does computer technology.

Observation, Orientation and Notation: The Computer Mama method comes from years of teaching online and in the classroom.  We have been able to take a complex subject and teach it plain and simple.

Observation: Using the Words Each lesson explains the objective and how todays’ technology available can meet the goals. There are many ways to get the job done. Students want to know which ones work best.

Orientation: Thinking in Pictures Our Microsoft Office certification lessons include at least one image that shows the entire screen as well as a close up of the particular option. Menu Maps at the beginning of each lesson help the student focus on which Ribbons can complete the task.

Notation: Writing it Down Computer technology uses Breadcrumbs to document how someone can find one button among hundreds.  Breadcrumbs are printed above each image in our computer lessons so that our students can find their way back.

We teach the way you learn
"I did it! I passed the PowerPoint exam! She said it was the highest score she has seen. I scored 967 (required: 700) and I got 100% on everything but Working with Visual Content which was 89%!"- V.S., Student, Community College of Rhode Island

We write the way you teach
"Your instructions were great! They executed the skills with little to no problems. I was still able to help on some things which I enjoyed! Thanks so much!!”  -K.M., Teacher, TeachersPayTeachers

Emmitt Kelly Jr., Teacher,  from the Precious Moments Collection of Marni Frank
Digital Design Theory: Watching a video does not make you an expert

We were late to my daughter’s birth at St Joseph’s Hospital because we were watching This Old House on PBS. My husband and I were avid fans of the programs that recycled old houses back to their glory days. However, watching TV did not make me an expert. My roof has a hole in it and I have no experience making repairs. I have lots of knowledge but my hands have never touched a hammer.

I would make the same comparison with learning computer applications: you can’t become a skilled professional just watching the videos. At some point, your hands have to learn the steps. Expertise is knowledge in motion.

Videos in a Flipped Classroom:  The best use of videos is to demonstrate a sequence of events. Students get to see the project from start to finish and how the instructor handled the options. 

I applied this concept to an Intro to Computer Productivity class at Washtenaw Community College. It is a required course that teaches beginning Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Here’s the plan I announced: If all of the students watched the videos prior to class, then we could walk through the 100 point projects together each Friday. Everyone would pass the course with high marks.

This worked out better than I hoped. As an instructor, I was pleased to teach students who understood the material. They were ready and informed. Students who did not watch the videos quickly learned that they were at a disadvantage when we worked on the various documents, spreadsheets and presentations. They did not know where to find the options so their progress was very slow.

Win-Win-Win:  This class has 97% attendance and their productivity skills are excellent. My students are getting between 90-100% on all of the assignments, including the quizzes and homework. Everyone wins: the students, the college and the future employer who gains an asset.

Emmitt Kelly Jr., Computer Whiz, from the Precious Moments Collection of Marni Frank