There’s this popular quote attributed to Coco Chanel, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off”. Don’t worry, I’m not about to start giving you fashion advice! Instead, I want you to apply this idea to the visual design of your training resources. Don’t be afraid of white space in your presentations!
Before we dive into the reasons why I want you to embrace white space, drop down to the comments and tell me about your approach to graphic design. Do you jump in and do the dirty work yourself, do you give the work to a designer you love or is the visual component of your presentation a collaboration between you and your team?
Whether you work with a fantastic artist or do it all on your own, the idea of using white space in your presentations (or really any learning resource) is a simple but powerful tactic in visual design that you can implement in instructional design.
Check out my explanation and quick tips to help you harness the power of white space to maximize the effectiveness of your slide and document layouts.
Embrace White Space in Your Visual Design
What is White Space Anyway?
White space is just what it sounds like, it’s the area within your presentation that is just empty space. White space is the gap you leave between images and text, the amount of space on any screen without blocks of color, images or anything that draws the eye away from the content.
While I’ll always refer to it as white space, it doesn’t actually have to be white. It could be any neutral, uninterrupted background color.
Whether we’re talking about a slide deck, the layout of an LMS or even paper or pdf documentation that you create to go along with your training, white space should be as purposeful as your color choices and image or text placement.
If you’ve been ignoring white space in your presentations, it’s time to start paying attention!
Why is white space important?
To answer that question, let’s use a visual. Both of these images pull helpful information from my last blog on how to prioritize training requests.
In this slide, the four main tips are all on one screen. I’ve used some fun colors to keep the presentation exciting, great right? Well, maybe not. As a learner, how do you feel when you look at that slide? Are you eager to learn or a bit distracted? Does the combination of the text and background color make you feel interested or irritated?
Here I’ve taken a different approach with my slides. What’s your reaction to this image? Still feeling irritated by the color scheme or overwhelmed at the information? If you prefer this image to the one above, what is it you like?
Let’s look at some specific reasons why white space is an important consideration in the visual design of your learning resources. We’ll use those two images to help illustrate these points, so feel free to scroll up and take another look. As a side note, I prefer much larger scale images, but I wanted to make a point about white space so I used a small image here.
It provides a more balanced environment.
Comparing the two images above, you probably realized that the second image provides a nice balance of text, images, and white space. In the first image, all the content was crammed into one slide with no page breaks.
By simply separating each bullet point by slide (like you see in the second image), I’m still able to use some color and an image, but the balance is much better.
It invites the learner in.
One of the first things your audience is going to notice is the visual aspect of your course, and if they have a negative reaction, that can become an obstacle to their comprehension.
A positive reaction, on the other hand, is obviously more inviting (it also means your learner is more likely to buy-in to the training).
It directs attention.
White space can be used to draw the learner’s gaze in the right direction and to signify importance. An image or text box surrounded by white space is naturally going to stand out more than one that’s buried amongst other graphics or too much text.
In the second image above, one of the important tips was presented on its own slide. The absence of extra text on that slide means I’m focusing just on that short piece of information. Doesn’t it also make that tip feel more important?
It makes the learners feel at ease.
I asked how you felt about each of the two images above for a reason. If you weren’t getting happy vibes from the first image, imagine an entire presentation styled similarly. A jam-packed slide deck is going to stress out the learner. If you haven’t carefully thought out text and image placement, your content could be lost as your audience is trying to figure out where to look first. And, if the feeling isn’t enough, there is some neuroscience behind the importance of spacing. A quick Google search will pull up tons of articles on the topic. Here is one article I enjoyed reading: How Neuroscience Beats PowerPoint Coma.
Similarly, certain colors actually evoke different emotions in an audience (this knowledge is used in marketing strategies as well as graphic design). Using colors that are too bright or too dark could accidentally trigger negative emotions in your audience!
White space, on the other hand, provides the learner with a sense of calm. When a slide deck has been designed purposefully to take advantage of blank space, the learner can focus on content. This, combined with all the factors above, leads to the last, most important benefit of white space.
