DESIGN: More than a course color scheme & fonts

DESIGN: More than a course color scheme & fonts

When it comes to designing a course, focusing on the content as well as the learning audience to appropriate the experience for supporting their needs is important.  These focal points should be carried over throughout the life of a course and hold strong in the relationship between the content itself and the design.  When thinking of design, our minds tend to default to a visual array of images, colors, fonts and layouts.  There is nothing incorrect with this mindset, however, when it comes to overall design there are some additional considerations when establishing suitable schemes for the learning audiences.

Design should:

Be Built on Relevancy

Just like the instructional design process needs to focus on users, the process of design should be user focused on understanding the needs of our audience.  In doing so, you should understand the device or devices a user group will be using (mobile only, desktop only, mobile & desktop), accessibility needs, visual and/or hearing impairment, experience levels with the subject and technical experience for supportive learning and progression through a course.

In understanding the audience, you can tailor the experience to better suit them.  This includes establishing interactivity that supports the experience and comprehension, as well as the need for linearity and progression of visual information, with content or the openness of an exploratory experience establishing a free flowing design.

Focus on a Clutter-Free Experience

Content, imagery, navigational elements, and available menu items should contrast to balance user comprehension. It should also interface accessibility for the ease of use and access to progress throughout the course or access supplementary information.  The focus on a clutter-free environment can help establish visual focal points of interest in the process of learning, with white space being best friends with the content on stage.

Too much information, too many visuals, or just too much mixed media at once can create user confusion, visual burden, and a quick loss of user engagement and interest.  Learning new skills in itself can be a challenge, so you shouldn’t make it more of a challenge through visual complexity and extensive onscreen elements, in which the age-old statement stands: less is more.

Maintain Visual and Thematic Consistency

Visual elements should be tied together, whether they are presented on the same screen or different screens throughout a course.  Many levels of consistency, such as content grouping, colors use, image use and location, iconography, visual layouts, and hierarchy of presented visuals, should be maintained throughout the courses.   Colors consistency does not refer to just using the same colors, but using the colors consistently in their associated context.  For example, highlighting content with a particular color for reference or presenting hyperlinked text throughout a course with a consistent color and style.

Imagery used throughout a course should maintain a consistent look and feel that not only relates to the content among its presence, but with other images used throughout the course.  The content and visuals within a course should establish a connection and maintain an association with the overall theme, as well as carry the story from start to finish smoothly.  Images that are mismatched, in theme and presentation, from the rest of the course will stick out and establish a distraction that may disorient a user from the particular context associated with that screen. This creates a gap in the learning experience.

Similar to the imagery and color consistency, a common stress in design is the consistent use of fonts.  In appropriating font use throughout a course, spacing, sizing, stylization, and even grouping should remain consistent. This will establish learning comprehension through grouping and hierarchy, which can build on learning comprehension between visuals, concepts, and processes as a user progresses.

Balance Audio with Visuals

This concept seems itself very simplistic, however, it is still worthy of being stressed for design considerations.  The combination of audio within a course is very common, typically voice over narration of content, with some courses containing sound effects.  It is important that in design, the use of audio is implemented to enhance and support the visuals or interactivity of a course for user engagement, rather than distract.  Potential problems, such as the use of music, could deter a user’s attention from the content they should be focusing on or it may cause narration playing in parallel to be difficult to understand.  The use of sound effects could enhance features of a course, but just as well these sounds could be jarring when implemented with various buttons or menu items, resulting in irritating users rather than providing any benefit.

Optimize Functionality

Often overlooked, a key component of design includes optimizing the functionality of a course.  What exactly does this mean?  A course’s interactivity should be validated as functioning properly and functioning with purpose.  Purposeful interactivity should present user engagement that is somewhat expected and feels natural, rather than interactivity that leads to disrupted learning and confusion.  Interactivity within a course must be intentionally accessible, including menu items and navigational buttons which should be provided in a manner that is easy to use for the user base in accessing and moving on.  Holistically, the approach to optimize functionality should span to any element of interaction or user engagement contained within a course no matter how miniscule.