Using Microsoft Publisher for Easy and Attractive Documents

The ability to create quick and attractive layouts for posters, research presentations, and other published materials. While many will head to Photoshop, if you need something on-the-go, Microsoft Publisher is a great option for basic, yet impressive, layouts that will make you stand out. The best part is that you can make these with tools you probably already know from using other products in the Microsoft Suite.

In this post, I’ll walk you through how to make a professional-looking poster for “My Digital Humanities Project” in less than fifteen minutes.

The first thing I’ll do after opening Publisher is select a new blank document. While there are great choices for templates on Publisher, I want to design my poster by myself. From there, I’ll go to the “Page Design” tab on the top ribbon. From there, I’ll choose my color scheme and background color.

Tutorial 1

What the “Page Design” layout looks like.

The color scheme option on Publisher is great. It saves you the hassle of having to find complementary colors or and allows you to make more than boring black and white poster. Of course, you can create your own scheme, as well, but for now I’ll pick “Solstice” to use for my colors. You also have the option to choose a scheme for your fonts, but I stuck with the default.

The color scheme option saves time and energy by giving you eye-catching colors without having to find them yourself.

The color scheme option saves time and energy by giving you eye-catching colors without having to find them yourself.

Now, there are two ways to go about using Publisher. The first is to create your own layout and design using Publisher’s tools, which is what I’m doing in this tutorial. Creating your own layout and design allows you more control over what is and is not included in your final product. That being said, Publisher has a number of editable built-in templates that you can use for your project, if they fit your needs.

Tutorial 7

You can find the “Change Template” option on the left side of the the “Page Design” ribbon. From there you can choose from a number of editable designs, as well as color and font schemes.

After picking my scheme, I decide to do a plain fill for my background with the yellow from my color scheme. You also have choices to do a gradient background, a pattern background, or to upload your own image to use as your background.

The background button on the ribbon gives a drop-down menu with background options.

The background button on the ribbon gives a drop-down menu with background options.

My project's background.

My project’s background.

Following that I moved to the “Insert” tab on the top ribbon to create the content of my poster. Most of what I did came from the “Page Parts” or “Borders & Accents” options in the “Building Blocks” section of that top ribbon. I began by selecting the diamond pattern from borders and accents, and copy pasting it until it went across the page. Next, I chose the title from the “Headings” section of “Page Parts,” and the border around my title from “Borders and Accents.”

Tutorial 8

The layout of the “Insert” tab. Many of the best aspects of Publisher are found in the “Building Blocks” section of this ribbon, including “Page Parts” and “Borders & Accents.”

The bottom part of my poster came from the “Page Parts” tabs. There you can choose the shapes you want your text in. One nice option that my shape on the lower left has is the option to include three pictures within the shape. I also created the rectangle on the bottom right using the “Illustrations” tab on the top ribbon. I filled it with blue on the “Page Design” tab so that the date would really stand out.

My finished product!

My finished product!

One of the best parts of Publisher is that it takes the difficult aspects of design and simplifies them. While you may not have as much personal control over the final project as you may in Photoshop, Publisher saves time and energy while still giving you a noticeable and vivacious end product. Publisher is useful not only for posters, but to create presentations, booklets, cards, and even eye-catching resumes!

If you want to give Publisher a try, head to the Scholarly Commons!

Review: Don’t Make Me Think Revisited

Don’t Make Me Think Revisited by Steve Krug  is yet another updated classic available at Scholarly Commons and online as an e-book. Steve Krug of Advanced Common Sense talks about usability, which he defines as when “A person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can figure out how to use the thing to accomplish something without it being more trouble than it’s worth” (Krug 2014). Clearly inspired by The Design of Everyday Thingsthis short book is funny, full of examples, and easy to read. Throughout this book, Krug hopes to convince you that usability is an important aspect of web design and that doing usability testing can help you create better websites and apps.

Despite the title, this book made me re-think about websites, both with practical advice such as:

His “Facts of Life”:

  1. “We don’t read pages. We scan them.
  2. We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice.
  3. We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through.

(Krug 2014)

As well as his Three Laws of Usability:

  1. “Don’t make me think!”
  2. “It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice.”
  3. “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.”

(Krug 2014)

And after insisting that what will work for a website really depends on the context throughout the book,  he did provide a few usability definitive answers such as:

“Don’t use small, low-contrast type.”

