On a recent trip to New York City, I spent a very pleasant afternoon at the “Cooper Hewitt”, the Smithsonian Design Museum, which was not a museum I would have typically predicted I would enjoy as much as I did. (I highly recommend it if you are in NYC.) I have also been enjoying the Netflix series “Abstract:” The Art of Design” (Trailer below), which I began watching over the recent holiday break. These two events were not planned to coincide with this third COETAIL course, but rather, their timing was (as painter Bob Ross would say) a “happy accident”.
I have enjoyed many of the articles in week one’s reading list, which were a great way to explicitly learn more about common visual design fundamentals. As a consumer of many products and services that have been designed in one form or another, I have generally (but not always!) been able to pick out “good” design from “bad”. However, I would have struggled to articulate clearly what features separated the “good” and “bad”. I had not previously learned the general principles, or been taught how these principles affect the viewer’s interaction with the product. Of this week’s readings, this article by Brandon Jones was very informative, highlighting not only the main concepts behind good visual design, but also giving examples of each. In a similar vein, I also found this article by Dustin Wax to be enlightening was well.
(Photo used under Creative Commons License from https://www.flickr.com/photos/jalbertbowdenii/9238160656)
In digging a little deeper into this topic, I found a video from The School of Life, narrated by philosopher and writer Alain de Botton, focusing not on the specific aspects of good design, but more generally how design makes us feel. (video below) This video takes a step back and looks at design through a broad lense, by reminding us that design is more than extracting information easily, or achieving ease of functionality. An object that has been well designed can evoke emotions and feelings (both consciously and unconsciously) in those who are interacting with it.
I have been running the “Oxygen” theme from WordPress on my blog for most of the first two COETAIL courses. I chose this theme because I liked the layout, how it is organized, and how my posts were displayed on the homepage. I liked how this theme wasn’t visually “noisy”, with too many posts, widgets, or menu options in a small crowded space on the screen. It seemed to be a good compromise between effectiveness, and simplicity.
However, I was not entirely happy with the layout, mostly because of the empty spaces to the right and left of where the posts were being displayed. (See screenshot below) The view always seemed a bit limited in what it offered, despite the desirability of the simplicity of the layout. The big question for me, as I considered redesigning my blog was: Could I change blog to keep a simpler “less is more” design, while still adding more functionality to my blog, and better utilize space?
To help me with this, I contacted some members of my PLN to help me understand how others were experiencing my blog. I sent out an email to a small number of colleagues here at my school, including a few more beyond my usual circle, who have backgrounds in teaching design courses. The feedback I received from them was both valuable and actionable, and I will highlight some of the main takeaways below.
One colleague indicated that the way Google Docs were embedded made scrolling in the posts difficult or inconvenient. This was great feedback, as it not only touches upon visual design, but is also related to functional design as well. This feedback has been noted, and I’m going to decrease slightly the size of embedded documents in the future.
Several colleagues highlighted exactly what my own critique of the blog had been – that there was too much empty space. The suggestion of adding an embed of my Tweets was also suggested, which I agree would be an excellent addition to the blog. Finally, it was noted that the name of my blog (currently “Blended STEAM”) was not prominently displayed, and could be easily missed. I’m not sure I like the name I originally chose, so I’m mulling over a few other potential names as well.
Unfortunately, I have not yet implemented any of these changes noted above. I began trying out a variety of different themes on WordPress, but was not happy with the results for many. I spent a lot (too much) time trying to tinker with different layouts, only to end up dissatisfied with the result. After several hours burned in this manner, I began to become a bit discouraged.
I next heard from a colleague that they had accessed my blog on a mobile device, and that the blog looked great. The “empty” white space visible on a laptop was missing from the mobile display. So, keeping this in mind, I have decided to stay with the “Oxygen” theme, but try to spend some more time in the future developing my knowledge of how to work with it.
My goal is to have added my Twitter feed, a few additional widgets, and a menu to my blog by the end of the course. I would also like to better utilize the layout to solve the empty space issue when accessing from a non-mobile device. However, this is currently still a work in progress, but watch the blog, as changes are on the way!
Thank you for reading, and if you have any further advice or feedback for me about the visual design of my blog, please leave a comment below! Your thoughts would be much appreciated!