It improves comprehension!
If you’ve been holding on to your love of colors, fun fonts and images up until this point, hopefully, this last reason is enough to convince you to embrace a cleaner canvas.
When your learner is better able to focus on content without distractions using learning resources that are visually appealing without being overwhelming, they will naturally gain a better understanding of the lesson. With the success of your course tied to how well your audience understands then applies the content, this should be a no-brainer!
4 Quick Tips for Using White Space to Enhance eLearning
1. Don’t try to squeeze as much information as possible on a slide. When in doubt, separate bullet points or ideas to give them each their own slide.
2. Intentionally use white space around a really important idea. This is when the white space is asymmetrical or in an unexpected place and it really draws attention to important content.
3. Passive white space (the space that occurs naturally between lines of text, columns or images) is a great option when you can’t get around a text-heavy portion of the training. If you have to quote a three-paragraph compliance item, for example, you’ll use passive white space in your line spacing or in how you align that text box on the screen.
4. Like that old quote from Coco Chanel, take one thing off. Before you finalize slides or any other learning resource, go back through and see if there’s anything else you can do without.
If you’re tackling a lot of the layout design in your courses solo, this might be a lot to take in! Chances are, you don’t have any professional graphic design training and are just learning as you go and that’s totally fine!
For the instructional designers that wear many hats (and even for those of you who work with trusted artists and just want some extra information on best practices), there are a few great resources you can check out.
If you haven’t already, read my blog Visual Design Can Be Learned. I include some helpful tips for beginners. Simple things like learning basic vocabulary, ideas for finding artistic inspiration to use in your design work and how to source high-quality images.
In that blog, I mention my favorite book on visual design. Garr Reynolds’ “Presentation Zen” is full of examples and inspiration that will bring your tired Powerpoints back to life.
Another book you might be interested in if you’re ready to take your visual design skills to the next level is “Slideology”. Nancy Duarte provides instruction for creating your own diagrams and graphics and incorporating them into your presentations in meaningful ways.
So, what’s your plan for using white space to up your visual impact in your projects this year? Hop over to my Facebook page and share some ways you can implement this new knowledge in your next project!
Ready to dive in and become a full-stack Instructional Designer and eLearning Developer without getting another degree? Check out my 12-week immersive program: Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program.
The Testimonials are In:
Working with Shanwtay and Katie at the Instructional Design Company was a dream come true. Their creativity, expertise, and professionalism throughout the entire process was beyond top notch. I engaged them to help turn my first book into a training course, and I could not be happier with how the final product turned out. If you have an instructional design project and you’re considering which company to work with, you can stop your search and thank me later. They are truly the best in the business.
I joined the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program because I struggled to find jobs in instructional design beyond the development phase. I’ve done a couple of training programs with lots of random projects, but I was overwhelmed, not connecting the dots, and not good at structuring my writing to hit learning objectives. I was looking for motivation and direction at beginning a better Instructional Designer.
After taking the Instructional Design & Tech Certificate program and joining my fantastic team for support, I found the structure and approach to be what I need to take my next steps, evening improving my skills in the development stage.
Teacher, Future Instructional Designer
I love how this course let’s you work at your own pace. I got great tips and learned many things. The ongoing support for multiple people and groups is what I love the best. You are never alone in this process. I have been able to adjust my resume and began creating a portfolio of work I’ve completed to add when applying for jobs. I use many of the PowerPoint skills in my lessons and trainings. I would highly recommend this for anyone wanting to become an instructional designer.
Teacher, Future Instructional Designer
I have searched for the last few years to find some suitable career change where I wouldn’t have to earn another degree and where I could use the talents and skills I already have as a teacher. When I came across the Instructional Design Accelerator course, I loved the fact that Shawntay was a former teacher and could relate to a teacher’s need to transition from the classroom. This was what sold the course for me. Her experiences are invaluable especially when translating teacher duties to instructional designer duties. I would (and have) recommended this program to other teachers I know who are looking to transition out of the classroom. I do appreciate ALL of her feedback on my projects!
