Category: Design Tips for Educators (page 1 of 2)

How (and why) I Simplified the UX of my iPhone Home Screen

When I am picking up my iPhone, I am usually thinking of a few basic tasks, such as making a call, texting, or checking Twitter.

Sometimes—but not every day—I do other things, such as learn stuff, buy new apps, or make a to-do list.

When grabbing the phone I would find myself taking that inevitable pause, swirling my finger across the screen in search of the proper app.

Weather? No. Kindle? No. TOCA? No. Ah! Twitter.


These little time delays add up. They slow down the process of being human.

It makes me think of other user experiences that affect our daily lives.

For example, a car’s dashboard has a clear place for the key. The steering wheel is directly in front of the driver (hopefully). The gear shift is off to the side (unless you have one of those suave ’70s models with the shift on the column). That’s basically it.

We don’t try to crowd the dashboard with a stack of books, to-do notebooks, Monopoly games, and the like. Sure, those can be in the back seat, but there they do not interfere with the driver’s job.

So why not just change my iPhone setup?

I wondered why the home screen was so busy, but I left it alone. That’s the way it was set up! That’s the way it should be!


Who says?

The most beautiful thing about products in our time is that we often have the power to change them to our liking.

Reading a book on the Kindle? Change the text size, the background color, whatever you need to make it work for you. No mass-market paperback can boast these features.

Don’t like your fridge? Change the light intensity, temperature, shelf arrangement, ice type . . . make it yours, baby.

iPhone has too much stuff on it? Simplify. Right.

Here’s how I thought it through:

I find it easy to think in categories. So, for example, I arranged my social media apps so they are all in a row. I don’t have to hopscotch around the screen looking for where to go next.

Do I want to Tweet, Facebook, Snap or Instagram? They are next to each other, ready for me:

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 10.45.52 AM

Basic things I use every day come next:


Then, I grouped all communication tools at the bottom:


So, my home screen looks like this:


On screen 2, I have the items I use less often, such as games and extras.

I crammed as much stuff as I possibly could in the extras panel:


Then, the other few utilities I use occasionally are on the screen, but simplified:


That’s all folks! I love it. I have now made a sport of how impeccably-organized I can make the phone. Can I eliminate maps? Should I do a plain-colored background? I will keep working on it, while keeping in mind this quote from the great Coco Chanel:

Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.

Wishing you a nice Friday, all.


3 Simple Rules for Creating a Good Worksheet


© MissMessie – click on image to be taken to her Flickr profile

I am coming to this industry from a different perspective. 

Dedicated parent? Indeed. But I am not a classroom teacher or a homeschooler.

I am a behind-the-scenes person—a designer of educational materials.

Continue reading

A Dyslexic Experience with UX Design

Forever a First-Time User:

As a dyslexic, I am always a first-time user.

Every time I open a program or app, there is a momentary “!” as I am blown back. What is this!? What is going on here!? What does this all mean!? I am continually re-familiarizing myself with the interactions.

I swirl my finger around my iPhone as I relearn it each day.

Thought: I need to call someone. Phone icon? Well, that could mean phone I guess. Let’s give it a try:

© House

© WikiMedia

Yep. It means phone.

So, the iPhone is a pretty good user experience because relearning that phone means phone is no big deal.

But the funny thing about many people with dyslexia, is that it is not that we do not understand an icon or word. It’s that we see many possibilities for the icon or word, and must sort through to figure out which one is correct.

For example, the cord return icon on my vacuum.


(Disclaimer: I am actually in love with this vacuum. It is not your fault, dear vacuum, that I overthink your button.)

The cord return button (above, right) flummoxes me to no end. It could mean cord, yes. But couldn’t it also kinda mean power? I mean, it’s an electrical thingy that is related to power. And for that matter, the on off (though I am pretty acclimated to this symbol by now) could mean cord. It’s a long line, like a cord.

So you will catch me hovering over the vacuum, wagging my finger back and forth as I re-learn which button to use.

At a certain point I am able to break through this second guessing of buttons and commands.

If I vacuumed every day (admitting.) I would no longer swirl my pointer finger above the buttons. I would just know it. But, I will tell you, I certainly won’t be looking at it. I will just instinctively reach for the button on the right.

