Instructional designers don’t know what looks good in graphic design

This is just not true. While (for want of a better term) graphic design is not generally the strength of many instructional designers, many of us are only recently making the switch from writing storyboards only, to developing them into functional courses ourselves. And with this great power comes great responsibility! The need for some concept of what looks good, while facilitating the transfer of knowledge, has become more pressing.

Not everyone comes built with a standard ‘design eye’. I know I definitely did not. Some people don’t immediately recognise what colours work well together, how much white space is too little, or how shapes and objects should be placed on a screen in relation to each other. The good news is that the principles of good design can be found everywhere. And in everything. In fact, most objects in your house were, at some stage, painstakingly crafted by someone who wanted to make them look good and function even better.

When I write scripts, storyboards or develop eLearning using authoring software, I draw inspiration from absolutely everything I see. The sign I see at the side of the road for a furniture company while I’m stuck in traffic, the colour scheme of an office I visit when I go to see a client, or the layout of a magazine article. Key amongst these quietly inspirational sources of design are beautifully designed websites. Looking to these sources I have had countless, insignificant musings. Or so they seemed at first:

“Oh! Look at that sign board. If I overlap a small circle with a larger one, use complementary colours and play with the opacity… that could make a good-looking landing page for my course.”

“The red bench under that green tree would make a beautiful picture… I wonder if those colours would work together on screen.”

“I love that the navigation menu for this website is so easy to use… I wonder if I can recreate this when I’m developing in Storyline.”

I have had all of these thoughts, and each time they’ve helped me to produce some good-looking courses for our clients.

Good design is a beautiful thing. However, in learning, the concern that towers above how good a course looks, is how well it works and whether it serves a purpose. How good is the user experience? Am I sharing information in a meaningful way? These are important questions that every instructional designer needs to ask themselves throughout the process of building a course.

Recently I’ve seen numerous courses from different institutions that focus on user experience design. It’s a pressing and very really need. Luckily for us instructional designers out there, you don’t need to be a website or mobile app developer to learn about it. A good way to figure out how your course should function is to look no further than popular social media websites and applications, television and online advertisements, or just the blogs you love to visit: Facebook, YouTube, tumblr, Instagram. They’re all great examples that can give you ideas of how you can script informative and attention-grabbing animations, design impactful infographics, link to useful or related information, use icons to draw attention, make buttons easy to recognise, and use or add search bars to make an otherwise linear course more responsive.

My top five tips to get started with more powerful course design and development? Take a look:

  1. Take note of what’s around you. Literally. Keep a notepad to jot down ideas, take pictures, screenshots and write memos to yourself on your cellphone. Curate your very own library of inspiration and refer back to it when you start storyboarding or building a course.
  2. Don’t be afraid to recreate. If you see a style or functionality you like – script or build it and test it. Just because it was originally meant for an app or for television, that doesn’t mean the style can’t be adapted for a different medium.
  3. Remember your message. A rule at Ceed Learning is never to design for design’s sake. Always design with your message in mind. Use images and audio that support or add to what you’re saying.
  4. Don’t test the ideal route. Or do. And in addition test every route that a learner could take through your course. Can they navigate backward and forward easily? Jump around in a course and still have a good experience?
  5. Ask for feedback. You are not the ‘end user’. You know how things should work and so it won’t be easy for you to “break” your course. You’ve lovingly created your piece of work and given it wings. And now you have to see if it can fly. Let others test your course and share their experience with you. You’ll be a better designer for it.

If you found this post useful, keep an eye out for my next one where I’ll share and review the free tools I use when designing eLearning courses.

Check out our Resourcespage for a handy infographic of my design tips.

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