Shawn TelfordCEP 817April 2011 Thoughts on Design In thinking about design as this course progressed, I do not find that my thinkingrevolves 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 tofocus on design in regards to Context, Usability, and Functionality.Context New designs often spring from dissatisfaction with old, as times change, theneeds 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 inour Good/Bad Design presentation of the window in the bathroom over the bathtub. Atone 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 allowsfor ventilation and air flow. Obviously this does not work in the situation presented inthe design example from Florida, as bathtubs are considered areas of safety during ahurricane. This is an example of a design that may have been fine in the past whenpeople took baths instead of showers, but does not work in most situations now andcertainly not in hurricane zones. In thinking about context in terms of web design, designers need to consider theiraudience and how the site will be used. For our assignment, we needed to create a sitethat teaches a concept to our end user, whether it be a young student or an adult in theprofessional workplace. Our audience should be the driving force behind the decisions
we make creating the site and the type of content we add. It also matters how simple orcomplicated 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 waysto each of us. All of these decisions lead to whether the site will be usable by ourintended 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, thenit becomes art. Usability relates to the ease of use. I encounter usability issues often inthe classroom. There are tons of books and websites that have printable worksheetsfor students. I find that I often have to redesign these worksheets because some aspectis not user friendly for my students. The concept is there, but the layout or font orspacing is awkward and cluttered. Sometimes there are too many things crammed onthe page or students cannot figure out where to write the answer. Other times there aretoo many distracting graphics or the lines given to write the answer are too closetogether for young students who still have large handwriting. I end up taking theconcept and reconfiguring it so my students will be more successful in completing theactivity. 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 ofmedia. The web now offers an endless selection of technologies to use, but asdesigners we needed to choose the options that provided the greatest usability for ouraudiences. One of my original ideas was to create a slide show displaying different
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 youdo something with pictures or photos. Many of them were variations on a slide showformat. I wanted a slide show where I could add audio, so that narrowed it down. I alsowanted one that would be easy for my students to use or where I could embed it into mypage. After a long search keeping my parameters in mind, I ended up checking outVoiceThread to see if that would fit my needs. Even though it is not a slide showprogram, it turned out to be exactly what I wanted – easy to use and a great way topresent the concepts to my students. In my user testing, it turned out to be a favoritepart of my website. Usability also applies to the end user being able to use the website to do the jobyou 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 teachthe information in a way that was easily accessed by my audience. I also want teachersto 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 whethersomething is art or not. If there are parts on the website that do not have a job thatfurthers 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, blinkingpieces of clip art scattered around, those icons were art, which did not further thecontent of the site in any way. The blinking detracted from the message of the site,
because it was so visually distracting. To me, this reduced the functionality of the sitebecause I had to wade through the commotion to find the content. Some people mightsay the flashing, blinking clipart represents creativity. I would say that since it distractedfrom 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’sknowledge of nonfiction text features. I wanted to use a variety of ways to present theinformation, but still keep it functional. When looking for a technology to use to presentthe material, I always asked myself if this was the best technology for my purpose orwas I choosing it just to be different. This was a major consideration in choosingVoiceThread, as stated earlier. It was usable and functional for the purpose ofpresenting my material.My Design In deciding on a topic for my site, I wanted to do a project for language arts sinceI 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 beteaching a different grade next year and wanted something that I could “grow” in thefuture without starting from scratch. The topic I decided to present was nonfiction textfeatures. Our first assignment was to come up with an introduction that did not follow thestandard PowerPoint format and my first thought was to use Prezi. I had wanted areason to try it out. I found it quite intimidating at first. It was intimidating for two
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 toapply it to my site. I want students to be able to connect their learning in my site to reallife, so I thought it would be good to give short book recommendations to books I havein my collection (and that can be found in the library) so kids can apply their learning onthe site to real life context with books. LibraryThing offers code for embeddingpurposes that puts a nice, visual icon that allows students to click on an interesting bookto 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 inmy mind a while. Then it was time to sit down in front of the screen. From then on itbecame a process of adding things and moving them around on the screen, walkingaway from it, and then returning to add more and move more things around. I wasthankful 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 aTable of Contents, but ran into lots of problems. Sometimes the program would not letme in or would not load. Then I would work on it a little bit, but it would not let me saveit. So I started looking for an alternative and came across Nota. This was suggested ina blog as an alternative to Glogster. In my search for an alternative, I also found siteswhere there were lots of complaints about Glogster and its issues (similar to what I was