After time and intensive use, I reach the level of haptic knowledge, where I have thoroughly embedded the program into my body. Something I use daily, such as Adobe Illustrator, or Gmail, I have under my belt in this way.

And once I know something to this level, I am often faster than the average user. It is quite a thrill. I can maneuver SiriusXM like Hazel Tindall, the world’s fastest knitter, maneuvers her needles.

But don’t ask me to show you around because I won’t really know how to describe it. Especially if you are one of those people who uses their eyes to process stuff.

The Dreaded Upgrade:

I am not a Luddite on purpose. I love the newest and greatest anything. I browse Best Buy like the, well, best of them.

But I do cling to the past when I have mastered something, because it is a big undertaking to change. I don’t want to go back to learning, relearning, relearning, until, finally, several months later, knowing.

For example:

iPhone 4? I miss you terribly, my darling dearest. I had you memorized. I didn’t even have to look down. (And please don’t get me going about my Siemens ST55 with GSM. I weep. My little palm-sized friend.)

Adobe Illustrator? I refuse to upgrade from CS3. I don’t want to spend the time to relearn, when what is important to me at this time is pumping out good works for kids.

The end. Now back to work for me.

P.S. This article, though it talks about my experience, is for the UX designers out there. It’s a little note from an outsider. I am passionate about what you do, and am thrilled to see what you come up with on the daily. I hope the information I have shared here lights you up with even more possibilities.

And it is also for the user who process differently such as I do. For you know that if we are still using Adobe CS3, its not because we don’t care. Or that we are clueless and out of date. It’s because we know it. We own it. And we’d rather just be able to get to work.


A Dyslexic Experience with UX Design

STEM/STEAM Careers: Industrial Design (plus list of project ideas)


image © Joao De Almeida

I am, indeed, obsessed with Industrial Design.

I am not referring to “industrial” design where one uses galvanized steel light fixtures, and conduit for curtain rods (though I like that too). I am speaking of Industrial Design: the field.

But what is it exactly? The IDSA (Industrial Designers Society of America) definition reads:

Industrial Design (ID) is the professional service of creating products and systems that optimize function, value and appearance for the mutual benefit of user and manufacturer.

In other words? Making things. Making products (or systems) that have been thought through on many levels such as:

Does the product (or system) work well?

Is it easy to use?

Is it beautiful?

Industrial design draws elements from artistic creativity and from engineering, especially mechanical engineering. Often art and engineering are kept apart, but in this instance the two thinking traditions are dovetailed to find the best solution to a given problem.

Project ideas for your student:

Design something that has never been designed before. Don’t be afraid to get silly. For example:

  1. a toothbrush for a favorite doll or action figure
  2. shoes for a turtle
  3. a lego cleaner-upper
  4. a crayon and coloring book carry-all for car trips

Or for the older student:

  1. a holster for a cell phone in case you have no pockets
  2. a way to secure a pen to a notebook
  3. a snack bag that does not feel kiddish (too young). I mean, a baggie full of Goldfish is so Elementary School.

You can also try designing something that improves upon a product that already exists:

  1. Always hated how a cereal bag splits open and flings cereal around the kitchen at 6 in the morning?
    Design a modification to the bag or clip
  2. Or you can modify a product to help with accessibility
    e.g., redesign/modify an everyday object for those with limited use of their hands

Keep in mind some of the important questions of Industrial Design as you work:

Does the product work well?

Is it easy to use?

Is it beautiful?

As Vitaly Friedman of Smashing Magazine puts it:

. . . the key to a truly successful product design lies in designer’s ability to combine both beautiful design and functionality

Suggestions for Materials:

sketch paper

a freshly-sharpened pencil

clay or Play-doh to brainstorm the 3-D form

other building supplies can be added as needed (tape, cardboard, scissors).

Use our Invention Journal to take it to the next level:



Want more? Some good videos about the industry:

Massachusetts College of Art and Design:


This one is about designing the MacBook:


This from NASA:

Twitter accounts:

Happy Designing.

Footnote: A degree in Industrial Design is one of my fantasy honorary degrees. Can I have one, please @PrattInstitute? Let me know, OK? Thanks.

