Looks like CRAP

The first time I heard about CRAP (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity) was from another Apple Distinguished Educator in the ADE Asia network, Keri-Lee Beasley. However, this memorable acronym was slightly rearranged and took on a much more visually appealing mnemonic of CARP.

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Free download of CARP posters here

Her iBook “Design Secrets Revealed” has been a staple in my list of recommended eBooks for teachers to add to their personal libraries.


What I love most about this simple acronym (the fish-version in particular) is how accessible it is to students of all ages. It was brand new to teachers last year, and several implemented it with students as young as six and up through middle school.

Her iBook has student examples, simple text for readers of all ages, and a catchy intro video that all teachers could definitely relate to.

Screenshots from Design Secrets Revealed, with permission from the author.

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Sample of before/after student work with suggested sites for Creative Commons images


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End of chapter Quiz

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Sample page layout with video example of each design principle.

I actually used her iBook in conjunction with Presentation Zen principles in a teacher workshop I led for Primary and Middle school teachers. The workshop was titled “Keys to Keynote” :

The goal of the workshop was to introduce teachers to the multiple functions of presentation software like keynote (posters, newsletters, video-slideshows, game-based learning) while also introducing the Design Principles, which were new to the majority who attended. Teachers were thrilled to finally have something concrete to refer to when introducing these principles to students.

Until I was introduced to these resources, I really struggled to encourage students to produce quality work that met any kind of design standard. It was easy to just attribute it to their age, their inexperience, and not necessarily see the problem as something that needed to be explicitly taught. Even after I set up rubrics with some of my own teacher-created expectations, they were not effective as implementing the principles outlined by CARP (or CRAP).  I know I’m not alone in having thought this. We can only model so much until we have a clear set of ‘rules’ that we can share with students. As Keri-Lee explained in her video:

Students, like many teachers, are unaware that designers use a set of guiding principles in their work. When these principles are explicitly taught, it’s like a set of secrets have been revealed to them, and they tend to make use of the techniques in their work. ~ Keri-Lee Beasley

When I introduced it last year to my after-school Genius Hour Club, there was noticeable improvement in the layout of their presentations, and students were able to give feedback using explicit Design Principles language to guide each other.

During our first conversation, I shared an example from a former 4th grade student, and they all complimented the many different colours, the multiple fonts and the visuals.

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For some reason, these are very important design elements to most elementary students. When I asked them if they could tell me what the focus and purpose of the poster was, they realised it wasn’t really clear. One student mentioned that it could be about  “Levers” since that is one of the largest words. Then they realised that it may in fact be about Simple Machines since numerous other examples were shown. I then asked if there were any images that seemed out of place or irrelevant, and they quickly picked up on the star. Before long, we’d identified several elements that made it confusing for the reader. When we discussed again why their first reaction was so positive, they all agreed that as the designer it’s fun to play with different fonts, colours, backgrounds, but it only adds confusion to the intended audience.

Ultimately, CRAP (or CARP) is a memorable way for both students and teachers to assess their own designs.

10 Replies to “Looks like CRAP”

  1. Hello Jocelyn

    I know that Keri-Lee will be thrilled to see her ideas being shared. I used her book a lot with my Grade 3 class and it comes with a warning. You better be modelling what you preach as the kids start picking up design.

    Font choices are an easy ‘gateway’ for the children to think about design. Comic sans is over-used by teachers (and also kids). When my students saw the short documentary on Comic Sans (particularly in relationship to popular brands) they started to realise that the font choice is important and picked up on the over-use of it in school https://vimeo.com/1994310

    1. Hi @traintheteacher sorry for the late reply…We were job hunting all of Sept-November and I’m realising I was negligent in my comment responses. You may know by now that I’m modifying the CARP design principles for KG-G2 as my final Coetail project (https://www.coetail.com/jocelynsutherland/2016/02/01/carp-jr-week-1/) which has been an interesting journey so far as we’ve been focusing more on the concepts of Contrast, Alignment, Repetition and Proximity ~ as these new words extend to other parts of learning for students too.

      I agree that teacher need to be practicing what we preach and I will definitely pay more attention to my own font choices! Glad to be connecting with you over Coetail & Twitter:)

  2. Lots of great tips and information here. Thanks! I particularly liked using the students’ design flaws with simple machines as a teaching tool. This ‘CRAP’ is all pretty new to me, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the Presentation Zen Principles.

  3. Thank you for the book rec, belatedly! I agree that we tend to brush off the plethora of bad presentations as a feature of age, but if they’re not taught what is good design, they can’t just pick it up by osmosis – it’s not that obvious (until you know what you’re looking for, and then it leaps off the page.)

    It reminds me of an excellent essay I read about how we teach writing – I wish I could find the link, but the essentials are that we teach writing by having the kids write, but then when it comes to revision, we don’t teach them to revise using examples of great writing. We teach them how to revise using terrible writing, and expect them to see the way forward from there. I’ve started sharing one “great sentence” a week and looking at precisely what makes it great. That’s a great principle to apply across any discipline.

    1. Wow @kmatthews …great connection! If you do find that link please share it with me. I hadn’t thought about the connection with revising writing, but it’s absolutely true. Just like with reading…students become better readers and writers through reading quality literature…so naturally we need to model how they can improve their writing by drawing on strong example pieces.

      One tension I have about doing this (including when modelling with CARP principles) is removing the creative process of a student discovering his/her own writing or design style. I’ve noticed that the students tend to model their creations on the style promoted through the eBooks or presentations I show on ‘good’ CARP design vs ‘bad’…but many of the products resemble each other. This can also happen with writing too when students learn about Text Forms and follow a ‘forumula’ for that particular Text Type. Have you had experience with this too? What are your thoughts? Do you think they need to model after something else first (like an apprentice would) in order to then branch off and find their own style?

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