The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Visual Design

I was excited to read that in course 3 in COETAIL, we will be learning about visual literacy and design. I’ve often been drawn to tasks that required thinking in terms of images and design, and, although in the past I had not explicitly thought about what makes something aesthetically pleasing to the eye, I get a warm feeling when something is visually beautiful.

I recently attended a conference session where the presenter showed us how her students were learning about World War II and how they used video, instead of writing an essay, to showcase their learning.  She had written a very descriptive rubric to assess the content of the video, but the criteria to assess the production and aesthetics of the actual video were very limited. With the increase in video production and design tools in the market, students have an extensive array of choices; however, very few educators have the knowledge to teach about visual literacy and how to communicate assertively with images, sounds, and text.   We must develop a critical eye in the saturated media environment era.   The individuals who can master the language of effective communication will have a great advantage over others.

This is what the famous George Lucas film director thought in 2004 in the article about visual literacy in education; nonetheless, after 13 years, we continue to be in need of more explicit instruction on the subject.

Today we work with the written or spoken word as the primary form of communication. But we also need to understand the importance of graphics, music, and cinema, which are just as powerful and in some ways more deeply intertwined with young people’s culture. We live and work in a visually sophisticated world, so we must be sophisticated in using all the forms of communication, not just the written word.

Design Elements and Principals – Tips and Inspirations By Canva

In order to apply what I had learned from the readings about web design, I decided to focus on the header of my blog. I noticed my picture was too small in relation to the whole space.  The quote that I used was almost lost, and the calendar widget, placed in the right corner, served no purpose.  I came to the conclusion that I had not taken the time to learn the different design features that the site provided, and the task for this week was just what I needed to be motivated to learn.

At first, I started using the pictures that WordPress offered, but I wasn’t pleased with the results. Then, I realized that it was easier to create something using Canva to be able to play with colors and fonts. In addition, I found an infographic embedded in a blog post that summarized a few design principals mentioned in this week’s readings.

Even though I could spend hours and hours changing and tweaking the new header, I am satisfied with the improvement.  I used the principle of contrast to play with colors to highlight my name and the words.  I am also aware of how proximity can play an important role to separate aspects of the design. I changed the color of the menus to complement the main color, orange.

After I was prepared to download the desired image, I ran into a problem with the size of the file that the WordPress header required, so I had to carefully problem solved to produce a picture with dimensions 1380 px x 280 px. The paid version of Canva allows users to customize the image size, so I signed up for the free paid trial to solve the problem.

I am looking forward to learning more about visual literacy.  I am predicting that I will start looking at designs with different eyes now. I think I may become a bit obsessed!

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5 Responses

  1. Sara McAllister says:

    Hey there Carolin!

    Awesome new header! I love the black and white with the pop of color! I, like you, love to see things that are visually and aesthetically pleasing! It’s the worst going to boring websites that are poorly designed! I love that you used Canva to make your header, that was a genius idea! I love using Canva for sure! We use Edublogs (the educational version of WordPress) at my school and I’ve had to help a number of teachers set theirs up to provide just the minimum for the requirements and they are pretty boring… but I love it when the teachers take ownership and really deck them out! It makes a huge difference to their students and parents too, I’m sure!

    Reading and learning about these topics this week made me think about how foreign a concept this is for most teachers because, like you said, it’s never been explicitly taught. It’s obviously something we all notice and take in when checking out anything on the web, but it doesn’t go any further than that. It’s yet another point that these COETAIL courses are bringing out that is missing for most teachers. And just like you’ve talked about here, if teachers aren’t aware of this or how to teach it then the students will not learn it and cannot accurately apply these useful skills. It’d be great to find/create some video tutorials that taught some of these basics (especially in a simple yet more visual way similar to the way this site does here) that teachers could show to students as a way of teaching them and then require them in projects they create… I’m imagining if done like this it would take a little of the burden off of the teachers.

    I wonder if skills like this will eventually be put into standards that are required for students to learn (especially outside the Art classrooms as George Lucas pointed out)? I was super surprised to see his article was for 2004! So much has changed since then and yet this still isn’t a topic that is well covered in schools (both in and out of art classes), at least that I have seen. Hopefully with more COETAIL cohorts and awareness being brought to this we will begin to see this topic popping up more in schools!

    • Thank you for your insight. My daughter shares the same name as you, Sara without an “H”. I am excited to keep on learning about design, and I am starting to bookmark the most helpful resources for when I have the opportunity to share this knowledge with students or teachers. I agree with your that the principles of design will become mainstream in academic standards soon. I am also starting to see apps/software such as “Haiku Deck”, “Canva” and “Typorama” with preset designs that follow the principles that we are learning about. However, it is always empowering to have a sound knowledge of what is helpful and aesthetically at the same time.
      Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. Hi Carolin,

    Love your new blog header. The color contrast, the text are all very nicely done. I am a big visual person. For me, this can make or break whether I read an article or not. I really enjoy the way your blog is set up, it looks fantastic and really attracted me to your page. I like how the images and text interact with each other and it’s not just blocks of pictures and then blocks of writing. This is something I am working on right now too. I am also excited to try Canva, I have the page open now and will likely try to design something soon.
    I have been playing around with the Adobe color wheel ( for design. I am still pretty slow, so I can not spend a lot of time with it – but I like to experiment when I have the chance.
    With students learning in such a digital age right now it’s more important than ever to be teaching visual literacy. I know many of our students when given a “research” topic will turn to Youtube, its easier for younger students to get a lot of information quickly, it’s visually pleasing and keeps them engaged. We also find that when students are doing some kind of work they prefer to use google slides or Animoto as a way to showcase their work, its fun, interactive and digital.
    Thanks for sharing the before and after webpages. I am excited to see how yours continues to grow and I am excited to continue working on mine as well!!

  3. Hi Carolin!

    Canva for the win! I’m a huge fan for my personal and professional use. My art teacher used to teach a unit of inquiry with design, and the students learned how to navigate Canva. As a specialist – for a TRUE PYP transdisciplinary learning – we should be integrating with every unit in every grade level. If that were the case, design principles, aesthetics, infographics, you name it, will be taught at the primary level. ALL levels; and not just to the students, but the teachers as well (for those who have the ability to schedule their day where homeroom and arts teachers are co-teaching). I really hope to see more collaboration of visual literacy between the arts (including myself) and the other subjects. One can hope, right? Hope you have a great week!

  4. Yasmeen says:

    Hi Carolin,

    I love the new look and feel of your blog. It is so refreshing with the bright pop of colour and the black and white contrast. I too get a “warm feeling when something is beautiful” but sometimes we are not sure how to create that feeling ourselves. I am so glad for this particular course in order to learn some principals of visuals and aesthetics myself.

    My students are working on building a community at the moment and it is taking everything in me not to tell them what would look better where. I think spending some time teaching “visual communication” would be an awesome skill for my students to acquire. Certainly we need to stress the power that visuals can have in communication.

    Great job!


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