Microsoft Office for once is not promoting terrible design. The core applications in suite now contain new Themes and Styles that make it easier to use really sound design techniques. Unfortunately, the majority of twelve-year-olds do not see the value of this and would rather make their documents look like a gypsy’s nightmare. Fortunately, many of our middle school students do have an obsessive concern for fashion, and this has been the key to unlock design greatness.
Part 1: The Set-up
First, it helps to begin with an opportunity for self-reflection and evaluation. I assign one of those "about me" style assignments in Word. I give no instructions or requirements for formatting. Inevitibly, students pull out all the stops. For a better understanding of "all the stops", let's look at my bad design checklist:
- Font is hard to read or excessively campy
- Loud colors are used for
- all three
- Word-art (need I say more?)
- Lots-o-clipart... More Clipart!!
- Borders... campy... just bad...
Inevitably, students will freely use at least three of the above techniques in their paper. Many will employ all of them.
Part 2: The seemingly random segue
While students are putting finishing touches on their documents, I give the students a topic of discussion.
Hey, while you're finishing these up, here's a topic: Old people and Fashion. I'm not necessarily talking about octogenarians. I'm more referring to people your parents age or mine. Talk amongst yourselves...
Now, maybe this is a universal truth held by middle schoolers or perhaps I was simply lucky this year, but I did not have to lead or prod one single class to come to the conclusion I was hoping for... When I asked students what conclusions they reached, I obviously recieved the lame answers, like "they wear ugly clothes". Without fail, though, at least one person in every class said something like:
They wear the same stuff they did when they were in school. Sometimes they even have the same haircut.
I then ask if they think it's as obvious to these "old people" as it is to the students how bad they really look. The response was a resounding no. Students even added comments about how their parents "actually think they look good".
Part 3: Going in for the kill
At this point, it's all over. I've got them right where I want them, and they don't even know what's happening yet.
I asked the students how many of them were born in 96... in 97. They raise their hands (these are 7th graders). Now, I give students a little history lesson. I tell them about MS Word 97 and how cool we all thought Word Art was. I tell them how stoked we all were to change the fonts in our handouts to "Comic Sans MS" and color our type red and blue.
Sure, it was tacky then too, but it was cool in 1997!
It is now 2009, and while this stuff is still tacky, it is no longer cool. Your documents are stuck in a time-warp! You've got this tacky 1997 thing going on, and much like old people with no fashion sense, you think it looks good. It does not. It's bad. Now, let's look at some examples of good and bad print design...
I then show three examples of the same document. like so:
This allows me to point out several points on the bad design checklist (mentioned above), using samples "A" and "B". Then I can point out the positive points of Sample "C", which uses Styles and Themes to control its look.
Part 4: The Take-home...
At this point, I teach the skills outlined in this handout. Not only does this improve the look of their Word Documents but also sets them up to work with style sheets in applications like InDesign and Dreamweaver.