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Designing Technical Documents - a Free Visual Communication Design Course


Designing Technical Documents Course Outline

Designing Technical Documents Course Outline

Screenshot from Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative
Offered as part of the Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative, Designing Technical Documents is a self-guided online course in Visual Communication Design. There is no cost, no instructor, and you do not receive any kind of college credit for this course. However, it does provide an excellent introduction to the basics of visual hierarchy and typography for those with little or no training in visual communications or graphic design.

Designing Technical Documents Course Description:

Visual Communication Design: Designing Technical Documents
  • Free to all.

  • Join (free account) to have the software track your progress (not required but recommended if you plan to take multiple Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative courses) or Peek In to access the course and track your own progress manually.

  • 4 Units

  • Covers Visual Hierarchy Using Type and Spacing and Creating a Visually Consistent Page Layout.

  • Several 2-3 minute slideshow videos with narration.

  • 2-5 self-assessment multiple choice questions with each movie. You'll received immediate correct or incorrect feedback.

  • Hands-on exercises allow you to demonstrate that you've learned the lessons taught in that unit. Exercises provide hints and suggestions on what needs to be done and confirmation when you successfully complete the exercises.

  • No final exam. You can repeat the exercises (or the entire course) as often as you need.

  • No certificate of completion.

Time Required:

This is a self-paced course. At a minimum it will require 45 minutes to 1 hour to read the text and watch the movies. Depending on the ammount of time devoted to the self-assessment questions and exercises, expect to spend 2-3 hours total on this course, more if you revisit some of the lessons.

Course Outline and Details:

Length of movie is noted for each part of the course.

Unit 1: Overview of How the Course Works

Unit 2: Visual Hierarchy - Introduction 2:41

  • Module 1: Type, 3 lessons and exercises
    • Type Size 2:30
    • Typefaces 3:18
    • Type Weight 2:13
    • Exercises: Examples of unformatted text; you use different variations of type size, typeface, and type weight to create visual hierarchy. Very simple. Click done and it will tell you if you got it right or not. Redo until you get it right.
  • Module 2: Spacing, 2 lessons and exercises
    • Paragraph Spacing 2:03
    • Indentations 2:00
    • Exercises: Adjusting paragraph spacing was a little tricky at first. You need to click on the space between paragraphs which is initially at 0 pts.
    • Summary

    Note that the summary for Unit 2 says that it covered leading, however, that is not covered until Unit 3.

Unit 3: Legibility and Readability
  • Introduction 1:26 offers distinct definitions for legibility and readability.
  • Legibility 2:14 covers type size and color contrast
  • Leading 2:03 provides leading definition and discussion of typographic variables that affect leading.
  • Line Length 2:01
  • Widows and Orphans 2:44
  • Tight & Loose Lines 3:11 deals with problems in justified text.
  • Exercises
  • Summary

Unit 4: Page Layout

  • Introduction 3:21 provides an overview of visual structure and the use of guidelines.
  • Margins 2:37
  • Grid 3:10
  • Exercises primarily cover adjusting margins.
  • Summary

Who Should Take This Course:

This course is a very basic introduction to document design using type. Don't be fooled by the course title because the lessons in this course on creating visual hierarchies, type spacing, consistency, and basic page layout apply to any type of document from one page fliers to multipage annual reports and newsletters. Although not a software tutorial, a few of the lessons do refer to ways that software creates or allows you to correct certain typographic issues. This course is suitable to anyone with little or no prior document design or graphic design training or those who need a quick refresher course.

Access the Course:

Dig Deeper Into Document Design:

After taking the course, if you wish to dig deeper into the topics covered see these lessons and tutorials from the About.com Desktop Publishing site.

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