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Doug Johnson's Tech Proof

Technology and Design


The Middle Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate Organization asks students to complete 60 hours of technology and design.

Technology and design -- what a strange combination. Or is it?

The WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) computer interface that debuted with the Macintosh operating system in 1984 has made good design sense critical if one is to use a computer to its full potential as a communication device.

For those of us who learned to keyboard on a typewriter, using a word processor was quite an adjustment. It took me a very long time before my inclination to hit the return key at the end of each line went away. But what took even longer to realize and to master were the design options that the computer gave me. My stuff could start to look as good as that done by a professional typesetter -- and there was no reason it shouldnt.

Robin Williams little book, The Mac (or PC) Is Not a Typewriter, Peachpit Press, 1989, was an eye-opener. Williams taught us novice publishers about things like

  • How to identify serif and sans serif fonts and when to use each.
  • How spacing requirements change when using proportional rather than monotype fonts. (No need for two spaces between sentences any more.)
  • When to use an em-dash and when to use an en-dash.
  • Why underlining is not necessary when italic formatting is available.
  • How to avoid widows and orphans -- the typographic kind, anyway.

The book is still terrific and useful. I re-read it every couple of years.

Today, however, most of us use the computer for far more than just putting text on the screen. Increased computer processing power also allows us to work with graphics. Whether designing brochures, PowerPoint slides, or Web pages, most computer users design not just with text, but with graphics as well.

Just in time, Williams published The Non-Designers Design Book, Peachpit Press, 2003. Using four simple design principles -- proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast -- she teaches how to strengthen the power and professionalism of materials that combine words and images. Even for someone like me who doesnt have much artistic sense, Williams book was very understandable and useful -- even fun.

Want More?

Want to read more about Doug and his thoughts on library media and technology? Visit his Web site or browse his new blog. Got a compliment, a complaint, or just a comment to share? E-mail Doug at [email protected]

In an earlier Tech Proof column, Are 21st Century Skills Right Brain Skills?, I listed the six right brain senses that Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind predicts will be necessary for survival in an economy that is being radically changed by increased automation, a growth in labor outsourcing and rising world-wide affluence. The first of those senses reads:
Not just function, but also DESIGN. Its no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience, or a lifestyle thats merely functional. Today its economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging.

In a world in which the visual is rapidly surpassing the verbal as the primary means of conveying information, design becomes as important as grammar, sentence structure, and organization. We are negligent if dont teach our students how to compose graphically as well as verbally.

Get Williamss books and share her wisdom with your students.

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Updated 10/30/2010