Behind the Scenes – Retouching Dust and Scratches on Einstein

Einstein needed a little cleanup.

Sometimes I like the dust and scratch look of archival photos:


But I felt like the wise eyes of Einstein were being obscured behind the distracting dust particles:


I only retouched at about 250% for this one. When I do something for press, I retouch at about 800%.

But at either percentage, I like to retouch rough. I pick up the graininess with the clone tool so that the photo maintains its vintage look. Or, if I have had to smooth something out, I will add a bit of noise back in. Gotta keep it real… looking at least.

That’s all. World’s shortest blog post. But the point was made, so why go on…

Have a nice one!

Photo credit © Library of Congress / Prints and Photographs Division / LC-H27- A-2848

Real Supplies for Real Creators


© John Morgan

Listen. I love crayons. This is not about crayons.

But crayons are everywhere:

  • Art class
  • Math class
  • Car trips
  • Holiday-themed homework (answer the problems then color in the pumpkins!)
  • Restaurant placemats

So when it comes time to do some artwork outside of school, I prefer to bring out some different kinds of art supplies.

In our house, we have amassed a collection of acrylic-covered paintbrushes, rich, chalky pastels, and, yes, a full set of Prismacolors.


© Celeste Lindell/Art Supplies Series

I have a firm rule in place for when we visit Michaels® or A.C. Moore®.

After we goof off in the foam cutout aisle
(where dd insists on wielding a massive foam sword while dressed in a foam cowboy hat),


after touching every pom-pom of every conceivable color,

we must visit the grown-up’s art supply aisle.

I want her to browse all of the tools of creation: T-Squares, silkscreen sets, mechanical pencils, charcoal. And I always buy one little thing.

Here are some recommendations for low-cost, genuine supplies.

Note: this is not a sponsored post. But when I love something I have to share it.

Kneaded rubber eraser: Fun to smush into interesting shapes, and it erases those little areas that are hard to reach.


© Rob Marquardt

Eraser pencil: Throw one in a box of colored pencils. Gets into those corners, and it is easy to spot.

Smudge stick: We use this to smudge areas on a pencil drawing. Great for experimenting.

Drafting triangle: Makes those diagrams your student creates feel so official

Chalk pastels: Chalky, rich and colorful, and fun to smudge

A metal pencil sharpener: No little plastic, falling-apart thingy that looks fun but only lasts, like, a week

Water-soluble pastels or crayons: This one is a little more expensive, but we have gotten a lot of good use out of it. It is also great for playdates, as it keeps children occupied for quite a while

A genuine sketch book: Again, a little more expensive. But I often see them on 2-for-1 deals

There are many, many, more I could list. But this is a start. I can’t think of a way to end this, so I’m just gonna stop. Wishing you a lovely day.

Note: if a product is designed for an adult user, please supervise your child during use. Wash up carefully after use and take all proper precautions. And keep out of the hands of the under-3 set. The small sizes and bright colors will be tempting. Practice safety first – and enjoy some creative time!

Self Publishing – The Basics


I had a professor at Pratt Institute who taught us to make books.

It was the final month of senior year. The sleepy, spring air pressed through the Industrial Revolution era windows as we trimmed pieces of watercolor paper. We folded them into signatures, and saddle stitched. Then, we carefully built bindings with cardboard wrapped with handmade paper.

I cherished the lovely little books which smelled of rubber cement. It was one of my favorite projects.

Many years later, I found myself working in pre-press and production. The words of professional bookmaking became my daily lexicon.

Saddle stitch. Perfect bind. Total creep. Signatures. Blow ins.

I tossed about the terms like the tough-gal insider I fancied myself. The crisp, matte pages fresh off the Heidelberg made me happy. Rather than smelling of rubber cement, this time they smelled of litho ink. Anyone out there who loves that new book smell, I urge you to visit a print shop. The look on the pressman’s/preswoman’s face will probably be priceless as you ask to smell the just-printed pages. But it will be worth it.

Flash forward? I am making books again.

Now, I eagerly await UPS packages from the printer. I slice open a box to reveal a glossy stack. Yum.

But how is this done?

