Why Visual Design Matters and How We Can Help

Why does visual design matter? Alice Rawsthorn writes , “Design is one of the most powerful forces in our lives, which influences the outcome of almost everything we do, often without our being aware that it has done so.

One of my favorite quotes on the topic comes from designer and publisher John McWade, who pointed out that:

It’s no longer enough to have a good product, it must be a good-looking product, and it’s no longer enough to have good words, they must be good-looking words. Design, how things look, is an essential part of how well they communicate.

An example I frequently point to is the Cardon Copy project, which takes everyday street flyers tacked to telephone poles, etc., redesigns them, and then reposts them in the wild. You can see from this simple example how powerful design can and how instantly more effective the flyer becomes as a result. You can instantly see that the content of the flyer means nothing if not supported by the design.:

Before and After
Of course, knowing that design is important is one thing. But how do you actually DO it? How do you lay out a magazine or a flyer? How do you shoot or edit a video? How do create or edit a graphic in Photoshop or Illustrator? How do create a website? How do you scan images to use them in other projects?

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 12.37.14 PMHere in the Vitale Digital Media Lab, we not only have a wide range of hardware and software (such as those listed in the preceding paragraph) available for you to use, but also the expertise on how to use it. Our job is to teach you what you need to know to get your projects done—whether they’re for a class assignment, a student group, or just something you’re doing for fun.

I wrote this blog post a couple years ago about the experience one lab user had here and how we were able to help her improve the design of a handout she was making. The process was not complex, but the user didn’t know where to begin and would have been satisfied with her very plain original design had she not come to the lab for help.

We offer software and expertise in a number of areas, including:

  • Video Editing (iMovie, Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro)
  • Graphic Design (Photoshop, Illustrator)
  • Text layout (InDesign)
  • Audio editing (Audacity, Adobe Audition, GarageBand)
  • Scanning
  • Web Design
  • and more.

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 12.36.43 PMPerhaps you learn better in a workshop environment. Well, we offer those too. Just sign up and show up. And if we don’t teach what you want to learn, just find a group of 5 or more like-minded people and let us know wic1@pobox.upenn.edu. If we have someone with the expertise, we’ll do a custom workshop just for you. For free.

We’ve taught video editing workshops for the creators of the very funny Classless TV and taught page layout with InDesign to Penn’s excellent fashion magazine, The Walk. And we regularly teach a variety of topics (video editing with iMovie and Final Cut Pro, Research Poster Design, web design, Podcasting, Making Infographics, Photography basics, and more) for academic classes, as requested by faculty and TAs.

We’ve had a hand in helping many Penn students, faculty, and staff to complete projects in a wide variety of areas and disciplines.

9787408253_f73443df00_z copyYou can find some examples of great undergraduate research posters at http://wic.library.upenn.edu/wicideas/curf2012.html

We’ve also held a number of video contests over the years. You can see the winners going back to 2007 on our website.  Some of my favorites have been PennYo Affairs, My Bike in C Minor, The Society Serialist (an excellent homage to Pablo Ferro’s trailer from 1964 for Dr. Strangelove using the film of Pride and Prejudice), Video + Poem + Painting and Advertising of Axe and Dove products.

(BTW, If these pique your interest, check out our current “Video With A Point” video contest, which gives you a chance learn, hone, and show off your skills—and win $500 in the process. Making a great video requires time and reflection. Submit a draft video by May 1, and our staff will set up a private coaching session for you before the official deadline.)

And of course we lend a huge variety of equipment (video cameras, audio recorders, projectors and screens, microphones, chargers, adapters, and much more) free-of-charge, we print posters (NOT free-of-charge, but really cheap), and more.

Students running for Undergraduate Assembly use our equipment and software to create their campaign videos, and I see people in the lab every year designing their T-Shirts for Spring Fling. Student publications work out magazine layout in InDesign here in the lab, and we’ve helped performing arts groups edit videos of their shows.

So whether it’s audio, video, graphic design, web design, or some other related area, please be sure to stop by the lab and get help—or just use one of our computers to work on your project. Just remember: We’re here to help.


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