Monday, April 14, 2014

Graphic Design, Chrome-o-fried! Guest Post by Brian McLane

by Brian McLane

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Secondary Educator - 32 years, Ed-Tech Junkie, MA Teaching & Learning with Technology, “Head in the Cloud; Caught in the Web”

Chromebooks for Graphic Design?

I teach a high school desktop publishing class which includes graphic design, page layout, image editing, and more. We can use Chromebooks for almost everything we do. And we use completely free cloud software to do it. No Adobe Creative Suite, no Microsoft Office, no expensive, high-learning-curve software. Should I be teaching industry-standard software? Why? I teach the concepts; the tools don't really matter. My students can learn the basics in the numerous free Google Apps and Web-based applications that are available for graphic design. Let's take a look!

Image Editing

One of the first things my students need to learn is image editing. Google Apps offers more image editors than we will ever need! Our go-to app is Pixlr. We use the Pixlr Editor, but easier versions with fewer features (Pixlr Express and Pixlr-O-Matic) are also available right on the home page. Another excellent Chrome extension is Pixlr Touch Up, which allows you to quickly open an image from your computer or Google Drive and do basic editing. Pixlr Editor, on the other hand, is a Photoshop-esque application. Pixlr serves us well for basic image editing such as cropping, resizing, converting files (especially in creating png files from other formats), retouching, and adding text and effects. Other image editors available for Chrome are PicMonkey, BeFunky, Photo Editor, Sumo Paint, pZap, iPiccy, to name a few.

Print and Digital Publishing Software

Lucidpress.com
Without a doubt, LucidPress (LucidPress for Google Drive) - Layout and Design is the best web-based desktop publishing application I have found. And believe me, since the closure of the online Aviary Creative Suite, I have searched to the end of cyberspace. We had been using LucidChart for Education for creating print media, and it was adequate. Lucid Software then released LucidPress in October, 2013. Techcrunch featured LucidPress in a posting on October 2, 2013.
LucidPress includes over 70 templates for creating both print and digital newsletters, brochures, flyers, pamphlets, photo and video books, invitations, and more. I don't allow my students to use templates; they must start with a blank page and create their own design, but the templates are there if needed. LucidPress integrates with Google Drive and is available for Google Chrome in the Chrome Web Store. I especially like the collaboration feature, which allows me to create a "team" (class) of all my students. Their projects are automatically shared with me, and on my computer I can watch them work in real time! They can also work together on shared documents.
LucidPress has a clean, easy-to-use interface. See a screenshot of the LucidPress Editor. Give LucidPress a try. You will find that it is a terrific free alternative to Microsoft Publisher or Adobe inDesign.
Chromebooks are not just Google Drive-Driven
All of the sites I've discussed can, of course, be accessed on any laptop or desktop machine with internet access. So why am I focusing on Chromebooks? Many people are probably under the impression that Chromebooks are useless outside of their integration with Google Drive. After all, you can't even install programs on a Chromebook. That's actually the beauty of Chromebooks! You don't have to install software! All the software is in the cloud; a Chromebook doesn't rely on Google Drive alone. So if you have a Chromebook (or Chromebooks in your school/organization), you can do much more with it than you may realize.
In part two of Chromebooks for Graphic Design, I will take a look at Weebly for Web design and give a quick shout-out to some other useful Google Apps and Web-based software for graphic design, so check back soon!
Lucidpress screenshot:
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