Home / Faculty Club / Lecture Series / Wiley & Schwaller Lecture: Basic Design for Creating Effective Visual Communication

Wiley & Schwaller Lecture: Basic Design for Creating Effective Visual Communication

Cynthia Wiley and Rachel Merrill-Schwaller of Grand View University explain how they use pop culture to explain basic design principles.

Cynthia Wiley: Thank you for being here and for allowing us to entertain you, and hopefully, you’ll learn something in the next hour with us. I want to start with the title slide, Punky Swizz Shizzle. This is totally made up by us. I don’t know if you knew that. We’re going to talk about basic design elements and principles. The subtitle design principles and elements for creating effective visual communication through the juxtaposition of high- and low-design problem-solving. Punky Swizz Shizzle has been a work in progress. Rachel and I teach together. We co-teach a class on basic design principles and elements, and so this is a bit from that class—and sometimes this is our introductory first day of class: “Hey, here we are! Punky Swizz Shizzle,” and the students are kind of, “Am I in the right class? What’s happening here?”

Swiss Design, or International Design, is a design style from the ’50s and ’60s that we reference in things like the font Helvetica. Everyone knows Helvetica, at least in Western society. Punky because we bring in a little bit of punk aesthetic as well, and Shizzle because we’re just going to mix it all up and kind of throw it back out at you. That’s the origin of Punky Swizz Shizzle. Hopefully, by the end, that would make a little bit more sense for you.

Educator

Rachel Merrill-Schwaller, MFA

Associate Professor of Art and Design, Grand View University

MFA in Photography, BA in Studio Arts

Educator

Cyndi Wiley, PhD

Associate Professor of Art and Design, Grand View University

PhD in Human Computer Interaction, MFA in Graphic Design, BA in Art with an emphasis on Graphic Design and minor in Art History

Rachel Schwaller: OK, great introduction. I don’t really need too much introduction, but my background is the art background. I’m a contemporary practicing artist, and Cyndi’s is the design background. When we started co-teaching this class together, we thought Creative Cloud, we thought Adobe, but then we also taught critique, we thought principles and elements—all of these different things, and so we have here [shows slide] “Have a Seat,” because we want you to just sit back and take it all in within this, because what we want to do is mix the art in the design, because it’s everywhere. Sometimes you know it, sometimes you don’t know it. Some of you who are the designers will know this, a lot of these things.

We’ve mixed it up because we really are interested in subverting, or interested in changing things up and thinking about the idea of not just taking the first thing you think about, but how do you take it further, how you push it further as well.

Wiley: And what you can do with just a basic knowledge of design principles and elements. For people who are in art and design, this is sort of second nature for us. After you get through school and you’re working for a couple of years, it seems like basic knowledge. But what can you do as a person that doesn’t have basic knowledge of design principles and elements? How can you lay out an effective poster? How can you choose an appropriate font or an image? Those are some of the things that we want to go through. I don’t think I need to add anything from the introduction really. You hit on it. I like cats. [Laughter.]

Schwaller: [Shows slide.] Learning Outcomes, this is the boring educational jargon, right? We’re going to identify elements and principles of design. We’re going to understand the function of design. We’re going to develop ways of utilizing those principles and elements. The goal for this conversation is, by the end of it you have a little bit more knowledge that you could go, “Oh, I could do this or I could do this with the images that I have,” and also to be able to see it everywhere, because elements and principles, it’s in everything, literally. It’s in everything that we will see.

OK, Design Aesthetics. Aesthetics is this fancy word that says, “This is what I think is beautiful. This is what I like.” The thing is that aesthetics could vary from person to person, and it is also kind of a segue into taste, so what your taste is might be very different than somebody else’s taste. What you grew up with—you might love a certain color combination, where somebody else grew up with something else and it just doesn’t mesh well. But I think that there are certain things that many people just think are beautiful. Sunsets and sunrises, many people think are beautiful. If you like snow, snowflakes are beautiful. If you don’t like snow, again that’s the aesthetic you don’t care for, but beautiful snow … and even if you don’t want to drive in it, it’s still a beautiful to look at type of thing.

Another one that a lot of people tend to focus on is the idea of the one on the left [shows slide], which is candle light, soft light, Christmas light, things that are just soft. We have an ambience. That’s an aesthetic. That’s, “Oh, I think this is beautiful to me.” What we want to do is take this, which is everybody who photographs the sunset, which you can—and then what can you do with the sunset photo that’s different, new; or how else can you look at things that are beautiful and interesting.

Wiley: With these photos, with all of the images that are in this presentation, we were very intentional about pulling photos from our photo albums. It’s from our trip to Daytona. We were there for a work conference, right?

Schwaller: Those little shell men were there.

Wiley: The shell men were there in, you know, the tchotchke souvenir shops. I don’t know where the “Welcome to the Nuthouse” came from.

Schwaller: Oh, it’s Florida.

Wiley: Yeah, Florida too. But we’re pulling this from our own photo album, just off of my cellphone or your cellphone or mobile smartphones or … we have made them for this presentation, but they’re all images that.… We’re going to talk a little bit more about image copyright. We chose not to show any images from art history, because it is copyright. We could have cited them, but anyway. These are all of our pictures and our doing.

See and share lecture notes, practice tests, and teaching materials.

Get free access now

Schwaller: OK, first round of cats [shows slide]. Design Aesthetics. The thing is, throughout the entire history of humanity, people find certain things beautiful—again, sunsets—but we have things throughout history that are man-made that follow some of these design principles. They don’t get formulated until the 20th century with sort of the fundamentals of how we teach it today, but these are three examples of things that people generally think are aesthetically pleasing. You may—or may disagree, but generally speaking, we like monochromatic color schemes. We like all one color. That tends to be pleasing to many people. If you’re like, “Oh, I like lots of colors!” fantastic, but most people—sometimes will gravitate to all one color.

You also might like it where you see three colors. If you grew up in the New England area in the fall, the multiple colors, right? Those color schemes that fall next to each other. That’s really pleasing to the eye. Those are beautiful things we see, but monochromatic tends to be a really pleasing thing. Symmetry also is a very pleasing thing. When things are aligned perfectly together, we find that aesthetically pleasing. A lot of these things are natural elements as well. The last one is repetition, things that repeat over and over. My children, when they were little, they loved bubbles because they moved, but bubbles are also just the same shape repeating over and over and over again, and they’re aesthetically pleasing.

We like things that repeat. We generally like those. What we are going to do though, is talk a little bit about the good and the bad and the ugly of all of this design as we go through it.

Wiley: It was funny when we were putting together this presentation, because I had one of my cats in the presentation more than one of Rachel’s cats. She’s like, “You’ve already used Chicken. You can’t use her again. She’s already in there.” We had to balance it with Fur Pants on the left, Sweet Betty is on the right; but that grid image is me taking a picture of my photo album and posting it to Instagram and saying that I have issues, because I have so many cat pictures.

[Shows new slide.] How … OK. How to not make Craptastic Design.

Schwaller: This one hurts my eyes.

Wiley: Yeah. It was an exercise for me to make bad design again in my life. I mean, I’m sure I made bad design previously to school and everything. We’ve all seen bad PowerPoints, and what makes a PowerPoint good or bad relates to design principles. In this particular PowerPoint, there is a lot going on. Where do we look first? Generally, we look at a face. Point of emphasis for this slide: There’s many, but the main one might be the face, the happy face because we see eyes. There’s an amazingly low resolution image of a screenshot, and low resolution means that the photo is blurry, it gets pixelated, it wasn’t appropriately sized for the PowerPoint. And I have at least five different fonts going on. In addition to overlapping type that you can’t really read, the red type on the black background: You can’t really see [that] this says, “This is an awesome PowerPoint!”

I mean, some of you might be able to see there, and some you might be, “I don’t see what’s wrong with this. This is great!” It’s OK. It’s OK. And this, of course, is exaggerated. But there are PowerPoints that I have seen from professionals at conferences that are really not great.

Schwaller: Our goal at the end of this is to give you a few points so that if you put a PowerPoint together and you have no background, you know, “Oh, I should do this, this, and this,” and that will help.

Wiley: There will be a small checklist that you can have. This [shows slide] is a representation of craptastic design. I’m sure that word is out there in the wild. We did not invent that word. Maybe we did, I don’t know. Bad design in the wild—there’s a lot of bad design out there. The photo on the left of Cedar Street was taken in Austin at South by Southwest EDU, where I met Tara. It’s a street sign. It’s on the ground. And it’s in a font called Papyrus, which is a default font in Windows, Word … Microsoft. Well, I might pick on Microsoft, but not very much. Papyrus is fine for usage on your own, in an invitation to your birthday party. It’s OK. You can use that. On a street sign, it’s very difficult to read. And at night, these were lit up and so it sort of made it even more difficult to read. Papyrus for a street sign is not really an appropriate usage of that.

We called this Exhibit A, which is also set in Papyrus, and to point out the ubiquitous nature of Papyrus use, on the right is an entry to an Italian-type restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa—but all caps this time for Papyrus, “DELLA VITI.” This is an example of something that—Papyrus is just overused, and it’s not always used appropriately. There’s also examples of the font Comic Sans. That one gets picked on a whole bunch, but there is an appropriate use for Comic Sans, and it is in comics. Or, there’s been a lot of research and studies, with kids and young adults with dyslexia. It’s easier for them to read and digest, because the letter spacing is increased between the letters and it’s actually really good for people with dyslexia.

Some of my teaching materials at the college level, sometimes if I’m working on a software tutorial, I’m going to use Comic Sans, and as a designer, that hurts my heart a little bit. However, it’s easier for some students to digest in that way.

Schwaller: OK, more bad design in the wild [shows slide]. These are two examples of text and image that may not go together perfectly. Notice the mugs have the sunset we were talking about. We love the sunset. There are a lot of colors in that one, and then we have the text on top. The one on the right, there’s a whole lot going on in that image. But there’s a lovely image in the middle, and then the type on the top is a little spaced out. There’s a little too much spacing between that top—and there’s a word we’re going to use called hierarchy. Some of you know that word, some of you don’t, but the hierarchy is where you are going to look at. You tend to look right in the middle, towards the Viking, but then the text at the top should be a little bit bigger than the text at the bottom. It’s throwing the eye off a little bit within that as well. More of Exhibit B.

Wiley: Exhibit C [shows slide]. What we have on the left is six different fonts on a truck. Piranha Paper Shredding LLC. If I’m going to deconstruct this a little bit and kind of go through each of these elements, there is an image, obviously, on the left of a piranha. And the piranha, I think, is holding something up to shred something, where there’s some shredded material in the other hand of said piranha. I don’t think this is clip art. I think this was probably custom drawn, because it’s a piranha for a shredding company. I don’t think that exists in clip art. The typeface, the font for Piranha Paper Shredding—oddly enough, we also saw that same font at a restaurant called Aunt Catfish in Daytona.

Same typeface, some font, and I’m using typeface and font interchangeably, but they’re really different things: a typeface versus font typefaces, the whole set of a family. So like Helvetica has Helvetica Light, Helvetica Condensed, Helvetica Oblique, which is the italicized version of a typeface—and font is one thing within that family. We do use them interchangeably, but there is a difference in them. Goats on the Go on the right-hand side, now that is some clip art. We got the goat there. The Goats on the Go, what do they do? I don’t know. I think what this company is is that you rent some goats and they come eat your weeds. That’s what I’m assuming, and so that’s a good assumption, I think.

I didn’t look at their website yet. I couldn’t do that yet. I just couldn’t get myself there. I did want to point out, the website that’s on the left-hand side, in the Piranha Paper Shredding truck—very hard to read. It’s memorable because it’s piranhapapershredding.com. Most of us are going to futz up the spelling of piranha. What Goats on the Go did that is actually good, when you have a longer web address, is they capitalized the first letter of the different word. That’s a good point to this design. It’s a very simple design, Goats on the Go. I liked the guys in the truck and I pulled up next to them and I’m taking a picture of them and they turned and looked at me at one point and I was like.… But that Goats on the Go clip art, when you’re looking for a unique graphic or something that’s going to brand you, that clip art can appear somewhere else.

Like I mentioned, that—that particular font was a restaurant font somewhere else. It’s confusing to us as viewers, because we’re like, “I’ve seen that goat somewhere else, but it was not for Goats on the Go. It was for, like, a goat soap company or something like that.” Paper shredding in tinier type: they’re a document specialist, financial documents, things like tax returns, medical documents, very sensitive information—the typeface and the smiling piranha doesn’t say, “Hey, we’re going to take good care of your really awesome secured financial information and shred it.” So it’s a little mismatch going on there.

Schwaller: OK. So now we’re going to get into elements and principles of design. We’ve separated them into elements first, principles following. Elements are the basics. If you pull things out, they’re sort of the bones of any kind of design. We’re going to look at lines, shapes, and texture, right? Then the principles are kind of the compositional elements, how you put all the things together. So someone created that piranha and they put all of that composition together with all those compositional elements. We’ve got why—all design, all design, really all visual imagery, can break down into all of these principles and elements. They may not have every single one, and I would encourage you not to have every single one of the elements and principles because it gets to be too much, but we’re just going to break them down by basic elements and then we’ll talk about the principles of how you put them together and those things that look good together.

All right, so the first one we would start with is lines. Everybody knows what a line is. This is a lovely line drawing of Chicken.

Wiley: No, this is Tommy Tater Tot.

Schwaller: Oh, this is Tommy Tater Tot! OK, Tommy Tater Tot. One more cat. You can keep a tally of how many cats we have. So Tommy Tater Tot, this is a line drawing. It’s a digital line drawing within it, and this one we would call more organic lines, very soft lines within them, and it’s a contour line drawing. What’s interesting about the cat drawing, though, is that you can have implied lines, and that’s the one often people kind of forget, implied lines. But the implied line is where the, sort of, the bridge of the nose is. There’s sort of a line that’s being drawn up visually through that, even though it’s sort of the negative space of the outline itself.

Then you have shape. Most everybody knows what shape is. We break shape into two categories: organic shapes, geometric shapes. In fact, any structure, any building, this room has a whole heap load of shapes. In fact, I look around I see a lot of rectangular shapes. You can be really spend time looking at different types of shapes within a space. We as living organisms, other living organisms, tend to be more organic shapes. Trees tend to be more organic, and anything that doesn’t fit within the circle, square–type shape tends to be more organic of a shape. The balance for shape, though, is putting it together in a way that is harmonious.

I wanted to talk a little bit about this image. This image is tech and craft put together by a 10-year-old, so it’s a raspberry pie. We’ve created, we’ve coated, we’ve built the felt, simple shapes, but a 10-year-old can build simple shapes. Two little ears. And it’s a cat, if you couldn’t tell, it’s a cat. Then we get in further. We’ve got lines, we’ve got shapes, we’ve got textures—and who doesn’t love plastic canvas art. We have value within this, and value is any gradation of color or tone that sort of moves from a darker to a lighter within it. We’re using grayscale within this, but you can use any color combination.

Texture. This one is interesting because it has texture and it has pattern. Texture is what most of us think of, and again, elements are some things that we can kind of break down. We understand, like, soft texture, rough texture, things we see in nature within it. I like this image too, because this was an image of a stuffed cat from our colleague who—her daughter had from her grandmother and she carried it around for years and years and years, and here is this lovely little stuffed cat.

Color. Color is a beast unto its own. I think the thing that gets many people when they are constructing any sort of visual information is, what colors do I use? You have a lot of colors to choose from. Cyndi made that fantastic PowerPoint slide with many colors to it. Here, we’re looking at a lot of different colors. This one has very intense colors, and—how color changes mood and how it shifts and how it changes. We won’t get into too much, but we have monochromatic, which most of you sort of know the idea that it’s one color. Achromatic is actually grayscale colors. You have these different colors and complemented colors. Most of you have learned those things in grade school.

My favorite part of this whole thing is the principles, though. It’s how you put things together. Repetition, I just talked about, is one of those that many people like. By the way, I should say this: Some of these words sometimes are interchangeable with other words that you may have learned within this, but rhythm is the way a visual image moves through things. Here, we’ve got these lovely tigers. The tigers are repeating, multiple, but they move. There’s a flow to those images. You either move to left to right, top to bottom. You might read right to left as well, but there’s a flow within them as well.

Proportion and scale. I would say this: There are a couple of principles that I would say that are key to the way that you construct an image. If you want stronger images, use hierarchy, which is proportion and scale. Make something a little larger, something a little smaller, and that gives visual interest as well. And then movement—some people call it directional force, to the idea of how your eyes move, so what is bigger. How your eyes move. Do you start at the bottom of this image and you work your way back? A lot of people do that. Sometimes you have to think about, do I start at the top and work my way down, as well, with the idea of movement of an image.

And then emphasis. Proportion and scale is one of my big ones, and the other idea is emphasis. What is the point of that image? Let’s go back to the piranha image. We saw the piranha, but there were a lot of other things going on in that image. We saw Cynthia’s slide and there was a face, but then there was a cat, there was a lot of other text within it too. What we want to do is create some sort of focal point, some sort of emphasis that we can see. In this image, we have this lovely cat face. You might notice the eyes of the cat or might notice the color, but there is subordination … the things that are still there that add texture or visual interest to an image or to text or to a design itself, but they are subtle, they are pushed back a little way.

Wiley: I’m going to tell a story with this particular image, because this cat’s name is Zelda. She is a ceramic cat from the 1960s, and in our university where we are at, there are some older buildings on campus. One of the buildings used to be a nursing home, and when our university bought the building and moved in, Zelda was found in one of the bathroom areas. Zelda moves around. She’s a ceramic cat. She can’t move around on her own, but she moves around. She came to visit my office. She showed up one day. She didn’t leave for a while and then she was gone and then she showed up again. So Zelda here has a long, creepy history with me and my university—like, all of our colleagues know about Zelda. Zelda went missing for a while and it was a big scandal.

Schwaller: Right. The last is principle, which is the balanced structure of an image. We talked about symmetry. We like symmetry. We like balance of images, but I encourage you to play with different kinds of things. Some people like asymmetry. They like off, sort of moving things to the right to the left or to the top or to the bottom. Radial symmetry is how your eyes move, so you can have something sort of circular. Approximate symmetry where two things really are close to each other, but they’re not identical. They might be similar in shape and they’re approximate. I think that—I love symmetry. I love repetition, symmetry, monochromatic color schemes. But I think what’s beautiful is if you start moving things around, where something is on the left side or is on the right side, and it adds a little bit more play to the image.

Wiley: At the beginning, we talked about this idea of subversion. What does subverting mean, and what is the status quo of design? We have a lot going on in this particular slide, and it’s pointing to Helvetica, our friend Helvetica. We were intentional about using Helvetica for our display type, which means the headlines of each slide. It’s Helvetica Old Condensed. It’s actually one of my favorite fonts to use. When I use it, I’m saying something with it. I’m saying, “I know Helvetica,” but you don’t know that’s what I’m saying about it. The whole idea of subversion is that it is sort of hidden in its usage. What I’m doing to subvert the use of Helvetica is, we have some lines in there that just aren’t straight horizontal lines, with some pluses, and it’s creating its own graphic element underneath that line of type that is very much on the horizontal.

That’s what we’re kind of meaning by subverting the status quo, and status quo of, like, PowerPoint presentations or posters can sometimes be everything as horizontal, vertical, very structured—and that’s OK. That’s a very good place to start with design principles and elements, is to have some sort of structure or some sort of visual emphasis, some point of hierarchy: What do you want your audience to see first? You have to know your audience, so this lecture is for basic design principles and elements, and we don’t want to go too deep into that because we would lose some of our audience and we need it to keep it kind of simple.

We intentionally treated some of the images kind of badly because we didn’t want this to be perfect and polished like the Barbie of PowerPoint. She’s perfect but unattainable. If you have done PowerPoints and you’re like, “Oh, I need a little help doing my PowerPoints,” we didn’t want to show you something that was like perfectly polished, and that was unattainable. Appropriate use of typography. I was trying to make a bad layout and this one actually came out a nice composition, although you can’t read the type. Appropriate use of typography, legibility versus readability. Things that you want people to be able to see and read is readability.

Legibility, you can probably discern that the type in the background that’s creating a pattern is typed but you can’t read it, and if you have really good eyesight, maybe you can, but it’s just the same thing repeated over and over again. It becomes a pattern, so it’s legible. You can see it, but you can’t read it. If you can’t read it, you can’t comprehend it. The default in PowerPoint of putting in shapes, it gives you places to put your text that’s helping you place your text in an appropriate size on an image, so go with that. Go with the defaults when you’re first starting out. You can do a lot knowing the basics. It takes years and years to master design elements and principles, and that’s why we have people that we hire as designers and artists, because they’ve spent years practicing and mastering—but you can do a lot with just the basics.

Schwaller: There’s also I would encourage, we talked about Helvetica as sort of a default. That’s a good one. What would you say the other ones that would be great ones to use?

Wiley: Times New Roman, and whether you love or hate Times New Roman, a serif font like Times is the font that has the little feet and the little doohickeys on it. That’s serifs. Sans serif is like Helvetica. It doesn’t have any, and I’m using some typographical technical terms with doohickeys. It doesn’t have the doohickeys, the feet or the serifs on there. Helvetica mixed with Times is actually a really great combination because you have a serif and a sans serif. Typically, for headlines, display type is bigger. Typically, we see sans serif like Helvetica. Body copy, we see serifs because in a book or in a magazine it’s easier on our eyes and quicker for us to read a large body of type in serif.

Print versus digital is very different. A typical size for printed type like Times New Roman in a book, depending on your age group, is probably 10-point type. For screen, the minimum is going to be 16, because our screens are a little bit farther away from us. The eye strain is a little bit different. It’s backlit unless you’re reading on a Kindle or something, which is easier on your eyes than like an iPad. The general rule of thumb is to not use more than two fonts per page, per slide, per poster, so that the message doesn’t get confused.

We like kitties. We like clip art of kitties. Clip art and dragon drop. Dragon drop is drag something over, drop it in. So I just named it “dragon drop,” because that sounded more exciting than drag and drop. The perils of using clip art, we talked about that a little bit when we talked about the goat, the Goats on the Go. That was clip art. It’s something that is available to the masses, so if you’re using it for something like a logo, there’s a chance that a hundred other people are using it for their business, and it’s not going to be customized or associated with what you want it to be associated with. Dragging and dropping something in comes down to Google Images. In the classroom, we see a lot of our students will go to Google Images, pull something off, lift it from that website, drop it in to their design. Boom, they call it done. But the peril of that is that you don’t know if you actually have usage rights to that image.

For student artists and designers, we’re trying to teach how to appropriately use imagery, and so we’ve shown you ones that we have taken from our own collection or have created, but if you’re a person that’s like, “I can’t even draw a stick figure,” how do you appropriately use images? There is a setting in Google in particular that you can go to and change it to say, “Labeled for reuse with modification.” That is a little better, so that you can get an image that has actually been labeled in the Creative Commons for reuse that you can use.

Schwaller: I would suggest, too, if—We were talking about this and I’m thinking about, if you’re an educator, you’re an elementary teacher, and you can’t draw a cat. I think it’s more interesting—you can get a refined-looking cat that we have here, but have a student draw a cat. That’s far more interesting and it’s much more appropriate where they are at with their images. Thinking outside, “Well, can I just go to clip art to dump on my lesson plan?” is one thing, but thinking about, “Well, if I just have somebody draw this,” it may not be perfect but that’s sort of the point, is the imperfect makes it more interesting than if we have something that’s so refined and so finished.

