• College Ready Writing

    A blog about education, higher ed, teaching, and trying to re-imagine how we provide education.


Design in FYC?

If we begin to ask students to write in different forms using electronic mediums and digital tools, do we also need to teach them about design? 

April 15, 2012

This is probably going to be another one of those posts that is going to open me up to criticism from those who have degrees in Rhet/Comp, but I’m going to write it anyway.

I now understand why (in part) the MLA format (or some other format) is so important: uniformity in appearance. It might not be pretty, but it’s clean, precise, clear, and consistent. There’s nothing distracting you when reading/grading the essay, only page after page of uniform text.

Now that I’m using digital tools and alternate modes of writing, I’m noticing how uneven my students are in terms of their design aesthetic. On Friday, in my peer-driven class, there was an excellent presentation where they created a PowerPoint animation, which was awful: terrible fonts, offensive colors, distracting animation. I actually had to speak to students in my FYC class about making their blogs readable (in terms of font color, size, layout, etc).

Obviously, looks matter. Design and layout are important considerations in any sort of writing or communication project. But the traditional essay rarely addresses these concerns, outside of making sure it follows whatever formatting the professor sets. Now that my students (and myself) are experimenting with different forms and formats for our writing, I find I’m once again, out of my depth.

In my undergraduate training as a professional writer, we learned how to use FrameMaker, but any of my job experiences were with set templates; they had design teams who created the “look” and our job was to make sure that it adhered. I leaned basic web design, where the basic rule (and limitations of HTML at that time) was to keep it as simple, clear, and uncluttered as possible (and for heaven’s sake, don’t use any animated gifs!). Does anyone remember the rule about not having more than one screen-full of text, as readers didn’t like to scroll? Instead, I had to have a hard jump to further down the page.

Ethos, ethos, ethos. And, keeping your audience in mind at all time, and not just in relations to what you write, but how you present it. Obviously, I shouldn’t have been blindsided by this, but I’m thinking about so many other requirements, student-learning outcomes, and the individual challenges that each class presents that I overlooked this issues. I wonder if addressing these issues in future classes will help or put up additional resistance to using different technologies. On the one hand, we’re creating authentic situations with real audiences, instead of the artificial audience of one (me). On the other, the students in many cases are already struggling with writing, let along worrying about a lot of other issues that are closely related to writing (learning how to blog, create a good-looking, aesthetically-pleasing blog).

I asked the question on Twitter, but I’m going to ask again here: How do you address the issue of “design” in your classes? As I moved into exploring teaching a class in digital humanities and project-based learning, I am becoming particularly aware of my shortcomings in this area. The suggestions I received on Twitter were basic and helpful, but I’m looking for some better resources for myself.

It’s too late this semester, but I can always do better next year. 


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