When I was interviewing for my first Instructional Designer job, I was asked many times about what I thought were the three most important things that made an eLearning course good. There’s really a lot that I could have listed. However, I always mentioned good visual design as one of the crucial things to get right. And they agreed.
For several reasons. I am only going to focus on two.
We know that first impressions matter. Besides, many times our learners are not really excited about taking the course, even if it’s not compliance training. So we don’t want to make a bad impression and possibly alienate them. They say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but when we are browsing for a book, a film, or even a new beverage, we form an opinion based on the visuals. Have you ever decided against watching a film just because the graphics looked off? We need to gain the learners’ interest, not put them off.
The other reason is that bad visual design could really interfere with the learning experience. And that’s really important. Our courses have to deliver content in an easily digestible and logical way. Sometimes, just the visuals alone can help with retention. At the same time, we need to consider the diversity of our learners and ensure that everything is accessible for them. Some badly made decisions could not only make the learning process more difficult for some but actually could be dangerous for some learners. For my portfolio, I created a course on accessibility that mentions some of these.
Don’t get me wrong, Instructional Designers don’t have to be graphic designers. In fact, some companies would have an internal graphic design team to help out. But we already wear many hats and designing appealing and accessible courses is something that is not only in our best interest but also our duty.
I’ll be the first to admit that when I started out, my visual design skills were appalling. I have since deleted all my very first visual content because I am ashamed of how bad they looked. I personally learnt a huge amount from The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams that opened my eyes to some things I kind of knew but didn’t know how to apply. I devoured it on a weekend and never went back to central text alignment. I have also heard great things about the Graphic Design for Everyone by Cath Caldwell from many IDOL Courses Academy Members.
Caption: two book options to learn the basics of graphic designs in no time.
But designing job aids, infographics or slides is really not that hard if you know where to look for inspiration. Pinterest, Dribble, and Envato Elements are only three examples where you can find inspiration. The more examples you see, the more ideas you will absorb and the better you will get at imitating them. The more you create by imitation, the more confident you will become until you eventually create beautiful content independently.
Luckily, these days, we have a myriad of editable templates available to us. Slide decks, infographics, magazine covers, whatever you want. You don’t need to have an expensive graphic design tool or to buy professional templates to quickly put something great together. My favourite source of templates are Slidesgo for slides, Storyset for illustrations, and of course, Canva for literally EVERYTHING.
Once you find a great source of inspiration or template, make sure to save it. You could take a screenshot and organise it in a visual organiser like I did with colour palettes and font combinations on my Milanote board. Or you could use a bookmarking tool. My favourite is Gettoby that allows me to organise my tabs into categories while getting them out of the way at the same time. Anyway, the point is to save them for the future when you need them.
While, for sure I will never have the same skills as a professional graphic designer, picking up good practices and ideas is completely achievable. In fact, in a few months I went from ashamedly bad design to competent visual content creation.
Written by: Ivett Csordas
Ivett is a teacher turned Instructional Designer. She has over 8 years of experience in secondary schools and 5 years in EFL classrooms. As a life-long learner, she is passionate about sharing knowledge and creating meaningful learning experiences. Her niche is breaking concepts down and anticipating potential learning obstacles. Before the pandemic, she loved watching plays in the theatre and going on backpacking adventures. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her portfolio.