Three Quick Tips on Graphic Design in E-Learning Courses

Last week, Desirée wrote an excellent blog about the need for balance and consistency in the writing in your e-learning courses. The same concepts are important in the graphic design. Here are three design principles that I try to embrace in every e-learning course I create:

1. Less is more.

We have so many design tools at our disposal in modern authoring and graphics software that it’s tempting to use them all. However, doing so usually results in a course that’s visually cluttered and inelegant. In our zeal to be creative, we instead create visual confusion and blight.

One way to keep designs simple yet interesting is to pick two effects for photos, shapes, and animations and use them consistently throughout your course. For example, all of your photos might have rounded corners and a subtle bevel, your shapes a distinctive gradient and drop shadow, and your animations an appropriately timed fade. Avoid the temptation to reinvent the wheel on every screen and “dazzle” your learners with every trick in the book.

2. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

This is a phrase Diane (see her previous post on font usage) uses that I absolutely love, and I think is particularly applicable to the treatment of text and color. We have so many fonts, text treatments, and colors at our disposal that it can be tempting to create a visual palette that overwhelms the viewer and distracts from the content. Instead, pick at most three colors (light, dark, accent) and three fonts (heading, body copy, accent), and use them consistently throughout your course. Your restraint will create a course that is more elegant and pleasing to the eye.

3. Unity with variety.

At this point you might be saying, “But Rod, this sounds boring and monotonous! I want my e-learning course to excite and stimulate!” Fear not, because consistent design does not have to mean identical design. My two-year old son can take the same small starter set of Tinker Toys and make a seemingly endless set of creations (hmmm…maybe I should let him design my courses!) If you follow the principles above, you can still mix and match your few design choices in thoughtful and creative ways. You maintain unity across your course with your own distinctive variety that matches the tone and message of the course. See below a sample of text, color, and graphics treatments.

An important added benefit of this approach is that course development is quicker because you don’t have to re-invent the design wheel on every slide.

In summary:

  • Pick two photo effects (reflection, rotation, photo border, etc.)
  • Pick two shape effects (gradient, drop shadow, S curve, etc.)
  • Pick two animation effects (pop-up from bottom, fade in, etc.)
  • Pick three colors (light, dark, and accent)
  • Pick three fonts (heading, body copy, accent)

These are my core design principles – what are yours?

Tags: