Hold the Word Art and More Tips for Effective Design in G Suite

Multicolored Pencils on a sketch pad.

1:1 roll-outs and distance learning mean teachers have to create more digital content. Think about students who view these Google Docs, slideshows, websites, and more. What is their experience? Are they learning from visually appealing materials or slogging through bowling shoe ugly content?

For teachers (and anyone else) using G Suite, there are a few simple ways to use effective design. These tips help the viewer have a pleasing experience as they consume digital content.

Before we dive into G Suite specific design tips, let’s look at some establish some context for digital design.

Fonts

The seven varieties of Lexend have been designed to help increase reading speed. Lexend fonts are available in Docs, Drawings, Sheets, and Slides. Try one as your default font.

There is one font frequently used in education that is widely disliked: Comic Sans.

Check out the Dribbble Overtime podcast episode where host Meg Lewis asks listeners to think about their Comic Comic Sans hatred and consider if it is based on elitist assumptions.

One reason teachers like Comic Sans is that its lowercase “a” looks like an “a” they ask students to write. The good news is teachers can have their lowercase “a” and be stylish too. Check out Lexend’s “a.”

The lowecase a in Lexend.
The Lexend lowercase “a”

For more information about Lexend fonts in G Suite, please read this blog post:

Imagery

One of the single best ways to make any digital content visually appealing is using professional photography. For example, teachers can use the Wikimedia Commons to find copyright-friendly subject-specific images.

Additionally, Pexels is a free stock photo gallery that returns inclusive search results. There are people besides white males. Not every loving couple is a white man and woman. Check out Pexels to find professional stock photography that all your students can see themselves in.

The home screen of the Pexels.com website. The tagline reads, "The world's first inclusive free stock photo & video library."
Pexels, an inclusive Stock photo library.

Speaking of inclusive practices with images, always add ALT text to images. This is available in Docs, Drawings, Sheets, Slides, and Sites. In Docs, Drawings, and Slides, simply right-click on an image to add ALT text.

The Google Slides editor with the ALT text dialogue box.
Insert ALT text by right-clicking an image in Docs, Drawings, and Slides.

Adding ALT text in Sheets and Sites is a little different. For more information:

Color

Be mindful of color when creating in G Suite. To get the hexadecimal code of any color, simply Google “color picker.”

A screen shot of Google results for the search term, "color picker." The search return a color picker tool at the top of the results.
The Google Search Color Picker.

Be sure there is enough contrast between text and its background. The WebAIM Color Contrast Checker website shows the amount of contrast between two colors. It also has sliders to adjust the colors so there is enough contrast. The most contrast between any two colors exists between black and white. Check them out in the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker:

A screen shot of Google results for the search term, "color picker." The search return a color picker tool at the top of the results.
Black and white colors in the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker.

Now that we have established some context for good design, let’s explore design in G Suite apps.

Google Classroom

Class Header Images

Use Pexels or the Wikimedia Commons to find high-quality images for class headers. They can change as new units begin. Remember that header images are dimmed when viewed in the Classroom home screen.

The Google Classroom home screen with 4 class thumbnails. Each thumbnail uses images from Pexels or Wikimedia.
Google Classroom class header images from Pexels and Wikimedia.

Use Topics with Emojis

Use topics to organize the Classwork tab. This means assignments and posts are organized. Click on any topic on the side to filter the Classwork tab by topic. The Classwork tab is great for keeping assignments and materials organized. Unfortunately, it does not have a very pleasing design. The Classwork tab is a lot of text and white pixels. There are no visual cues for students. Start topics with emojis from Emojipedia to add visual cues and break up the white pixels. Here is what doing so looks like in a professional development Google Classroom:

Google Classroom Classwork Tab with Emojis. Each topic starts with an emoji.
Each topic starts with an emoji.

Remove Classwork from the Stream

There are five kinds of posts that teachers can add to Google Classroom. They are:

At first glance, this is great for staying organized. However, there is a problem. Any time a teacher posts in the Classwork tab, it is also posted in the Stream which has no topics for organization. Add those topic-less posts to announcements and the Stream becomes a disorganized mess. There is a way to fix this: In Settings, remove classwork from the Stream.

Remove Classwork from the Stream in Settings: In a class's settings, select "Hide notifications" to the right of "Classwork on the stream."
In a class’s settings, choose “Hide notifications” in the Classwork on the Stream options.

Now the Stream is announcements and the Classwork tab is where students do their work. For more information on adjusting this setting, please watch this video.

Google Forms

When using Google Forms, teachers should use images as much as possible to give students multiple ways to access academic content. It is very easy to add a header image and images to both questions and answer choices in Forms. Have a look at this Google Form entrance ticket without any imagery:

A Google Form without images.
A Google Form without images.

Have a look at the same form with a banner image and images in the questions:

A Google Form that has:

- A header image
- An image in a question
- Images for each answer choice in a multiple choice question
A Google Form with images.

To learn how to add images to Google Forms, please watch this video.

Drawings and Slides

Google Drawings and Google Slides have a lot of similarities. Here are two tips that apply to both apps.

Gradients

Gradients are a nice way to give a shape more dimension. Access gradients next to the color menu.

The gradient options are next to the solid options in the Google Drawings and Slides color menus.
Gradient options in Google Drawings and Slides. Have fun with custom gradients.

Users can play with gradients using the custom menu. They can:

  • Change the type from linear to radial.
  • Change the angle.
  • Add or remove gradient stops.
  • Change colors.
The custom gradient menu allows users to design custom gradients in Google Drawings and Slides.
Students and teachers can get creative with custom gradients.

Hint: Try setting one color stop in a gradient to transparent.

Drop Shadow

Drop shadow under the format options also allows for dimension. This is especially useful for Google Slides.

Drop Shadow in the Format Options Menu
Drop shadow options in the Format options menu.

This is what drop shadows look like for text and images:

Google Drawings

The best thing about Google Drawings is the default transparent background. This is great for designing logos and icons. Custom dimensions set to 512 x 512 pixels works best for logos and creating website favicons with Google Drawings. When creating icons and favicons, do not use drop shadows. This video demonstrates why logos have been flat since 2013.

There is one important tool to avoid in Google Drawings: Word art. Please do not use it. Thank you.

Google Slides

One way to optimize design in Google Slides is to let someone else worry about it. Seriously, try templates from Slides Carnival and Slides Mania to give slides a beautiful theme. For example, check out this slide deck made with Slide Carnival’s Aliena template.

Speaking of embedding Google Slides on websites, be sure to always have a heading in a Google Slide. The heading can be hidden or off to the side if need be. That way, when in Present mode or on a website, every slide has a clear title in the menu.

Google Sides Presentation Mode Slide Menu
Each slide has a title. There are no blanks.

An easy way to make design changes apply across all slides in a presentation is to use the Slide menu to edit the (poorly named) Master slides. Do this to make font and image changes that apply to all slides.

Google Slides Master Slide
Click Slide, then Master to edit the Google Slides master slide. Let’s hope Google changes that to “template slide” or “theme slide.”

Google Sites

To learn about design in Google Sites, please read this blog post:

One Last Design Tip

Please use this one tip when creating websites, especially sites students use to learn: Please limit the number of elements on a website page. Too many elements and too much scrolling is not pleasant for the viewer. This rule about limiting elements applies to colors as well. Consider these rules when designing Google Slides as well. Avoid too many colors and too many elements on a single slide.

What do you think? How do you create good design in G Suite? Please comment below or tweet me, @TomEMullaney.

Does your school need remote professional development to keep teachers sharp during this time away from school? Have a look at some of my offerings and connect with me on Twitter.

Photo by Javier Gonzalez on Pexels.

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