Category Archives: Design

What is good design?

The stock answer is that good design is generally a combination of different qualities — what it does, what it looks like, and so on. But as our expectations of design change, so do those qualities and the relationship between them.

Designs should be complete but not cluttered. Good design should be able to tell a story at a glance without the reader getting lost in the overall look. Some designers like less detail, others like more.

But what really works on a broader scale?

Look at different images of products around you. Most are simple, well thought out designs. They tell a story at a glance or give a feeling with just a look. Simplicity is a great goal to use when trying to create a design. Corporate elements and product icons carry a lot of weight to get their point across easily. For example, everyone knows the Facebook icon, even though it is simple in both detail and its colors.

Some designs can be more complex. A design will be more detailed and complex when designing for a large audience where you need to show many possibilities for a particular product or image. Those designs are usually full of color and ideas but not so much that it overwhelms the viewer.

When designing an icon, use less color and less distraction. Remember the acronym KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. If you’re designing a poster for an event that has many uses, complementary colors and interesting design elements are the best options to get your ideas across.

In this new digital age of design, everyone has the ability to be a designer if they have a laptop and some software. And while opinions differ on what is good and bad design, remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Good design is what looks good today and will still look good in 20 years.

For more information and tips, check out these sources:

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A picture can (usually) say a thousand words

Images play a very relevant role in publications. When used with thought and care, they can evoke emotions in the viewer. Photographer Susan McConnell said good photographs make us feel. Strong feelings create appreciation, compassion, and urgency, which mold the choices we make as individuals and as a society.

Viva Virginia Master Class; string quartet members; music.

Graphics engage our imagination and heighten our creative thinking by stimulating other areas of our brain (which in turn leads to a more profound and accurate understanding of the presented material).

Choosing the right photo(s) is crucial when designing a publication, website, etc., while the wrong photo or a poor-quality photo can easily destroy the message. For example, an image of a dimly-lit classroom with the participants’ backs to the viewer would not be a good choice for a publication promoting a workshop or conference.

Writer Helen Stark says text gives our ideas a precision that we can rarely approach with images alone. Text also plays the central role in SEO (search engine optimization), being the only data we can say with certainty that search engines understand perfectly. Although text can be enough to invoke imagery without the use of pictures, a compelling image will usually engage the viewer more quickly.

Following is an example from the blog “Letting go” (Nov. 23, 2015) of how text can create an emotional response much like a photograph.

Apricot season in the countryside, calls from friends in the city asking where they can buy ripe red apricots. In a fortnight, there will be water melons and honeydew melons (our “spanspek” melons) ready for stalls along the roads through farmland. High summer, abundance and fullness, the wheat harvested, white crystal grapes swelling on vines, the deep shady embrace of old oak trees.

Without graphics, an idea can be lost in a myriad of words; without words, a graphic can be vague. Robert E. Horn, an award-winning scholar at Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Language and Information, said, “When words and visual elements are closely entwined, we create something new and we augment our communal intelligence … visual language has the potential for increasing ‘human bandwidth’ — the capacity to take in, comprehend, and more efficiently synthesize large amounts of new information.”

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Tips on making a noticeable — and usable — website

Congratulations! You have a website to promote your business, school, event, or other organization or activity. But what should you put on it? How should you organize it so that people can find what they need to find easily?

One of the most important things you need to know about visitors to your website is that they stay for only 10 to 20 seconds, unless given a reason to stay longer. This means that you need to put your important information up front and be as concise as possible.

Make sure to put the purpose of your site is noticeable at the top of the page – perhaps by making it bold, larger text, near or on top of a high-quality image, or in another eye-catching fashion. If people can’t tell why your webpage is useful in about 10 seconds, they’re likely going to leave.

If your website has multiple pages on it (and if you have a lot of information on it, it should!), make sure that you add navigation going either horizontally across the top of the page or vertically down the left side of the page. Also, make navigation labels as clear and concise as possible. Users should have a good idea of what they are clicking on.

Make pages as self-contained as possible. If you’re running an event, have a page for registration information, including how to register, how much it costs to register, when the registration deadline is, etc. If you have a schedule, make that its own page.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but generally if a user can look at a page and think, “Okay, I want the schedule, and this is the page with the schedule on it,” instead of, “Where is the schedule information on this long page with a lot of information?” They’re  more likely to find what they need and to not leave your page in frustration.

Finally, let’s talk about images. Images are good – if they are high quality and are of actual people. Users are likely to pay less attention to images that clearly have a model or are stock photos. Larger and better quality photos are better than smaller and/or low quality photos. Just make sure that if you add photos to your website, they don’t push the information people are actually looking for too far down the page.

