The Academic Tower

Age Advantage

Being an older student gives you a different viewpoint about teachers and the teaching world. On one hand, I feel closer to the teachers, since we are a similar age. But I’m are also aware of the shortcomings built in to having a more enclosed work life. And that makes me a bit sad for them.

To some degree, it’s a bit as if some of my teachers have only had one job, and seeing them in this smaller world reminds me of all the little bits of knowledge I have picked up: the filing skills I picked up from the great boss at my second job — don’t put stuff aside, file it now instead of putting it down into a pile. Or the process improvements I helped install at my last job, and how our whole team learned how to work with other “silos”, finding out what they needed and then finding a way to provide what they needed, within our working paramaeters. While moving from job to job has all the headaches and tensions that come with CHANGE, you do learn a lot by having a varied work experience.

A Design Translation

Limited experience can oddly limit your viewpoint of which design option is appropriate — or even know that there are options! If, as a teacher, you have taught the same lesson plans over and over, and that lesson plan is formatted to make sure that they can verify that the student knows how to use a program with precision, I’m beginning to think that the lesson plan is, over time, limiting the teacher’s design knowledge.

One example I have come across was a teacher’s response to seeing an average Table of Contents, in a style I’ve been using in books for at least 10 years. TOCs have changed over time. It used to be that the Pagemaker program could auto create a TOC based on your head coding, each and every time giving you an ellipses tab between the end of the text and the pertaining right-align page number. When designing my authoritative Scribners encyclopedias, for my super-serious readers, I have created nuances on this format. Some titles required the lines of ellipses to create a visual break between one chapter title and the next, due to the entry also including chapter author name and title, plus a short synopsis of the chapter.

But times, and users, change. Lines and lines of of ellipses now make average readers eyes glaze over, requiring them to use their fingers so that they can keep on the correct line until they reach the page number. After getting feedback from user groups, we learned to create a 3-dot ellipse between the end of the last line of text and the page number, often styling the ellipses and page numbers to be larger/different color or typeface as a way of making them stand out even more.

Since then, users, and TOCs, have continued to change. Because so many readers are web aware, many magazine TOC designs have picked up the grid format, and incorporate photos with their title/page number entries. This design is so popular that Acquisition Editors have begged me to recreate it for textbook TOC designs, resulting in good user response.

Long story short — it’s all about knowing your user, the market, and keeping up to date with current design trends.

What’s Your Story?

This is just one example of how design users have changed over time, in such a way that a teacher might not be aware, since they have different perspective. Care to add an example of your own?


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