You ever watch one of those organizing shows, where a team of experts comes into someone’s home and de-clutters it? The freshly painted, beautifully tidy rooms just breathe. They feel more vibrant and alive, full of possibility. Practitioners of Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of arranging objects in space for better health and good fortune, would say the chi—or energy—flows more freely through these rooms.
Feng Shui can be applied to all sorts of spaces, including our documents. Even if your content is strong, really important, or perfectly clear, it can disappear in a badly designed document. If you hand your students an assignment on paper and it’s difficult to follow, only the most persistent students will see and understand everything you’re trying to convey. In fact, if you’ve noticed a pattern of students not “seeing” information that is right in front of them, there’s a good chance the problem is design.
For most of us, these documents are created in Microsoft Word. And one feature of Word many of us use is the table creator. With only a few clicks, we can create a beast that looks something like this guy:
It’s crowded, lacking in balance, overloaded with outdated-looking formatting and colors. If I were a student and a teacher sent this to me, it would make me want to cry. It’s the document version of hair that’s been permed, bleached, colored and heat-styled to the point where it’s just a frazzled mess. An experienced stylist would recommend you just chop it all off and start again with healthy, fresh hair.
Using a few basic design principles—like sufficient white space and consistency in fonts—and a few tools in Microsoft Word, I was able to take that exact same table you see above and turn it into something much cleaner:
All the same text from the first table is still there, but it’s set up in a way that’s a lot easier on the eyes. More importantly, it allows the people looking at your documents to find the information they need quickly and easily—to see and understand everything you want them to see.
Improving the Feng Shui of your tables does not require a team of experts. It’s just a matter of learning a few tools you may not be familiar with. This 10-minute tutorial will show you some of these:
If you have a lot of experience with Word, these tools may already be part of your repertoire. But judging from the homemade tables I still see all over the place, my guess is there’s at least one you’re not aware of yet. If you learn them and apply them well, you’ll give your students the equivalent of a freshly painted, professionally de-cluttered room.
So get at those tables. You have important stuff to communicate…don’t let bad Feng Shui hold you back. ♦