At the ACM SIGUCCS 2017 conference, I also was able to present about Page Design and Layout Basics, which also won a Communications Award – this one for Best in Category for Instructional Classroom Materials. This was also another poster I had fun designing – although I admit I rambled a bit in the poster text…
For those interested in reading the poster’s text, read on!
About the workshop
Page Design and Layout Basics is a collaborative workshop that focuses on filling the gap between knowing how to use Adobe products such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign and using those programs to create a well-structured, engaging publication. Page Design is part lecture, part discussion, and part collaboration – which makes it stand out from IT Training’s typical offerings, where users are guided through learning how to use a program. Instead, participants are introduced to page layout principles, carefully chosen from two books on design (Robin William’s The Non-Designer’s Design Book and Roger C. Parker’s Looking Good in Print), and given the opportunity to explore those principles in action and discuss how they’re used in example layouts.
The workshop mainly consists of a presentation with examples of each layout principle, as well as discussion points where principles are paired together and participants are encouraged to critically examine an example print layout with an eye for how those principles are being used. In the middle of the session, participants break into groups and work on laying out a publication of their own. After discussion of more layout principles, participants would share their layouts and the class as a whole would share their thoughts on the layouts each group created.
But how’d Page Design and Layout Basics come about, and how has it evolved over the years? And what’s in store for it in the future? Read through the poster to find out more, and learn about the efforts of IT Training staff members Denise Brown, Beth Lynn Nolen, and Carol Rhodes as they shaped one of IT Training’s most unique workshop offerings.
Where we’ve been
The start of it all
Page Design and Layout Basics was the result of discussions at IT Training in 2005, when it was decided that a workshop that helped tie together the skills taught in the Desktop Publishing series was needed. Initially, a project lab was put together, giving interested participants the chance to practice their skills in Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. The Desktop Publishing Project Lab focused on creating a basic newsletter using skills taught in the series – however, as time went on, it was obvious something else was needed to help make the workshop series a better experience.
While facilitating the Desktop Publishing Project Lab sessions, Carol noticed there were many participants that didn’t have experience in building print layouts, and would see many newsletters laid out without thought as to where different page elements would go and how readers would make their way through a page. Participants were able to comfortably use the Adobe design programs, but discussion of how to tie those skills to design principles was something lacking in the Desktop Publishing series. Page Design and Layout Basics was developed by Carol to fill that need, with some assistance from other IT Training staff and IU Printing Services. When the workshop officially debuted in 2006, it was taught on both the Bloomington and IUPUI campuses of Indiana University – Carol taught the Bloomington sessions, and Denise taught the IUPUI sessions. It was initially received well, and was a much needed addition to the Desktop Publishing series at IT Training.
IT Training’s “odd duck” workshop
One of the unique features about Page Design and Layout Basics is that it isn’t like IT Training’s typical offerings, where an instructor leads a group of participants through a project, click by click. Instead, Page Design and Layout Basics sought to do something different by teaching some of the most important elements of creating an effective publication: the basic principles of page design. Beth frequently refers to it as the “odd duck” workshop of IT Training. One of the unique parts of the first version of the workshop involved the group project in the middle of the session, where participants would use scissors and glue to cut apart and rearrange sheets of different page elements (such as paragraphs of text, images, headings, and other visual elements) into a publication – there was no need for attendees to use a computer for this project. Participants were more often than not surprised by the non-traditional structure of the class, and occasionally looked very confused for the first part of the session. After attending the workshop, though, many thought the structure of the session was a refreshing change from most technology workshops, especially with the chance to work on building a physical, printed layout.
Change is in the air
As times changed, the methods used for teaching Page Design and Layout Basics changed as well. In 2011, a set of Adobe Illustrator files were introduced for facilitating the group project, in addition to the cut-and-paste exercise. These files provided participants with a simple, drag-and-drop design experience that didn’t require extensive knowledge of Illustrator, and let participants instead focus on the thought processes driving placement of layout elements. For a time, the cut-and-paste and electronic versions of the group exercise were offered together during workshops, but in 2013 the group project section of the workshop switched to using solely the digital version of the files, due to classroom constraints on the Bloomington campus.
Other changes were afoot with Page Design and Layout Basics – in 2012, the original presentation created when the workshop first debuted, with examples that Carol had made from scratch in many places, received a much-needed update. New examples were included, including a number of real-world examples in addition to Carol’s layouts. The overall presentation was given a fresh look as well, moving from a PowerPoint presentation to a PDF presentation created in InDesign.
