Tag Archives: graphicdesign


I love comics, and am often amazed not only by how funny they can be, but also how much can be learned from them. Growing up I was a regular reader of Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side and Mad Magazine. As I grew older I began to appreciate the intelligence and sophistication of Dilbert and XKCD. From this reading I developed my own sense of humour. More than this, however, I learned to question and reflect on the world around me, to understand that different situations could be understood in different ways and that I was not alone in my feelings and views on the world and its inhabitants.

Whilst many children love comics, too many teachers and parents dismiss them as childish distractions from serious reading and learning. If you are of this opinion, I ask you to read this short strip and see if it changes your perspective on this issue. Whilst reading comics can be beneficial in the ways described above, creating comics provides an even richer opportunity for learning. Consider some of the following ways in which comic creation can be used in the classroom:

  • Discovering the joy and power of remixing and mashing up the work of others.
  • Drafting stories before writing.
  • Encouraging creativity and self expression.
  • Character development to extend understanding of texts.
  • Learning about graphic design and layout.
  • Learning about persuasion.
  • Honing online research skills.
  • Learning computing skills.
  • Developing an understanding of issues surrounding intellectual property and copyright.
  • Digital storytelling.
  • Summarising complex ideas.
  • Putting events into chronological order.
  • Learning about visual literacy, social conventions and suggestion in the media.

Interestingly, these ideas apply to almost all subjects. If you are teacher, stop for a minute and consider the multitude of ways in which this could be applied to the subjects you teach. Certainly within both of my subjects (ICT and ESL) I can see plenty of scope for applying these approaches. In fact, in terms of promoting multiliteracies, I can think of few more powerful tools.

Computer technology provides us with some great tools for quickly and easily creating comics. These technologies afford one great advantage to users: they lower the barrier to creating great work because they do not require traditional artistic abilities, such as drawing. The following are four pieces of software that can be used to empower students:

  • Comic Life is the premier comic creation software in terms of ease-of-use and pure joy. It focuses on arranging existing images and applying effects to them. It is desktop software, and runs on Windows and Mac OS. Unfortunately, payment is required, although it is very reasonable, especially when purchasing in bulk. The 30-day trial is completely free and unrestricted, so this is a great place to start.
  • Comiqs is an online alternative to Comic Life, with comparable functionality: it seems extremely promising, but is in beta and currently seems to have some bugs. Hopefully these will be ironed out in the near future. The service is free, and there is no need to install any software onto your computer.
  • Pixton is an extremely flexible online comic creator. Unlike Comic Life and Comiqs, which are primarily concerned with working on existing images, Pixton allows users to create and edit their own comic characters. This is a great tool that is worth some serious exploration, and whilst it does seem a little tricky to use, it does provide a huge range of flexibility. Pixton is free for individual users, but there is also a paid educational version with enhanced tools for teachers.
  • BitStrips works along the same lines as Pixton, but is somewhat easier to use. That said, you do not get quite as much flexibility in terms of creating and manipulating your creations, although the results can be just as good. I would recommend this for use with younger students. As with Pixton, it is free for individual users, but there is also a paid educational version with enhanced tools for teachers.

Having sung the virtues of comic creation, I will end with a cautionary note: as with any tool, it is essential not to overuse this approach. Whilst kids will love the novelty and freedom that these activities can bring, if they do it every year in every subject they will very soon lose interest.

If you adopt any of these ideas in your classroom, please feel free to send over some student work, which I will gladly post on this page.

Firefox Addons for Web Designers & Developers

Mozilla Firefox is a free, open source web browser which aims to provide a simple, light and fast way to browse the web. It is one of the main driving forces in the web today, and the competition it provides is one of the reasons that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has seen so much development in the last 3 years (it is scrambling to become relevant again).

In an effort to avoid the bloating that effects many mature software products, Firefox ships with a relatively minimal feature set, including some of the best features that most people require from a browser (such as tabs, smart addressing etc). However, to ensure that Firefox can meet the needs of all users, there is a huge selection of additional functionality, available as optional addons. The purpose of these plugins ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, and there are literally thousands to choose from. As an indicator of their popularity, the Firefox website shows that there are currently more than 127 million addons being used around the world! The list below shows some of my favourites, most of which are related to website design and development:

  • Firebug provides a sophisticated environment for analyising and debugging websites. Of particular use is the feature which allows users to see the effects of CSS code visually, making the process of turning an idea into reality that much easier.
  • Wappalyzer shows which technologies (such as Drupal, Google Analytics, jQuery, etc) are used in the website you are currently viewing. This is very useful if you are curious as to how a particular website is put together, and to gauge the popularity of various technologies.
  • ColorZilla provides a color picker, allowing you to grab the RGB code of any colour you happen to see on the web.
  • Firesizer allows users to make their Firefox window a particular size. I mostly use this when creating training videos, to ensure that the Firefox window matches the size of my video container.
  • FoxyProxy extends Firefox’s built in proxy settings, allowing a user to store multiple proxy settings and quickly switch between them. I made extensive use of this whilst working on my laptop in government schools in New South Wales, as it allowed me to quickly switch between work and home settings.
  • Delicious Bookmarks: I am a massive Delicious fan: in fact, most of the articles on this site begin life as Delicious bookmarks. This addon allows you to quickly create and manage Delicious bookmarks from within your browser. In the development process I often bookmark sites that I find interesting and inspiring, and Delicious provides a great way to store, index and retrieve these.
  • Download Statusbar: one of my few gripes with Firefox is its download window, which always pops up and gets in the way of the site I am using. This addon replaces the window with a discreet bar, making browsing flow that little bit better. This addon also ensures that you can keep an eye on your downloads and continue browsing at the same time: great when downloading lots of fonts, images and software during the development process.
  • Flagfox is very simple: it displays, in flag form, the country in which the current web page is hosted. I find this interesting for its own sake, but it is also useful for security and localalisation issues.

Puma’s New Super-Green Shoebox


Puma’s “Clever Little Bag” is an interesting approach to the issue of packaging and waste. Rather than having a complete box, which consumers will put into a (usually disposable) bag to carry home, the design combines a cardboard skeleton in a reusable bag made of recycled material. There is no plastic liner, nor is there any lamination on the card. The whole idea is to reduce environmental costs at each stage of the package’s life: raw materials, production, shipping and disposal. The concept is particularly interesting because it takes something that is very standardised, and seemingly minimal, and finds a new, and seemingly better, way to do things.

The Numbers Behind China


Interesting facts about China, focusing on industrial output, food production and consumption, and military capability. As this piece is presented from a US perspective, it can be interesting for students to consider how bias comes into play when using statistics to tell a story. Generally this piece seems fairly neutral, but it is possible to imagine it otherwise.

Graphics: Isolating An Image From Its Background

As part of a UWS “Interactive PowerPoint for Teaching” workshop I helped out at today, I was asked by quite a few people how to remove the background from a picture so that it could be integrated into a presentation more cleanly. I showed a few people some relatively simple tricks using free, open source software called Gimp. In order to make this information more widely available, I have put together a short guide on how this can be done. The guide can be downloaded here.

Of course, there are other (more powerful and complex) ways to do this, and it can be done using other applications. However, Gimp is free, and this method is pretty straightforward, making it accessible to almost all users.