“Preserve the distinction between visited and unvisited text links.” (Krug, 2014)

What’s more, in this book about website development, he emphasizes empathy and being a decent human being. He describes people who create poorly designed webpages with: “There’s almost always a plausible rationale – and a good, if misguided, intention -behind every usability flaw” (Krug, 2014) He also says that web developers should work harder to make websites more accessible and that  “ …the one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives…How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better? And for those of you who don’t find this argument compelling, be aware that even if you haven’t already encountered it, there will be a legislative stick coming sooner or later. Count on it” (Krug, 2014).

Convinced you need to start doing usability studies? Scholarly Commons can help! Check out more information about conducting usability studies at our Usability Studies page, and feel free to email us to learn more about getting started.

This is definitely a quick introductory read on the topic of usability but throughout Krug recommends a lot of further reading available online through the library! Don’t forget to take a look at some of these other titles:

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works  by Ginny Redish.

Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability by Caroline Jarrett.

“Attention Web Designers: You Have 50 Milliseconds to Make a Good First Impression!” by Gitte Lindgaard, Gary Fernandes, Cathy Dudek, and J. Brown.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug.

Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work With Screen Readers  by Mary Frances Theofanos and Janice (Ginny) Redish.

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton and Whitney Queensbery.

Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance by Jim Thatcher et. al.

It’s Our Research: Getting Stakeholder Buy-In for User Experience Research Projects by Tomer Sharon.

The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide by Leah Buley.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Campus Colors Day Photoshop Tutorial

Today is September 2nd, otherwise known as National College Colors Day! We at the Scholarly Commons have a lot of Illini spirit, and thought we would show it by showing you a quick way to Photoshop a little Illini spirit onto anybody.   If you’re interested in learning more about Photoshop or using it, head to the Scholarly Commons. Our computers all have the full set of Adobe products on them, and there are resources here to help you. If you want to try learning on your own, you can use your Illinois NetID and password to log into, which has fantastic tutorials on Photoshop and other useful software.

The photo I chose was a Library of Congress photograph of William Howard Taft, my favorite president.

Bain News Service, Publisher. [Taft, Beatrice Nebraska]. 10/1/08 date created or published later by Bain. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed September 01, 2016.)

I started by opening Photoshop and creating a new project. In order to get my Photo into the project, I created a new layer [Layer -> New -> Layer] and copy pasting my photo of Taft into it. When you’re done, it should look something like this:

Taft 1

The layers panel is on the right hand side of the screen. Notice that I have separate layers for my background and for my photo.


Now, if you’re finding your photo is a little small compared to the background, you can transform your photo by pressing Control T. If you decide to use the transform option, make sure that you lock the proportions of your photo, buy clicking the lock icon on the upper toolbar.

Tutorial 5 Updated

The lock command ensures your photo will maintain its original proportions.

When your photo is sized to your liking, you can start with the fun stuff. First, we’re going to create a new layer to draw on our orange with.

You can name your layer whatever you like, or keep the automatic layer name. I like to keep things simple, so I named my layer "Orange."

You can name your layer whatever you like, or keep the automatic layer name. I like to keep things simple, so I named my layer “Orange.”

Next, you’re going to choose the brush tool, by pressing its icon on the left hand toolbar (it will be the eighth icon down) or simply pressing the letter B on your keyboard. Before we do anything else, make sure that you have the “Orange” layer selected on your layers list — it’s important to keep things separate to keep editing easy! In order to edit how your brush works, you’re going to need to see the brush controls. To do that, go to Window -> Brush on the upper bar of your screen. When you click brush, a menu of options will appear near your left tool bar.

Taft 4

There are almost limitless brush options in Photoshop — play around and see what you like!


Choose the settings you’d like for your brush strokes. For the purposes of this edit, I want a brushstroke that’s got straight edges and hardness to it, so I chose the second brush option and moved the hardness rate over to 100%. I also chose my color on the upper right corner of my screen. Now, I chose the “Swatches” tab to easily grab my colors, but if you’re comfortable using the gradient, go ahead! Then, I began to draw over Taft’s face.



Taft 5

What an opaque brushstroke looks like.

I chose 40% opacity for this specific project, but choose what looks best with your picture, and what kind of effect you'd like to have!