Where we are now
Moving online and moving forward
In 2012, IT Training began offering their workshops online as part of a pilot program. Workshops were delivered live in Adobe Connect, allowing participants from IU campuses all across the state to attend IT Training’s sessions. Teaching workshops online introduced new challenges, especially for Page Design. Beth, Carol, and Denise brainstormed how make to Page Design into an ideal learning experience in the online world, given its unique structure. As the workshop relied so much on active participation and collaborative work, online instruction had to be approached creatively in order to keep participants engaged in the workshop. As a result, some changes were made to facilitation in order to fit the online experience.
The first change was the switch from group creation of a layout to instructors leading the layout activity with creative input from participants. The layouts were based on InDesign files made specifically for the workshop, and the process was similar to how the Illustrator files worked in the past – instructors would move page elements into place in the layout, with creative direction from the participants. This was met with mixed results – often there was very little participant input in the process, leaving the instructor to essentially build a layout on their own. However, the change to instructor-led group work made the project section of the workshop run more smoothly, and completed layouts were still shared with the group for discussion.
The principle discussion sections of the workshop were also handled somewhat differently. Adobe Connect provided a chat pod for discussion, and also allowed participants to make use of microphones to speak to everyone in a session, but due to logistical issues encouraging discussion via microphone wasn’t the best option. The chat pod ended up being the way discussions were handled during Page Design sessions online, with the instructors reading out the comments participants made in case other participants weren’t following the chat closely. Occasionally the chat would veer off topic, adding another element to manage, but instructors quickly became skilled at bringing discussions back on-topic.
A new room, a new look, and a new online platform
2015 was a busy year for Page Design – it received another presentation update, and also was one of the first workshops taught in the newly renovated Learning Commons in the Wells Library at IU Bloomington. As part of the renovations, a collaborative learning classroom was built in addition to a traditional computer lab classroom, and the new room was perfectly suited for teaching Page Design. The layout of the room, as well as software included on the computers, facilitated discussion and sharing and made for an optimal learning experience for participants. An updated presentation was needed as a result of the new technology in the rooms, as some of the examples weren’t optimized for higher resolution screens and needed to be remade so they showed properly on high definition screens.
2016 brought a new video conferencing platform, Zoom, which IT Training began to use for delivering online sessions. Zoom allowed for easier participant interaction, as well as more options for interaction and collaboration – all of which were essential for teaching Page Design online. Discussion over audio became an option again, and participants were also able to participate via webcam – which helped instructors gauge participant reactions to the content. An especially essential Zoom tool for Page Design was the Annotation Tools – this allowed yet another dimension of interaction and discussion during the principle discussion sections of the workshop. It gave participants another way to participate in discussions and the layout project by drawing on the screen layout parts they wanted to call attention to, or to point out where they thought design elements should be placed. Zoom helped make Page Design a much better experience online, and participants enjoyed the new method of attending and participating remotely.
Where we’re going
Where do we go from here?
“How do you write a workshop you’ve already been teaching for years?”
That’s the question Beth asked herself when faced with Page Design’s new reality: as a self-study course hosted in the Canvas learning management system. In 2017, IT Training was faced with staffing changes and a shift in focus, and that has led to IT Training’s workshops moving to an online, self-study format. Given that Page Design doesn’t fit the typical workshop mold, approaching the change from a live presentation to an asynchronous learning experience was tricky.
Beth originally thought that the course could simply be turned into a series of video presentations, and in the process preserve most of the experience without needing to do too much additional development of content. However, it was quickly determined that a video-only course wouldn’t be the most engaging way of consuming the material, so the next step was determining exactly how to present this content. It turned out that a combination of text, video, and discussion facilitated through Canvas would be the best way to approach this. Beth took the lead on this project, and has been working on determining how, exactly, one writes a workshop they’ve been teaching for years.
At this point in the development process, the presentation’s content has been migrated to a text format, which Beth developed based on the presentation Carol had created in 2006. Additional information focusing on implementing these principles in digital publications, along with updated content focusing on print design, has been incorporated into the newest and biggest revision Page Design has faced. The next steps for development include the following:
- Curating and re-creating examples demonstrating page design principles to reflect more current design trends
- Developing and curating videos that help strengthen understanding of design principles
- Determining methods of increasing engagement with the material through interactive elements
Because of Page Design’s uniqueness, IT Training is using the course as a way to test out potential additions to their other online courses, such as discussion options, knowledge checks, and other interactive elements such as games to support learning. If something ends up working out well in Page Design, it could potentially be used in other courses to support learning in IT Training’s more traditional offerings.
While the workshop now looks very different from how it did at the start, it still helps interested users make engaging publications, and put the skills they learn in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign to use effectively.