In the project-based studio seminar Digital Rhetorics Across Media and Information Technologies, students were afforded several opportunities to create and produce client projects. One client was the Clemson University Graduate School. Graduate school representatives requested a newly designed version of the Graduate School Guidebook, which introduces incoming and potential graduate students to basic but relevant information regarding life at Clemson University and the surrounding area.
FIRST VERSION Graduate SChool Guidebook Design
Clemson UNiversity Graduate School GUidebook
See sample pages of the current guidebook in the gallery below.
RHETORICAL SITUATION AND GOALS
In the project-based studio seminar Digital Rhetorics Across Media and Information Technologies, students were afforded several opportunities to create and produce client projects. One client was the Clemson University Graduate School. Graduate school representatives requested a newly designed version of the Graduate School Guidebook, which introduces incoming graduate students to basic but relevant information regarding life at Clemson University and the surrounding area.
The client asked for an update of the current guidebook with a friendlier and less formal look and tone with a more user-focused design and appearance to better attract students to read and use it. If poorly designed the guidebook would possibly not be used. The graduate school wanted to project and promote Clemson University as a contemporary and forward looking institution.
The guidebook is designed for the prospective student researching potential graduate schools online and the incoming or newly arrived graduate student. Because those audiences are typically an older and more diverse group than undergraduates the book needed to have a different appearance than the undergraduate guidebook.
Constraints included size and time due to the large scope of the project and the number of pages, as well as, the time allowed (a few weeks until the first review by the client). In addition, Clemson University official branding, graphics, colors and fonts only were to be used in the design. The use of the Clemson University seal was prohibited. The content was to be the original guidebook text which could be edited for a friendlier, more conversational tone. The client also requested that we not include Clemson’s top 20 public university ranking and other marketing speech.
After our examination of the current document, Suzanne, Brain and I made a few key decisions about what we initially wanted for our design. We knew the document had to be a balance between official and friendly and contains a quantity of necessary, but dry information. Therefore, we decided on the following: to use a full page photographic spread; to use the sans serif typeface Trade Gothic; to use a color bar across the top and bottom of the page; to use no Tiger Paw except possibly on the back of the document; to use an individual Clemson color for each section; to have a simple and clean design. We also discussed what images and data we might want to include on such topics as downtown Greenville, local attractions, transportation options, restaurants and other information of interest to newcomers. We then divided the labor. Suzanne concentrated on the design, Brian worked on the cover, graphics and information graphic, and I edited the text and photographed everything I thought was relevant to the subject matter in the guidebook. We meet periodically for an hour or two at a location off campus to discuss what had been done, what needed to be done, and the viability and aesthetics of the design.
At the second client meeting the first version of the design was appraised. The information graphic received praise, but the cover emphasizing Clemson’s heritage (Tillman Hall), rather than the present or future, did not. The full-page photographs, we decided, did not work well as backgrounds for large quantities of small text. We recommenced working on the design and the selection processes it required until a more distilled and focused version was completed.
Our group did not have daily proximity, which hampered our ability to communicate. We had a schedule set up, however, because of our full schedules and distant residences we were never able to meet and work on the project together. Between our meetings it was difficult to gauge the precise progress of each other’s portion of the work and to fully comprehend what was needed now. This affected the consistency of the results. The ability to exchange detailed, quality, feedback and to have face-to-face consultations would have been tremendously helpful. This proved to be the most significant constraint for our design team.
In our final version the cover is colorful, but not figurative, with visual allusions to the purpose and source of the document. The positioning, size, weight, and transparency choices of the type pronounce it to be user-centered. The usability of the guidebook is greatly improved from the original. Rather than the original one column design, it features a two column, asymmetrical, grid design with a lively variety of placements of photographs and text. According to Kimball and Hawkins, this gives freedom and flexibility to the designer’s placement choices and “shows useful relationships between pieces of information” (135). Therefore, the photographs now have two purposes. They “break the grid system for emphasis or effect (Kimball and Hawkins 147) and divide the text into manageable portions and serve to inform and direct the viewer’s eye by framing the pertinent text. Clemson brand colors are used for the type which unifies the design, adds warmth, and adds visual rhetorical meaning to the text.
Chapter and section headings are in all caps which displays the “logic of the hierarchy” of the design and guides the reader “toward their own goals or the goals of the client” (Kimball and Hawkins 157-158). Unlike the original guidebook that placed the headings in the upper portion of the design where they disappear as part of the “ground,” in violation of a “principal of perception” known as the “figure-ground relationship,” our design places them in a lower position where they “seem closer” and are “perceived as figures” “with a clear location in space” (Lidwell, Holden, Butler 96). The color bars are more open and subtle, and the placement of page numbers that relate to the index by column rather than page, increases the user’s ability to quickly access information. Each section front features clear and accessible titles over a full-page photograph that gives the reader a stronger feeling of being in that place. Each section has a individual color scheme that uses Clemson branded colors to “attract attention,” “convey meaning,” and “imply value” (Lidwell, Holden, Butler 255). Hopefully, reading our version of the guidebook is less of a chore and more of an experience.