This month we continue our discussion about tools needed to be an effective learning design professional. While these skills are not required for every instructional design position, it is helpful to master them to varying degrees. Let’s dive into the types of visual design elements that assist with the learning process.
The visual design plays an essential role when designing learning experiences. Not only does your content need to adhere to the rules of human cognitive infrastructure as prescribed by Mayer’s cognitive theory of multimedia learning, but it needs to be visually appealing. Generally, visual design relates to the typeface, the color palette, user interface, and other elements that comprise your learning product. Studies have demonstrated the importance of appealing visual design and how it is related to improving users’ trust and behavior (Lu et al., 2013) as well as first impression judgments (Lindgaard and Dudek, 2003). When learners are hampered by poor visual design choices, such as excessive decorative elements, poor navigation, font choice, or inadequate overall design, they are more likely to tune out or engage with your content to a lesser degree.
Common visual design elements
Some of the most common visual design elements include:
- Proximity – grouping related items together,
- Alignment – avoiding arbitrary element placement. Every item should have a visual connection with something else on the page,
- Repetition – repeat some aspects of the design throughout the entire product,
- Contrast – contrast various elements of the product to draw a reader’s eye into the page.
- Color – using color to enhance the design is an expansive topic but usually involves selecting design colors using the color wheel.
- Typography – another broad topic but essential to grasp to avoid making your designs look amateurish.
It is easy to say that every instructional designer should simultaneously be a graphic or visual designer. And being skilled in both often takes years of training and is a profession in itself. However, at least a fundamental knowledge of these concepts is recommended for every ID or LD professional to become more marketable and efficient in what they do. And even if you do not excel in visual design, you should be able to recognize when to call a graphic designer to help.
When designing media for learning, it is essential to know the cognitive limitations of the human brain and apply rules that will help learners overcome these limitations. It is also necessary to properly use visual design rules to craft visually appealing content with whom your learners will connect on a deeply personal level.
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- Lindgaard, G., & Dudek, C. (2003). What is this evasive beast we call user satisfaction?. Interacting with computers, 15(3), 429-452.
- Lu, Y., Tan, B., & Wang, Y. (2013). Web aesthetics: how does it influence the sales performance in online marketplaces.
- Mayer, R. (2020). Multimedia Learning (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781316941355
- Williams, R. (2015). The non-designer’s design book: design and typographic principles for the visual novice. Pearson Education.