I use a service called Createspace. It is an Amazon company, so the books you produce can be offered for sale on Amazon. I love the simplicity of the process:

  1. You pay nothing up front
  2. You can even use a Createspace-assigned ISBN, so that you do not have to go through the process of purchasing your own. However, that places some limits on distribution, so you should do your research if you want to sell in other venues.
  3. Setup is easy. They have a step-by-step walk-through on the site. They describe the basic information you need, such as trim, safe area, etc. and they generate a full-color preview from their end so you can see how the book will print. You can create your own press-ready PDFs or use their online setup. I create PDFs because my product is very specific.
  4. You can order a printed proof on which to sign off so that you do not miss anything
  5. The finished product is clean and professional. I have gotten great feedback from the clarity and richness of color. And I am extremely hard to please when it comes to books. I know good from not-so-good.
  6. The payment works on a royalty structure. I am not taking home much with each sale, but that is not the point at this stage in the game. I am trying to establish myself, and Createspace has given me the platform from which to do exactly that.

The big benefit is that you can order Author Copies. And the price per is very competitive, in fact, it is lower than most print quotes I received (e.g., A 40 page / full-color workbook author copy price is about $3.40. That’s cheaper than your friendly office-supply store.)

There are other self-publishing platforms about which I have heard good things:


Infinity Publishing

Some additional sources:

This is a phenomenal resource that rates the self publishers

A list of self publishers from Wikipedia

If you are ready to go large scale, you can print with the greats.

I have worked with both of these companies in the past when working with the bigger publishers. Their product is top-notch, and the pricing is fair. I could not recommend them highly enough. Tell ’em I sent you. They will have no idea who you are talking about, but it will make me feel good.


Edwards Brothers Malloy

More large-scale sources

Have a day that works for you, and get your brilliant stuff out there already.

Photo credit: © Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division LC-USW3- 009048-E, photographer: Collins, Marjory / Farm Security Administration


Graphic Novel – Behind the Scenes

Currently I am working on an ELA book of graphic novel backgrounds. From Illustrator vector art to Photoshop backgrounds, the process involves many steps. I will be adding to this post as the book gets completed.

Step 1: Layout shapes in Illustrator:

Layout the boxes in Illustrator

Layout the boxes in Illustrator

Step 2: Color/texture:

Illustrator Texture

Illustrator Texture

Step 3: Background in Photoshop:


Background in Photoshop

Step 4: Piece together in Photoshop and add effects:


Photoshop layered

Step 5: Place in InDesign:

Final in InDesign

Final in InDesign


How to Make a Cool Composition Notebook Background in Photoshop

Are you making your own journals? A scrapbooker? A graphic novel maker? Here is a fun and easy way to make that texture you see on a marbled composition notebook.


Decide on final size and resolution you will need ahead of time.

For a notebook cover (8.5 x 11) I am using a 9 x 12, 300 dpi image. This will allow for bleed.


If printing on a home printer, simple black (100K) and white is probably fine, but be sure to test it out.

Set the file to have a black background and white foreground.

You may use standard, 100% black, or determine with your printer if you should use a rich black (black that is made of more than just black so that it comes out very rich with nice coverage. My favorite is 60c 40m 40y 100k.) I am a pre-press geek, so please bear with me.


Check with your printer to see what he/she suggests as far as rich black is concerned

Create new file with background contents: white:
1createnewfileThis part is unusual, but I found it really works.

In order to get that good “composition cover-y” look, I temporarily enlarge the file to 250%. Then, the applied filters take on the proper proportions:

enlargeGo to filter, render clouds:
filter_cloudsIt will look like this:

cloudThen, in order to use the next filter, temporarily convert file to RGB (my press background makes this very hard for me to accept, but I will correct it later):changetoRGB

Then, go to sketch – stamp:filter_stampYou may want to play with the size and look of your texture using the balance and smoothness.
I had to OK and Undo a couple of times until I was happy with the proportions and shapes:stampbalanceConvert back to CMYK and tweak the color balance as necessary to get you back to a good, clean black:


Resize image back to original size from the 250% enlargement:sizebackdownSave file:

savefileHappy compositions!

Article focus: How to Make a Cool Composition Notebook Background in Photoshop

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