Looks do make a difference

22 Aug

I’ve been thinking a lot about appearance lately. No, it hasn’t led me to purchase a new wardrobe or start wearing makeup (sorry!) but it has made me think a lot about the way I put together my course pages. As a result, I’ve made some small changes to my course pages. One of those changes was to the font.

I started thinking seriously about fonts as a graduate student in education. As I was getting my degree in elementary education, the conversation was limited to fonts that fell into the sans serif category where the lower-case “a” did not have a “hat” on top, thus making it more recognizable for beginning readers. To my knowledge, only two fonts fit this description, Comic Sans and Classroom. These fonts are great for young, beginning readers and elementary teachers should definitely use them. Once I started teaching high school, however, even though my first job was in special education and my students’ reading levels were not much higher than those in my third grade classroom, I used Arial.

Why? Because using Comic Sans in a class of 15-18-year-olds is like breaking out the floaties in an adult swim class. Those topless a’s, careful curves and ever-so-slightly rounded but perfectly consistent lines, like the arm floaties, scream, “I think you’re incompetent and I am patronizing you!” The real reason teachers use such childish tools to teach remedial skills is because they’re too stupid to consider their audience and use equally useful but more adult tools, such as Arial font or, in the case of swim class, kick boards instead of floaties.

Something as simple as font makes a big difference. And while it’s important to avoid patronizing students, it’s also important to keep course design as clear and appealing as possible. I try to make my course pages readable, clear and appealing. I’ve been trying to keep most things, especially fonts, very consistent (I use Trebuchet predominantly in the course pages) and change font size rather than the actual font for organizing purposes, such as to make specific areas stand out. I also work hard to keep bolding consistent and at a minimum. Finally, I almost never use all caps. Yes, it is shouting in print.

For as much care as I put into my course pages, I am consistently surprised at the number of teachers who do not seem to care about appearance. Or focus a lot on appearance, but in ways that break a lot of the design rules I’ve learned. One instructor, for example, loves using green, red, and yellow … font. Granted, she uses the colors consistently as a way of “color coding” different components of her classes, but I still find the yellow and green as unreadable as ever. I did manage to convince her to stop using “hyperlink” blue in her syllabi, but only to switch to green. And not green with black outlines, but simply green, bright, bright green. Now students take the energy they used to use clicking on the unlinked blue script and expend it on trying to read the lime green text.

As a lowly instructional designer, I must defer to faculty’s wishes. However, in my own web page I can do what I want! As a result, I stick to boring, but readable black text. Also, I’ve changed this website a bit, added a main page, rearranged some of the secondary pages and relinked to actual published examples of my work rather than my saved Word versions. I’d love to know what you think of my changes and will take all serious suggestions, seriously!

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