L&D Project Manager
The Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator certificate program is one of the most comprehensive ID programs out there for beginners. If you’re looking to grow your schools in ID and development then I highly recommend this program. Not only will this program give you an overview of theory, but you will receive a thorough walkthrough of how to apply what you have learned. Although I had already secured a position in Learning & Development when I bought this course, it helped me to move up into a new position as a Learning & Development Project Manager!
Future Instructional Designer
If you have any interest in ID, sign up for this program NOW! Shawntay and her team are top notch! The course content exceeded my expectations in a big way and the encouragement and support continues to be so valuable. You will not feel alone going through this course, you will learn so much, you’ll have many cheerleaders, and you will have fun!
Future Instructional Designer
I am really enjoying this program! It’s prerfect for someone who is thinking about a career shift to Instructional Design and does not have a lot of experience. This is my first real introduction to Instructional Design and it’s been the perfect beginner course to help me get my feet wet. The modules are broken down well and it’s great to go at your own pace and at your own time. The modules themselves are very comprehensive and you learn a lot from all of them. I really like how each one build upon each other and you’re working towards the bigger project of designing your first training course from scratch. I’m learning so much from going through this course! I was provided great feedback from Katie and Shawntay through the process via Trello Boards, comments on the Google documents, and Facebook group. This course has been well worth the time and effort and I appreciate the fact that I will always have the resources available to me after I complete the training (just in case I’m not quite ready to transition yet).
Future Instructional Designer
I can’t say enough great things about the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program! The length of the program is perfect; it doesn’t feel rushed and there’s just the right amount of structure to give you the accountability you need. There are so many opportunities to get live answers to any questions you have related to the course content or anything ID-related! This program gave me the support and structure I needed to both feel affirmed in the relevant skills I already had coming in and to fill in the gaps I had as a career-changer going into ID. Shawntay, Katie, and all the coaches are super helpful and supportive. I now feel confident that I have the tools and access to resources I need to apply for ID jobs without wondering if there’s something I’m “missing” in the preparation process. I’d highly recommend this program to anyone wanting to transition into ID or who just wants to brush up on their skills in the field.
Krista Johnson Awomoyi
Freelance Instructional Designer
I’d highly recommend the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program. I’m blown away by how much I learned in just 12 weeks. I had ID experience prior to taking this course and was just looking to get a better understanding of applying adult learning principles. This course well exceeded my expectations! Not only did I gain a clear understanding of adult learning principles, I was also able to apply those principles by creating assets for your portfolio using PowerPoint, Adobe Premiere Pro and Storyline. The hands on support that we received was top notch.
This program is one of the most robust yet fulfilling L&D programs I’ve seen. I learned so much about the industry and about the limitlessness of my own capabilities. I am so appreciative of Shawntay and all of the trainers who took part in the program. They went above and beyond with not only guiding, but communicating live and working one on one or in small groups. If you are on the fence, I say take the leap and you will not regret it! There’s so much to learn, not only from the trainers, but also the learners in your group. Everyone comes in with their own skills and can be additional support and guidance for you. Thank you for creating this program!
Instructional Designer Training Facilitator
Shawntay is an amazing individual. She is very knowledgeable in all aspects of ID and eLearning. She is also very compassionate and loves to help and see everyone around her grow and prosper. Shawntay has been a great mentor to me and she has helped me mature as an instructional designer and eLearning developer. She has provided me with opportunities when others have overlooked me. I am very grateful to have met and built a lifelong relationship with Shawntay.
I recently got hired into my first instructional design / training position and Shawntay was one of the first people to congratulate me!
Freelance Instructional Designer
My teacher-to-instructional-designer journey began two years ago when I left my teaching comfort zone and started my first freelance ID job. Now, I’m stepping out of the classroom and taking my freelance work full-time, so I’m thrilled to be joining the Tech Accelerator program. Adding technologies like Articulate 360 and Adobe Premiere Pro to my qualifications will help me take my courses to the next level and attract more clients!