And one final note on images: Never put text as part of an image. If you want to put text over an image, style your website so that text is placed on top of an already existing image. It both looks better and is more accessible to visitors with sight disabilities.

Hopefully by following these simple steps, you can get yourself off to a good start by creating a website that will both attract visitor’s attention and give them the information they are looking for quickly and easily.

For additional resources on this topic, you can check out the following websites:

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Feeling creatively uninspired? Here are some tips!

Social networks and digital media such as, websites, and films are currently the top sources of inspiration. Traditional media such as magazine and print ads, architecture, and fashion also remain as sources of creative juices.

These are some of the top sources of ideas:

Social media

Creative people see digital sources, such as social media, as a better source of creative sparks compared to traditional sources. This is because of how mobile technology allows for creatives to capture inspiration through their devices. Continue reading

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Infographics (Dos and Don’ts)

Example of a stacked bar chartInfographics are visual representations of information, or “data visualization.”

The term implies that sets of data will be displayed in a unique way that can be seen, rather than read. This visualization should not be left up to interpretation, it should instead be designed in a way that provides a universal conclusion for all viewers. In the simplest terms, infographics are not much different than the charts and graphs that programs like Excel can create.*

Designing and creating an infographic and using it as a tool for content marketing is much more complicated than simply making graphics or charts. The designer and infographic creator must know how to effectively convey the meaning and context of a particular set of information in graphical form that online readers can understand and appreciate.

The here are some very important Dos and Don’ts that digital marketers should know and understand when creating and using infographics for content marketing.**

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Website Best Practices: With great power comes great responsbility

In the spring 2015 semester, the websites hosted at Virginia Tech will be moved from the old content management system (CMS) into a new one. With this change, there will be a greater opportunity for you to manage your own webpages and content because the new CMS will be much more user-friendly!

Once you’ve learned the new CMS, it may be tempting to try all the cool stuff one can do with websites. Some people have been able to figure out how to apply different styles to text on a page, but when they do, it breaks the cohesive look and feel that a template offers.

So how do you know if you’re creating a good looking page without going off on a design tangent? By following Web best practices! Continue reading

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Graphic design: Designing by the golden rule

With everyone having the desktop computer with various design or page layout apps at their fingertips these days, designing a perfect layout, photograph, webpage or logo should be easy, right?

Good design doesn’t just happen or appear before your eyes when you open up your desktop design application. There is a Golden Rule that should apply to that great design. When you start out with your idea and you apply the Golden Ratio (figure A) or Golden Spiral (figure B) to it and then that the design will begin to unfold like a masterpiece on a canvas.

But what is this Golden Rule? Simply put, it is the Greek letter phi, the ratio that rules the relations between two sections in a design.

By dividing section A by section B, the result should be 1.618033987 (phi) or by adding A+B and dividing it by A you will get the same ratio. This gives you good balance within the layout. Figure A gives you a better idea of this principle.


Figure A

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Providing the right artwork to vendors

At some point, many of you will have to order t-shirts, stickers, brochures, or posters from a local or online vendor, and you will need to submit artwork for the project. The first step is to get a quote specifying the details, price, and scope of the project to prevent a misunderstanding should the finished product be incorrect.

Once you have agreed on the quote, the next step is to provide artwork to the vendor. The best way to ensure a successful project is to know what file format your vendor needs for the artwork.

There are two basic types of digital art files: bitmapped and vector art.

1. A bitmapped file (for example, JPEG, PNG, or GIF) is composed of a matrix of dots. Each dot can be assigned a color and combined with other dots to create shapes. When you zoom in on a bitmapped image, you will see the individual dots, which make it look blocky. The quality of a bitmapped file is indicated by its resolution (dots per square inch or dpi.) As a general rule, 72 dpi is suitable for the Web, while 300 dpi and above is required for print. It is important to consult with the vendor if these files are being used in a project.

2. Vector art is any digital artwork in which the shapes are represented by mathematical equations within a computer. This allows the art to be scaled to any size without increasing the file size or losing picture quality. The most popular software programs used to create vector images are Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. Files created using these programs are popular with screen printers and sign companies.

The key to working with any vendor is communicating and asking the right questions.

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InDesign tips and tricks

If you work with Adobe InDesign or would like to learn more about the program, InDesign Secrets is the place to go. Noted as the world’s no. 1 resource for all things InDesign, this site offers a variety of resources on working in the program.

From articles and tutorials to tips of the week and new features, everything you want to learn about InDesign can be found here.

Here are some recent posts you can find on InDesign Secrets:

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