Smore walkthrough

Smore is now the preferred platform on our campus to share information across the levels to faculty, staff, parents and students alike.

As a newbie to Smore, I looked through some of their featured flyers to get a feel for what’s possible, before launching in to play and explore a little more in depth.

To be honest, Smore is, I feel, a simpler and more limiting program by virtue of the fact that it only concentrates on the creation of newsletters and flyers.

Upon signing up and logging in, users are asked to identify what they are promoting and given seven options for templates (including one to start from a blank page):

StartOptions

Smore’s start options has considerably fewer options

For my purposes, I selected a news bulletin and the screen changed to the following:

StartOptions2

As a designer of the newsletter/flyer I could now click through to make changes to any number of things: the headline/title, a subheadline, additional text. I could also change (in the right hand column) the color, background and fonts.

Here’s where I find the greatest difference between Canva and Smore. Whereas Canva strives to help users become better designers, Smore seems to do the deliberate opposite.

The options for fonts, backgrounds and colors make it so that newsletter/flyer designer can change everything that detracts from the most important item on the page: the content.

Having worked with students on traditional papers, presentations and the like, sometimes giving an excess of options leads to a) wasted time and effort on selecting the fonts, backgrounds and colors that likely lead to b) a jumbled mess.

No bueno from a design standpoint.

However, there is a redeeming option of selecting a “minimal” design — which in essence wipes out all traces of backgrounds to your standard, go to white (or some form of light pastel).

Smore-Minimalist

Yawn. At least it’s readable, right?

My word of design caution when using Smore: Focus on your content, please. Make it readable and don’t try to “jazz” up your page with extraneous things just because you can.

Respect your reader.

If I’m being too hard on Smore, I will say there are some benefits to using it that I simply do not see with Canva. For example, Smore encourages you to add more stuff to your flyer and with one click, you have a set and targeted area where your content lives. (Canva employs a more haphazard method where YOU need to move said element to your desired location).

AddMoreStuff

Additional newsletter elements.

horizontal

…but adding photos can be misleading due to the placeholder image

Mostly, the spaces where you can add elements are arranged horizontally across the screen and as I plodded my way through creating my newsletter/flyer, I encountered additional obstacles that made the program less and less appealing.

The first was when I attempted to add two photos using the picture>photo album option. In the preview above, there is a placeholder image that rests on the page in the far right column.

It is a misleading image, because the image disappears when you go “live.” Nonetheless, it took me a few extra minutes to figure that out. I was looking for a way to remove the image, to no avail, thinking I had to rework my design and a simple note mentioning that it was merely a placeholder would’ve helped.

The next thing I found frustrating was the process of inserting photos. Doing so with Smore requires that you have an image that can be dragged from your desktop. In this day and age where images flourish on the web, I was disappointed there wasn’t an option to link to an image via url. Not having to save files onto the desktop makes me ecstatic as I save precious memory on my desktop. Having an option to link to image url would’ve also been nice.

Other morsels of frustration included the inability to change the alignment of text (or font size), buttons that didn’t look like buttons, embedded links that do not allow you to edit what’s shown, and my inability to preview certain features like the ones for event and payment—without having to first upgrade.

ButtonsQ

Buttons? Looks more like a banner. Can’t edit the width or shape.

EmbedLink

Can embed a link. Can’t change what appears if the link is text based. But great for videos.

RSVP-Upgrade

Event option shown, but not available w/o an upgrade.

Smore must be doing something right, as reviews for it are high amongst users and my brief look through the featured flyers shows some have garnered over 1000 + views.

Is there something that I’m not seeing?

Notwithstanding my above criticisms of Smore, I believe the reason why it’s so popular is because it uses the grid system (with columns and rows) to help present information in a formulaic fashion. Content is contained vertically or horizontally, eyes follow the larger items to other elements neatly organized in rows or columns. For a newsletter/flyer it works because it’s utilizing one of the oldest design principles.

Grids

Grids = structure.

What has me intrigued with Smore are some of the backend functions and what they have “coming soon” in the pipeline.

Understanding that not everything is meant to be live or for all the world to see, Smore offers unique privacy options that you can adjust for all manner of things:

Privacy

Note the custom domain and Google Analytics options on the bottom right. For the advanced user—possibly one who envisions directing users to their Smore page on a frequent basis—you can customize the domain so it reads something like smore.com/literacylibrarian rather than the automatically generated url.

Plus, you can even insert your Google Analytics code to easily track and monitor who is visiting your page, when, using what browser, redirected or linked from which website.

To note, there is a built in analytics function within Smore that tracks how many folks have viewed your newsletter/flyer. Alas, I was not able to preview what it looks like, but if I’m not mistaken, I’d guess it’s structured much like Google Analytics.

Also: a word here about analytics. I find it intriguing to take something used in the business world and apply it to education. NPR recently did a segment showing how analytics improved contact with students that would otherwise get left out/behind. The example was from a community college, but I can’t help and think, how does/can it apply to schools in general?

Other pluses: Smore provides a wealth of sharing functionality which segues nicely into our ever digital world. You can send your creation via email or social media, and as ever there’s the option to print and embed:

ShareOptions

Sharing options galore. If only I can permanently remove the Promoter pop up…

Finally, a feature I noticed dimmed out, but listed as “coming soon” was one for payment — it leads me to think about storefronts, small business, e-commerce. Perhaps, in the school setting, built in fundraising or purchasable  “wish lists” from classrooms?

AddMoreStuff

Payment: bottom right

It’d be interesting to see how that feature plays out, what types of payments are allowed: credit, PayPal, bitcoin, ???.

I’ve been creating newsletters/flyers since the 90s so the buzz for Smore had me more than perplexed. Does Smore help design and present information in visually appealing way? Yes. Does Smore make it easy to disseminate that information across multiple platforms? Yes.

Have I used it to create a final, finished newsletter that I would want to share? No.

If the minor limitations that I noted can be fixed, I’d be close to joining the bandwagon. For now, I’m waiting to see what develops with their payments feature and giving them a little more time to tidy up a few flaws.

Canva vs. Smore. Which is better, next time.