We always talk to our students, especially these types of images that are illustrator images that have been rendered out or created. Somebody put a lot of time into drawing those sweet, sweet little kitties, and what we don’t want our students doing is taking that and saying, “Oh, this is mine now,” because it’s not theirs. Somebody else has worked for those. If they are labeled for reuse, then they can be shared with other people as well.

Wiley: I will say too that with having your students participate with you in creating some of the images for lesson plan, [it] really creates an authentic experience for the students, particularly with an elementary school teacher who is trying to get a lesson plan together and trying to get this image of something. Having a student or having all the students take a couple of minutes, get a pencil and draw it, and then you snap a picture of that with your cellphone and it ends up in a lesson plan, how great for that student. And it’s so authentic and they’re part of that process, so it kind of brings them. High schoolers, too, do dig that. Our college students are sort of like, “That’s mine.”

Again, appropriate use of imagery [shows slide]. For the photo on the left, that is my cat Chicken laying on the scanner. How she laid on the scanner, I’m not going to tell you. She was fine. She loved it on the scanner. If you have access to a scanner—and most workplaces, you have some sort of document scanner-type thing—that you can bring your cat to work, scan them. If they move around, that’s the image you get, because the light is steady. It’s going, “Urrrrrrrrrr” and if Chicken moved around just a little, that’s what it came out as, but it’s unexpected and it’s original. Nobody else is going to have that image unless I post it everywhere and labeled it for reuse, which I might.

Schwaller: Part of both of these images, the Punky Swizz Shizzle, all of these coming around, is an assignment we give to our students. And we tell them this is the first assignment that we give them, and we say, “You have to find images and you have to use a scanner.” Those two things have to happen. And what happens often is they take the first thing that they see with the photos. They don’t know how to use the scanner, so we work with the idea of the scanner. Or they want to drag and drop images of sunsets because that’s what they need and they’re too busy that they can’t take a sunset picture, so they have that. We talked about what if you start finding other images—so, found images.

Another thing that we encourage them to do is to trace images or to snap to pictures or use the apps that are in the phone. If you have an app and you can crop a simple image, pairing those and making things are a little bit different. [You] start to make more interesting images for use of content for the idea of design projects that we have. Both of these things—I should also say that this image is really just good because the cat is Cyndi, the other image is me. This is sort of our personalities and how we jell them in this classroom.

Wiley: My favorite tools to produce images, for one a scanner. But if you don’t have access to a scanner, a cellphone, something that takes pictures that you can see readily in a digital phone. There’s a ton of apps that will help you mash together things, like the Layout app for Instagram. There’s a lot. Everybody who is probably in the classroom will have at least one cellphone that they can use to take pictures, and you could even move your cellphone when you’re taking a picture to kind of make it like a little funky, like the scanner. But my other favorite tool is tracing paper, because I will trace over letter forms in magazines to make hand type, or trace over general shapes and make compositions—so very easily accessible tools that you can use to make images if you’re not an artist or a designer.

This is the takeaway slide. These are your takeaways. Limit your use of fonts to two per page, whether it’s a sans serif and it’s serif mixed together, or if it’s two serif fonts or two Comic Sans and Papyrus. Two per page. Don’t lift your images from Google without refining your search using the search tools to have it labeled for reuse, even in your classroom. Even if somebody is teaching just to their students, it really does need to be labeled for reuse, or you need to cite your source of where you’ve gotten that image. Teaching art history, sometimes our images come from the books that we’re teaching with that we show, and we need to cite those sources too. Limit your color palette. You don’t need to have a ton of different colors even if you love color like, “Oh, I want to dress up this PowerPoint.”

You don’t really need to dress up a PowerPoint. You’re trying to disseminate information to your audience, and too many colors are going to throw off that hierarchy. Again, just consider your audience. Are you talking to five-year-olds in a classroom, or are you talking to five-year-olds at a swim lesson? You probably don’t need a PowerPoint at a swim lesson. I don’t know if they show those. Consider your audience. If you bring a PowerPoint to a swim lesson, that’s kind of—I don’t know, that’s just probably not good. If you’re talking to young adults, if you’re talking to people who are new to the workplace or if you’re talking to veteran people who are in the workplace, if you’re talking to an audience that is new to digital technology, they may be a little reticent and fearful that they don’t know what they need to know. So that old adage “if you don’t know what you don’t know” might apply. So you might need to alter some of your designs to simplify them to accommodate your audience.

