“A picture is worth a thousand words.” How many of you have heard that phrase? Now, the thought might be crossing your mind right now, “I’m not a visual design professional because I’ve never had any formal education in the area.” What should you do? It would make you much more valuable to the training and development team if you had visual design instruction that you could share in your courses or sessions with employees.
Don’t fear. You are not alone. Many learning professionals have not had formal training in visual design.
Visual design is a skill that can be learned over time.
I have compiled 5 steps to help you get started with incorporating visual design into your learning solutions. Following these steps won’t get you a degree or a certificate. These steps can, however, help you better communicate important concepts to your learners.
Raise Your Awareness
As you review other work or take classes or attend workshops, get into the habit of examining what you see. Analyze the designs you are viewing and imagine how those designs might work in one of your training courses. If you want to be a great writer, you need to read and write constantly. If you want to be good at incorporating visual design into your learning solutions, it helps to analyze and review everything that you see.
When someone sends over a picture or graphic from the design team, don’t just accept it as passable. Even if it looks great, look at it with critical eyes so that you can see exactly what they did. Look at the colors that they combined. Check out the different fonts and text sizes that they used. Pay attention to borders, shapes, and whitespace. What I’m trying to say is don’t just gloss over content over and over. The mindset of “I’m not a design professional so I can’t help there” is just completely wrong. Learning begins with trying. Every time you see the design, focus on a specific aspect of it and try to figure out what the designer was thinking.
Learn the Basics
Now you might be thinking “alright duh, I need to learn the easy things.” But the simple parts of the design are key to building a foundation in the area. Here are some things that you need to understand about visual design.
- All straight lines have width, length, and are proceeding a specific direction.
- To create a shape, an artist uses lines that follow certain patterns.
- Typography is important to become familiar with. It involves font size, style, readability, and popularity. Knowing fonts is a key skill for many visual designers.
- Texture can be defined as what a surface feels like. You might not be able to actually feel a fuzzy carpet on a photo, but you can tell that it’s fuzzy. That’s texture.
- The term “form” relates to three-dimensional shapes. This term is referring to their mass and consistency.
There are more design areas that you can learn as you go, those points are just some of the basics that should help you establish a bit of a foundation as you go.
Research to Learn and Find Inspiration
The best instructional designers and training developers are good learners. Good learners are always willing to do their own research. If you really want to improve the visual design of the training solutions you create, pay attention to the around you and know the basics.
One tip that I find to be super helpful is to look at designs that your marketing team has created and analyzed them. Why was the design good, and who created it. It might even be helpful to call them up and ask “What did you do here?” That will give you an inside look at the mind and ideas of a professional graphic designer.
You should be using compelling visual designs in your online courses and live training sessions. One of the best ways to keep the audience engaged is by creating visual designs that capture their attention. You can do this by emphasizing the key concepts in the course. So how do you find a design that you love that works for the message you are trying to share with learners?
While you are researching your content, research to find inspiration as well. Check out other training courses that cover similar topics to what you are creating. How did they design their content? How did they use shapes and textures? What was their font like and how did it capture the learner? Did the font make the concept easier to understand?
Being inspired is one of the best parts of being an artist. You see something that someone else has already done and you love it. Then, you create something similar that is unique to you. That should help you as you begin to create a visual design on your own for one of your courses. Which leads us right into our next point.
Experiment with Visual Design
Now it’s time to put all of the previous steps to the test and start creating! There are so many tools out there that you can use to source graphics and photos to create compelling visual designs in your courses. I like Canva for creating infographics, one-pagers, course companions, checklists, social media graphics, and etc.
The free version will allow you access to many different graphic styles, fonts, and professional images.
For PowerPoint slides and online courses created in Captivate, Storyline, and other authoring tools, I source photos, images, graphics, videos, music, and more through Envato Elements. Envato Elements requires a subscription, which may not always be feasible. Other great sources are Pixabay and Unsplash.
These tools provide the elements you will need to create stunning visual designs that reinforce the key messages of training facilitators and online learning experiences. Taking the time to create intentional visual designs is really helpful because it can push your instructional design skills to the next level. Doing this will also maximize learner engagement and learning. Visual design isn’t just about good image selection. It goes much further with the seamless integration of images with graphics, numbers, content, colors, and more.
As you go about designing various learning experiences, incorporate the basics of visual design as well as anything that has resonated with you and fits from the works of others. I have a folder on my phone loaded with photos that I have snapped of visuals I have liked from workshop presentations, online courses, marketing materials, and magazines. I use the pictures as my inspiration to get my creativity flowing when I am brainstorming the perfect visual design. The goal is to use the design to communicate a key concept in my learning solution. You can take designs that you have seen and liked and create your very own inspiration portfolio to look through when you need it.
Ask for Feedback and Improve
Being able to ask for and receive feedback is a key component of success. Being open to feedback is a sign that you are open to growing and becoming a better instructional designer and training developer. Feedback is a collaborative process that has one goal: improvement.
I have personally found that it is much easier to get feedback than it is to give feedback, but giving honest feedback is just as important as receiving feedback. Your feedback is your investment in the growth of someone else.
Now, you are going to have to be proactive and really work at developing your skills. You can’t ask opinions on the visual design of your training projects if you haven’t created any. So you are going to have to sit down and work on a few training projects where you have been intentional with your visual designs. One of the CEOs in a company that I used to work at used to say: “Fail forward fast.” I suggest you get busy failing forward fast so that you can grow your skills fast.
Summing it All Up
As you embark on the journey of becoming a visual designer of learning experiences, it is important to learn from the success of those around you. You see examples of visual design hundreds of times per day. Simply pay attention to the videos you watch on social media, the training courses you take, the magazines you read, the content you consume online. Take a look at billboards on the way home. Analyze what you see, and file it away in your inspiration portfolio for ideas at a later time.
Practice the basics and fail forward fast. If you are really interested in Visual Design, I love the book “Presentation Zen” by Garr Reynolds, if you want to check it out.
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.