Document Design Scavenger Hunt

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HPIM7056 by vxla on Flickr, used under a CC-BY licenseA few weeks ago, I shared Ten Activities Focusing on Visual Design that I plan to use to give students ongoing practice in document design principles. Another idea I want to try is a semester-long scavenger hunt.


I have a list of ten design tips that I refer students to if they need support on any particular design area:


  1. Use lists to organize information clearly. See Formatting Vertical Lists by Grammar Girl (check all 4 pages or listen to the podcast).
  2. Contrast is a critical ingredient in every design. Ensure good contrast between text and background.
  3. Make sure that your headings and subheadings create information-rich signposts for readers.
  4. Avoid presenting a "wall of text" by "chunking" text and visual elements.
  5. Limit typefaces to two per document. Any more than that gives your text a messy or unprofessional appearance.
  6. Use flush-left, ragged-right body text. Save centered text for graduation announcements and party invitations.
  7. Emphasize ten percent or less of text to make sure the key information stands out.
  8. Add consistency with repetition of design elements. Repeating patterns unify a document.
  9. Use alignment to organize a document visually, drawing the reader’s eye to the important info on the page.
  10. Group related elements together, in proximity to one another, to emphasize the connections visually.


Each week or so during the term, I will introduce a challenge related to one of these tips. We will go over the design principles and tips, and then we will look at an example that relates to the principle. In the case of contrast, for example, we can look at the image shown in this entry and talk about how increasing contrast could improve the sign for Advantage Wireless. Once students understand the principle involved, they are ready for the challenge:

 As you go about your daily activities, watch for documents that demonstrate the importance of contrast in document design. The documents can be positive or negative examples. Review the examples in this post, if your find has already been posted, you can like and/or comment on it. If you’ve found something new, take a photo of what you find and post it in the Contrast Discussions thread. Explain how contrast influences the document and, if relevant, what you would change to improve it.


During subsequent class sessions, I can pull examples from the class responses to discuss in class. I will leave the threads open so that students can add to threads from previous weeks when they find examples. Students will need to find two or three examples during the term, not one every week.


By the end of the term, I hope that students will have developed a stronger sense of how document design affects everything around them, from billboards to posters on the bulletin boards in the hallway. That understanding should improve their own documents and their feedback during peer review.


What do you do to teach document design principles? Share an idea in the comments below.



Credit: HPIM7056 by vxla on Flickr, used under a CC-BY license

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.