Schwaller: I think to the posters that you produce, the ugly posters that you produce, you can use that to your advantage. That’s the subversion part of it. Part of what I’m interested in is how you take something and you know that it’s bad. That’s a taste thing. If you know that it’s bad or that it looks bad, embrace the bad and then push the bad over so bad that it looks good. That’s the subversion. Cyndi and I talk a lot because these are sort of minimal things, right? Reduce, reduce, reduce, because we tend to do the overdo thing.

There’s another like area that you can talk about, that sparse design, like too much of too little, basically. But Cyndi and I really are maximal designers. We like lots of things in our images. Sometimes it’s just putting it together. Wo if you like lots of things, just reduce it down to a couple of colors, though. If you want to throw a crap ton of stuff into your image, do it—but maybe pare it down to two colors or two tone faces within it. I like kitsch, I like bad, I like all that stuff. And if you know it, just embrace and push it to the point where it’s almost over the top. Sort of like the PowerPoint that we’ve done, right? So, we’re going to use cats, because that’s ridiculous. And that’s how you get people sort of interested, in going, “Oh, OK, you know it’s bad, it’s OK if it’s bad, just push it to the really, really bad.” All right.

Wiley: Yeah, that’s it.

See inside classrooms across the country

Discover new pedagogical tactics and insights from our community of college educators in the Faculty Club newsletter.

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy, Terms of Use, and Honor Code.

Leave a reply

Have you tried this in any classes you teach? Would you like to try it? Share your questions, critiques, comments, and insights below.

More Faculty Club

A Meal-Sharing App That Targets Food Insecurity in College

Dispelling loneliness. Building community. Helping college students share extra meal swipes with hungry classmates. Yep: There's an app for that!

Guarantee Weekly Engagement with Required Online Posts

To humanize distance learning, this professor teaches netiquette, forms de facto study groups, and takes part in student discussions.

Make Statistics Relatable with an Athletic Approach

In this high-energy class, getting students out of their seats and on their feet helps boost their odds of understanding how to read and apply statistics.

Engage Students of Required Courses with a Youth Service Learning Project

This professor sparked excitement in non-major students by offering them a heartwarming task: to teach basic science to local kids who need it most.

Cultivate Civic Engagement by Studying Local Food Insecurity

A community food assessment elevates experiential learning to a new level, taking students outside the classroom to view the real impact of inequities.

Conquer Math Phobia by Helping Students Analyze a “Burning Question”

Help even the most fearful of students understand and apply abstract concepts of mathematics with confidence. Here is one professor's approach.

Turn Students into Travel Agents to Make Languages “Stick”

In real life, we talk, we don’t conjugate verbs. Sharing fun details in a new language helps students internalize—not just memorize—vocabulary.

Wiley & Schwaller Lecture: Basic Design for Creating Effective Visual Communication

Cynthia Wiley and Rachel Merrill-Schwaller of Grand View University explain how they use pop culture to explain basic design principles.

Make Practice Testing Fun with a “King of the Hill” Game

When his practice quizzes were a flop, this psychologist created a midterm challenge game that can earn students an A—and bragging rights.

Inspire Future Teachers to Be Agents of Equality

By examining historic primary documents and modern-day pedagogy, aspiring educators learn how to promote educational excellence for all.

Improve Students’ Collaborative Skills with the TREO Model

Most students know how it feels to be on a terrible team. After this class, they will understand why—and what they can do about it. 

Create a Sense of Urgency in the Classroom with Real-World Scenarios

This professor focuses labs on familiar health challenges in his students’ own community, making key scientific concepts more relatable and memorable.

What Is Course Hero?

Course Hero is an online learning platform where you can access course-specific study resources contributed by a community of students and educators.

What Is the Faculty Club?

The Faculty Club is a multi-disciplinary community of educators sharing ideas to advance innovation and celebrate excellence in higher education.