Teacher Transitioning into Instructional Design
I am genuinely grateful for this course. I wanted a real-world perspective and feel like I got it. I’m teaching now, but nearing retirement age but can see myself working as an instructional designer well into my retirement years. My other goal is to take as many courses in statistics as possible in hopes of bringing some mathematical precision to the ROI question. Like you say, getting accurate metrics to measure ROI can be a challenge, but I intend to work on that part. That’s unimportant right now, what is important is the fact that I feel like this course was well worth every penny I spent and I would to it again in a heartbeat. I have too much going on right now, but as soon as I get some time freed up I intend to take your course in project management.
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Shawntay has been incredible and her team is responsive and effective in translating my training programs into professional presentations. Don’t hesitate to contact her for your project.
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Working with Shawntay and the Instructional Design Company has allowed our university to meet the growing demands of our programs. Shawntay’s expertise allowed for the course development to be completed on time and met all of the university requirements. Shawntay’s project management skills were phenomenal and allowed my team to work on other areas while she completed this project for us. Her work is of high quality and her professionalism and willingness to help made her a tremendous asset to the project team.
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Shawntay is a creative and highly talented instructional designer. She brought a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and leadership that enabled her to own the design and creation of a full scale facilitator curriculum and train-the-trainer program. It was a pleasure to partner with Shawntay, her project management and communication skills ensured the project was on time and on budget.
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“Shawntay is quick study and carefully synthesizes information for presentations that are clear, concise and captivating. Her personality draws the audience in and her content mastery is excellent. A team player and organizer, Shawntay has the ability to break down mammoth projects, keep everybody on time and on task.”
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Top Notch Professional
Working with Shawntay has been an immense pleasure. She is atop notch professional who brings enthusiasm and extensiveexpertise to professional curriculum development and execution. Her knowledge of tried and true techniques to maximize the effectiveness of presentations is invaluable.
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Vice President of Research, CEIR - Center for Exhibition Industry Research
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“I was fortunate to find Shawntay when our organization was looking to expand and update our educational offerings. Shawntay proved herself to be an educational and personal development expert who immediately made an impact with our clients throughout Europe. Everyone who came into contact with Shawntay was immediately impressed by her level of expertise and willingness to share her knowledge with those around her. I would not hesitate to recommend Shawntay to anyone looking for an education subject matter expert.”
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Vice President, Andy Frain Services
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Transformational Leadership Coach
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Get yourself signed up for Shawntay Skjoldager’s Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program today and be on your way to success! Within the first week of taking her course, you will experience growth! Be sure to plug into her Facebook Q&A sessions for personalized help, too. This is THE course to take if you are new to instructional design or have landed on the training team and need help getting started.
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Shawntay has exceptional knowledge and experience with all aspects of creating and implementing effective, performance based training for adults. She is exceptional at needs analysis – identifying target audiences and collaborating with business owners to keep training focused on business needs. And she is great to work with – always providing great support to get projects done on-time and on-target. She is always on the look-out for new and more effective ways to engage learners. Her enthusiasm for adult learning is contagious!
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I have known and worked with Shawntay as a education program director and use the expertise of ShawntayMichelle for the development of my presentations. The service has always been “spot on” with professionalism, care and attention. Shawntay’s recommendations to my ideas make me look good to my clients.
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I am new to the training design and development world and I was SO excited to get in there, but I really lacked the real-world knowledge that would set me apart from my peers. And, then Shawntay Skjoldager walked into my life with an outstretched hand and a seemingly endless list of ways to knock every training out of the park. From the Training Analysis Form to the Tay Tay tips, this course made my life so much easier and even ironed out the review process that I had been struggling with for months.
Take time to invest in your own learning and make sure to put Shawntay Michelle at the top of your personal development list!
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