I chose 40% opacity for this specific project, but choose what looks best with your picture, and what kind of effect you’d like to have!

Now, the brushstroke is in the right place, and has the right feel to it, but it’s also opaque. When I draw, Taft is completely covered up, which is not what I want. So I go to the top of my layers panel on the right side of my screen to the Opacity percentage. Changing this will make this brushstroke, and anything else I create in this layer, more transparent, so that you can see Taft beneath it.

Once you change the opacity of your layer, you’ll see that you can see your photo underneath the layer you’re currently drawing on, like this:


Taft 6

Because who would ever want to cover up that charming smile?

Continue to cover one side of your subject’s face with orange. You can always zoom in (Ctrl + Z) to get a better view of your subject, and change the size of your brush, by pressing the left bracket ” [ ” to make the brushstroke smaller, and the right bracket ” ] ” to make it larger. If you want to make a straight line but have a shaky hand, don’t fear! Just click the place you want to start the line, press the shift key, then click where you want it to end. Photoshop fills in that straight line for you. When I was done with these steps, President Taft looked like this:

I opted not to color in his mustache because I'm going to do something else with it later.

I opted not to color in his mustache because I’m going to do something else with it later.

Next up? Create a new layer and follow the same steps with the brush set to blue.

Taft 9

Almost done! Hang on!

Now you have a face that’s got some Illinois pride. But, I wanted to go a step further with President Taft. So I created a new layer, named it “Facial Hair,” and started in by using the straight line shortcut (click + shift + click) to stripe Taft’s mustache with blue, then orange.

Taft 10

Not exactly the fashion in 1913.

Taft 11

Hail to the orange and blue!

And voila! We have a photograph with some real Illini spirit. But before you do anything else, make sure you’re saving correctly. Saving in Photoshop can be a bit confusing, so I’ll take you through the simple steps to saving your Photoshopped image as a JPEG, a more universal kind of file than the Photoshop PSD file.

First, click File -> Save As on the upper bar. You’ll reach a pretty normal save screen on PC or Mac. But it’s very important that you change the save format from PSD to JPEG in the “Save as type” bar. Don’t click or unclick on any of the options below — in order to save as a JPEG, the program will automatically click the “As a Copy” button.

Tutorial 15 Updated

When you click save, there will another pop-up asking about JPEG options. The qualities you can choose range from 1-12, and Photoshop will almost always automatically choose 8. You’ll probably want to move that number up to 12 to get the best quality file as you can. Since JPEGs are much smaller files than PSDs, you don’t really need to worry about the file size unless your computer is running out of space. When you change the quality option, click “OK” and you’re done!

Tutorial 16

Congratulations! You now have an image that’s full of Illinois pride. Photoshop is an incredible tool, and is fun to use, but also looks great on a resume.

Taft 12

My finished product!

Looks Do Matter: Data.Gov’s User Friendly Information Portal

Why would it matter to a serious researcher whether an information portal has a well-designed interface? In most research circles, interfaces to collections of databases don’t need to be pretty. In fact, pretty might raise suspicions that the data is sub-standard: “What are they trying to cover up?” It’s all about the data, right? Yes, it’s about the data. But a pleasing and useful interface is no small matter. Researchers, app designers, and concerned citizens all know that the government is a source of important information, but I imagine more than a few have had unpleasant experiences trying to find and apply particular data.

As a portal to the U.S. government’s open data, Data.Gov is noteworthy. There, you’ll find “data, tools, and resources to conduct research, develop web and mobile applications, design data visualizations, and more.”

CaptureWhat is the scope of the data? You can search 192,917 data sets of U.S. government data related to agriculture, business, climate, consumer, ecosystems, education, energy, finance, health, local government, manufacturing, ocean, public safety, and science & research. Data.Gov includes databases from 77 agencies and sub-agencies as well as 492 non-governmental publishers.

How easy is it to navigate the site? The design is simple, clean, and intuitive. If you click a tab, expecting something like “X,” you’ll probably get something like “X” and more beside.

Perhaps the most helpful features are the search functions which are front and center on the home page. If you know what you’re looking for (sort of), just use the search box. Otherwise, you can use their browse topic feature which uses clear, picturesque icons. These topics are helpful to non-researchers exploring public affairs related issues, and they will also help seasoned researchers explore general topics of interest.

