To: B. Lauren, Document Design
From: C. Garcia, Bookish Cristina
Subject: Reflective Memo
Date: April 22, 2014
The purpose of this memo is to reflect on my work for Document Design by addressing how I achieved the course outcomes. The goal is to understand the process and mechanics of design so we can better utilize it in the future.
Throughout the Document Design course, there were four major assignments. We had to revise a document we use on a daily basis via Microsoft Word, design an infographic using InDesign, design a poster on Photoshop and remix one of the previous assignments to cater to another population through any program of our choice. During the entirety of the course, we were learning how to look at elements in documents and analyze their functions within different types of text. To better understand design, we were tasked with reading Robin Williams’ “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” and “Document Design: A Guide for Technical Communicators,” by Miles A. Kimball and Ann R. Hawkins to adopt a vocabulary we could use to talk about design; in addition, Professor Ben Lauren assigned to us various other readings to supplement our studies that broached topics such as copyright, agency and humanizing information. Professor Lauren taught us how to negotiate cultural and ethical considerations when designing documents.
As a production manager for a college newspaper, I found this course extremely helpful because it taught me how to describe and justify my decisions regarding design. It helped me analyze it farther than just “it looks weird.” Now when I look at a document, the first thing I think about are the PARC principles (proximity, alignment, repetition and contrast) and how they work on a document. From there, I recall the other readings and can make an informed decision when I revise a design. But most importantly, the class taught us how to create user-centered documents. A user-centered document is one whose design addresses the needs of the users at each stage of the design process. We learned how to test users unbiasedly. This is important because users, the people who will use the document, given the right questions, tell you exactly what they need so that they will use your document. If you don’t address this part of design, your design could fail because the user might not know how to use it or it might not be what the user needs.
This Document Design class was priceless because it gave me agency as a designer. I learned how to properly analyze designs and I became familiar with programs to help me create designs. I thought the class’ workshop format was a great idea because it simulated work outside of the classroom; sometimes we aren’t familiar with a program, but we’re expected to learn as we go. Even though I had an advantage with Adobe InDesign, I greatly struggled with Adobe Photoshop because the buttons wouldn’t work like those in InDesign and I actually had to restart a project 6 times before I got the hang of the program. Also, the workshop format kept me engaged. Usually, if a lecture goes on after a certain point, I start to drift, even if I take notes. This had me wrestle with the material and learn by doing. I just loved the class.
Document Design was a godsend because it taught me how to look at a document and analyze it for its elements and how they work. I felt this was most clearly demonstrated during students’ presentations. My favorite presentation was a flyer one student brought in that looked very retro and was talking about sexual consent. There was a lot going on, but we started very simply: we noted the rectangle that held the ad, the triangles in the background, the woman in the middle and the two lines of text interestingly in two different typefaces. This came in handy during the assignments, because I used it to dissect already made documents to imitate the structure in my own documents.
For the first assignment, where I had to redesign a document I use daily on Microsoft Word, I chose to revise a list of guidelines for copy editors that we use at The Beacon. I took direct ideas from Williams’ book like the headline in a black box, and applied it to the document. Before reading the book, I honestly would not have known how I could make the list of sentences more attractive and it took me nine revisions to get it to the finished product, but I learned how to look for elements I could create and repeat. Also, I saw the power of different typefaces. Having read Williams’ book, I hesitated about using Courier New because it said it wasn’t appropriate for most cases, but I was gearing my document for journalism students; I recognized that the font held pathos in that it reminded the audience of previous times when things were written on typewriters. I also balanced the font by making the main typeface of the text Arial because that’s the default font that we work with at The Beacon.
During the course of the work, we read many things, but I felt there were a few vocabulary words that stuck out: ethos, logos, pathos, the PARC principles, agency, representation, user and stealing. These were words that most often floated in my head as I designed the assignments. Like an essay, I want to use the elements in just the right way to have ethos, logos and pathos. For instance, in the second assignment, the infographic, since it dealt with research, I made sure to include citations at the bottom for credibility of the material. However, according to Professor Lauren, I should have indicated what was taken from each source, so that is something I would remember to fix in the future were I ever to make another infographic. Looking back now, I understand more because I noticed in the newspaper, whenever we include a graph with information we took from a document, we cite where the information came from, not the whole graph.
Agency, representation and user work together. In order to give the user agency, or power, we have to design a document with the appropriate representations. For instance, at the beginning of the semester, I had to describe accelerating and chose a symbol that looked like Figure 1.
My initial reasoning had been to mimic the colors of the lights right before a race that go from red to yellow to green. After no one understood and I thought about it, I realized it looked a lot like the pause button from a VCR or DVD machine; that, coupled with the fact that it had red and yellow, was sending mixed messages to the user. Figure 1 was an example of a bad representation, so the user could not use it and therefore could not achieve agency to use the document. However, it occurred to me later that a related symbol, that of the fast-forward button on the VCR/DVD machine would have been the perfect symbol because people know what it represents, they would have known to use it to accelerate.
Figure 1: My first attempt to depict “accelerate.”
Figure 2: My umpteenth attempt to depict “accelerate.”
Representations can get tricky when trying to cater to different audiences. For example, in assignment three and assignment four, I chose to redesign a book cover for Cervantes’ “Don Quijote.” Assignment three was geared towards twentysomethings and assignment four towards children ages 6-10. I wanted to depict the windmill scene in “Don Quijote” when he sees a giant that isn’t really there. First I chose to create my own image, so as to sidestep any copyright problems. The adult version was more abstract because the user group could grasp that the floating eye signify the giant that really wasn’t there. In the kid version I showed a hazy Cyclops giant monster behind the windmill to get their attention ; I figured it would make sense to them once they read it.
Since it was a book cover and writing space was limited – I didn’t want to load the cover with text – the only text I only included was the title, the byline and my logo, yet even minute differences in those three things completely changes the tone of the document. In the adult version, I used a sophisticated font, whereas in the kid version I used a playful font. In the adult version, I made the byline of the author a little bigger because the name is important and I excluded “by” because the adult would be more capable of discerning that it is the author. In contrast, in the kid version the font size was smaller for the byline because they won’t care about the writer and I included “by” because they might need that extra cue to recognize who the author is.
In all of our design work, we had to consult the texts provided by Professor Ben Lauren, however, we also had to consult potential users. As we’ve learned, the users tell us if the document works or not. Unfortunately, I was not able to test the kid’s book cover on the targeted audience, but I was able to speak to some mothers about it. One said that she thought a better picture would be of one of Don Quijote riding in the field. Her friend interjected that he would have liked to see more action, perhaps Don Quijote in the midst of charging the windmill, yet they were not the targeted audience so I didn’t change the content. However, because of another mother, I changed the location of the byline. Initially I had it in the adult cover within the tower and in the kid cover on the right of the tower, however, the mother pointed out that they would be looking down towards the title and to the left to flip the page, so I placed it on the bottom left corner so they wouldn’t have to search the page for it.
The biggest lesson is that the best thing you can do is revise. Make many drafts and eventually you’ll get enough feedback that will enable you to create a great document.
I highly recommend that potential and future designers take this class, because even with my experience in designing documents, I learned a lot. Not only is the vocabulary helpful, so is the practice. The best part is now I can take what I have learned and develop more documents on my own.