seeing). As frequent users of technology, we get so used to expecting technology towork 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 spokewith a coworker who had used Glogster with her students and did not have anyproblems, so I went back to Glogster and tried again. This time I was able to geteverything to work and I could finish my posters. In the end I was glad that I stuck withGlogster, as I really like the visual appeal and now that I have used it, I feel moreconfident trying it out with my students. At this point in the design process, I looked at the text features I still wanted toinclude in my site, but realized I needed to organize them into groups so I did not endup with a dozen mini-presentations. I decided to group the remaining topics into 3 maincategories. A side goal was to use programs outside of my usual repertoire to getfamiliar with them, so that I might be able to use them in the classroom with mystudents. That goal needed to be managed in light of having the best finished productfor my project. The context/usability/functionality balancing act came into play. I spentsome time looking at the http://cooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com/ wiki to get someideas of programs that I might use to present my information (refer back to my thoughtsabout VoiceThread). Content for my site was underway, but I wanted some initial feedback on thegeneral look of the site. I liked the colors I first chose for my site (black background onthe sides with a yellow banner across the top, center section for content was whitebackground with black words). I had made a coordinating Wordle that looked verysharp. I liked the look, but felt it was not quite right, so I ran it by my husband for a
second opinion. He agreed that the look was great, but not for my audience. It lookedtoo sophisticated for second graders. I started playing around with other designs (inWeebly) and came up with something that looked more appropriate. For some reason, Ihad really wanted black along the sides, but there was not a choice that allowed thatand the type of heading that would accommodate photos. I know enough HTML to geteverything messed up and get it back to where it was, but not to do any major stuff. Ifound a template that was simple and uncluttered that also let me add my ownphotographs. I tried it, but still was not sure it was “the one,” so I let the design “sit” fora while. In the end I really like the cleanliness of an all white page. It adds to the simplelook I was going for. I added pictures of my students reading nonfiction and redid theWordle with complementary colors. I really like the final look. A great part of the course (and one of McClouds six steps) was to have ourgroup members critique the websites we each created. I found the feedback from othereducators who are familiar with web design to be very valuable. One of the suggestionsI received was to add a blog to my site. I had not considered that before, but I liked theidea of allowing students to have a more meaningful interaction with the content of thesite. Weebly offers a blog that can be added to the site, and I was so pleased todiscover that students do not need e-mail addresses to add a comment – a bigconsideration when creating content for second graders. I look forward to using it withmy students. The user feedback that was completed with one of my students and two of mycolleagues was also very valuable. I definitely see the value in doing this in the futurewith any new websites I create. After a while the website creator (me) has looked at the
site so many times it is hard to see the forest through the trees. Having a fresh pair (oreven better – pairs) of eyes can help to tighten up some of the finer details that mayhave been missed. If there had been more time for the testing, I would have liked totest the site on a couple of other students – one with limited computer experience andone with moderate computer experience to see how they differed in their experiencewith the site. Since my student user testing took almost a half hour of sitting one onone, I just did not have that kind of time available to repeat the procedure in the weekwe had to test and complete the write up of the testing. Overall, though, the feedbackfrom 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 Iwere talking recently about how everything new seems to be about getting someone topart with their money so the corporation (individual, whatever) can get richer. It seemsthat design has suffered in some ways because of that kind of thinking. Often it is moreabout making money and less about quality design, as seen in the bad design examplesthat were presented throughout our class. The discussion about the apple peeler/corer brought up whether it is needed tohave a special gadget to peel and core apples versus a paring knife that will do the joband peel and cut other foods as well. That led to the discussion of the myriad kitchengadgets designed to solve one specific problem and the cost and space required tohave them. In this case, I guess it is like design overload. At some point enough isenough.
This semester I also took another class where the final class project was tocreate a wiki page about reading online. Each student was responsible for a page (orpages) on their chosen topic regarding reading online and the pages are a part of onecomprehensive wiki. It really made me think about whether being a designer of onlinecontent is somehow like being an artist – some people have a talent for it and others donot. 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 moresensitive to such issues about design and I am looking at their pages with a morecritical eye than I normally would have. It did make me think that this course on designshould be a required part of the curriculum, not an elective. With more and morecontent being presented online, teachers and other students in the program shouldlearn some design basics, as it was clear in my other class that such design skills arenot naturally present in all people. If the direction of education is toward more onlinelearning, teachers need a basic understanding of how their presentation of content canpositively or negatively affect their student’s experience. As long as I am on my “soapbox” more attention needs to be paid to basic writingand editing skills. It used to be that taking a class meant that the papers and projectsthat were completed were presented to the instructor and maybe shared withclassmates. Now, with online courses, these same types of papers and projects are puton the Web for everyone to see. A design consideration that was not really addressedwas the importance of using Standard English and editing for errors, as well as revisingthe content. Having material published online that is full of spelling, punctuation, andtypographical errors, as well as improper word usage, reflects badly on the author and
reduces the author’s credibility – if they cannot be bothered to fix such basic errors, howmuch 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 notcatch everything. Overall, I think the work that we did and the concepts of design that werediscussed are very important to all aspects of educational technology. Teachers andstudents of technology need to pay closer attention to how Context, Usability, andFunctionality relate to the material they present to the world via the Internet. Their workmay just be a project to fulfill a requirement, but when it is put it on the Web, it has justpublished it for all to see and use and design plays an important role in how this finalproduct is received.