In the top right corner of every subsequent page, you’ll find the same search functionality as on the home page: a search text box and links to each of the major subareas below it. The browse topics feature (with its attractive icons) is readily accessible from the same area, using a drop down menu.

Browse TopicsNow, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find exactly what you want. But it’s a good place to start. If you’re a data geek you’ll enjoy the exploration and perhaps discover something you didn’t know. Browse. Give it a try. You don’t need a blog to find your way.


[Scholarly Commons has two services that might be of use to those interested in government related data and/or usability.  Data Services provides assistance with finding and formatting digital numeric and spatial data. The Usability Lab provides a space with two workstations for conducting usability studies.]


Learning with

Finally, you’ve located the software you need. Now, how to use it.

The ever broadening world of software, programs, applications, coding languages, and technical services can be hard to keep up with. Youtube can be a great option when you want a quick fix of how to convert file formats, install things, and the like. However, if you’re looking for a well-made tutorial that will walk you through learning a piece of software, look no further. is a subscription service available through the library with your netID.

What can it teach me? Lynda offers courses on much of the software available in the Scholarly Commons in categories of Animation, Music, Business, CAD, Design, Developer, Education, Marketing, Photography, Video, and Web.  Although there are hundreds of tutorials on specific software, they also feature tutorials on learning discipline specific fundamentals and principles. Lynda also remembers which tutorials you watched and displays an eye-icon next to them so that next time you’ll know where you left off. No need to watch a whole series though if you just want to learn a particular feature. Tutorials are often broken down into specific items or features that you might want to use (e.g. how to sort tables in Excel).

Where can you find it? Lynda is available through all three campuses and the different links are listed below. Once you’re logged in though, finding the software you need is a simple search in the search box or navigating their tutorial catalog.

Whether you’re looking to update your software skills, want to explore an application before deciding to purchase it, or need to learn some programming for your research project, is a great place to start.

See your Website or Software App from the User’s Perspective

Increasingly, Computer Scientists, Social Scientists, Designers, and Developers have been conducting research in human-computer interaction (HCI). This trend has become so pervasive that Stanford University is now offering a free online course in HCI. One of the main tools of HCI is usability testing. While usability testing comes out of a broader design perspective and can be applied to any product or tool, its application in software and web development is fast becoming a fundamental part of the developmental life-cycle of digital products. In HCI, usability testing involves observing users as they navigate an interface. Even a test with a small number of participants can improve the usability of a piece of software or website. These small scale tests, while not statistically significant, can be used to seek out weak points in interface design and fix bugs. Larger scale tests can be used as parts of controlled experiments by researchers to more broadly study the interactions of people and the machines they depend upon or by software and hardware manufacturers whose products must be tailored to increasingly demanding consumers.

If you would like to better understand your website or software application from the user’s point of view, the Scholarly Commons has a small lab available for conducting usability studies. The lab is equipped with usability testing software and hardware and staff who can assist with its use. These services are available for free to University of Illinois students, faculty, and staff members. In addition, Cites is beginning to offer fee-based usability testing services that draw on the expertise of their user experience staff and include a wider variety of testing methodologies, including card sorting–modeling digital navigation with paper cards–and accessibility evaluation.

For more information on usability testing see:
The Scholarly Commons’ usability testing page
CITES’ usability consulting page

Try your hand at iPhone and iPad app development

The Undergraduate Library is hosting two workshops in December to help the campus community get started with app development.

The beginners workshop will take place on December 6th, Room 289, Undergraduate Library, 6:30-8:00pm.

The advanced workshop will take place December 7th, in Room 289, Undergraduate Library 6:30-8:00pm.

More details and registration information are available at the Undergrad Library.


Researchers access library on the go

The library continues to enhance its mobile website. Researchers can now access the following features at with a mobile Web browser:

  • Searching the library catalog & requesting materials.
  • Renewing materials on your account & checking request status.
  • Locating material on physical or electronic reserve (the ability to read PDFs of e-reserve documents will vary, however, depending one’s mobile device and on the properties of the document).
  • Library locations.
  • Ask-A-Librarian, which includes the functionality to send an SMS text message to the Library (on compatible phones)
    Limited library database access.

Plus, take a peek at experiments in progress in the mobile labs section.