Week 4 Post

Our readings and discussion about design/usability brought a couple of assignment ideas to mind. The first, I’ll admit, feels a bit elementary for a 400-level course. But the Kramer & Bernhardt piece got me thinking about how little many students seem to know about the basic design capabilities of their primary writing tool: the word processing software on their computers. Think about all of those papers we’ve received with font changes, margin problems, line-spacing issues, paragraphing inconsistencies—you name it. If students can’t master basic print-on-page style options, can we really expect them to make smart decisions about larger design issues? Maybe we can. But I’m going to work on an assignment that forces students to learn more about the multitude of design options they have available to them in, say, Word. And I don’t want them to simply memorize the options available in Word. Rather, I hope to develop an assignment that will help them approach basic document design (starting, again, with print on page) with usability (and the rhetorical situation) in mind. Maybe I’ll call it “Beyond Default Settings” or something like that. More on this as I develop some concrete ideas (and I would welcome any thoughts …)

The second idea is more advanced, I think, but just as undeveloped at this point. Anyway, the question I’m starting with is this: How can we help students really understand the concept of usability in design? (Especially in the design of professional/technical/ business documents/texts.) I’m thinking about an assignment that would force students to pay attention to the texts they “consume” regularly and the often unconscious evaluations they make as they decide which of the texts they engage with fill their needs, which fail, and—most importantly—why. I guess this is another kind of analysis, but I think it could be useful in helping students work through what it means to design an effective (usable) professional/technical text.


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