Common Visual Design Mistakes That Ruin the Way Your Course Looks

visual design mistakes

E-learning is a mostly visual medium which means a lot of what we communicate in our courses comes through how they’re structured visually. The challenge is that graphic design and visual communication are their own fields and it’s hard enough to be a good instructional designer let alone a good graphic artist.

I get the privilege of reviewing a lot of courses and understand that many people struggle with the visual part of the course. So in this post, we’ll review some common visual design mistakes that are easily fixed. They won’t make you into a graphic artist, but they should help make your course design a little tighter.

Visual Design Mistake 1: Images are Scrunched & Not Scaled

This is one of the most common mistakes and easily fixed. An image is inserted and then to make it fit or move it, it gets moved from the top or side anchors on the bounding box. This scrunches the image and makes it look a little off.

scale image from corner to maintain aspect ratio

The fix is to drag it from the corner to scale it and preserve its aspect ratio. It most apps, you hold the SHIFT key and drag to keep it locked while you scale it up or down.

Visual Design Mistake 2: Not Sure Where to Focus

This is a general issue and I’ll address more specific fixes below. Essentially the eye moves across the screen in a pattern. Without a structured design, we tend to scan in a Z pattern. There are some things that disrupt the pattern like colors, size, whitespace, and an object’s relationship to another. That means we can help control eye movement. However, many times the course screens seem to just have a hodge-podge of things on it with lots of conflicting attempts to draw the eye’s attention.

z pattern when scanning screen

Here are two good fixes:

Visual Design Mistake 3: Inconsistent Visual Style

Ever take a course where each slide or screen looks different than the other? This usually happens because the developer is building slide to slide. I see this all the time in workshops. What happens is that they make design decisions at the slide level as they work. This leads to spending too much time reviewing every font installed on the computer looking for just the right one. Or going a stock photo site and trying to come up with ideas.

Other elements of visual inconsistency are:

style guide for e-learning

Again, I’ll reference intentional design and the need to have a plan around what will and won’t be on the screen. One easy solution is to do some sort of design mapping like the one David Anderson shares. It helps you consider the visual elements of your courses and make design decisions before you start building. Once you’ve narrowed down your intent you should put together a simple style guide. You’ll save time and have visual consistency.

Visual Design Mistake 4: No Visual Hierarchy

This issue relates to the mistake above. If everything on the screen looks equal it’s hard to scan the content and even more difficult to figure out what fits where.

visual hierarchy adds context and makes it easier to scan

Having a visual hierarchy fixes this. It allows you to chunk content and makes it easier to discern context. The easiest thing is to create a simple style guide with headings, sub-headings, and body text.

Visual Design Mistake 5: Alignment Looks Sloppy & Out of Whack

There are some courses where the margins are all different widths and objects aren’t aligned properly. This makes the course look sloppy and a little out of balance or off kilter. It’s like walking into the room where the furniture doesn’t seem to be staged right and the pictures are crooked. You may not be a home decorator, but you definitely can tell when it doesn’t look right. The same goes with a visual design that is out of balance. It just doesn’t look right. And it may make it bit more challenging to understand the course content.

alignment woes in e-learning

This is easy to fix:

  • Have consistent margins.
  • Align objects, left justified is the most common. If you switch the justification, have a reason why.
  • Extra space between groups helps communicate that they’re grouped.
  • A lot of people use a grid system to keep onscreen objects aligned.

Those are common design mistakes that easily fixed and they help you avoid the Curse of the Frankencourse. If you want to learn more check out the visual design tips in the e-learning community, download this free e-book, and join us at one of our Roadshow workshops.

What do you find to be common visual design mistakes?


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Upcoming E-Learning Events

  • Articulate Roadshows. Join us for one or two days of e-learning goodness. Day 1 focuses on more general e-learning topics and Day 2 is centered on learning to build some nice, reusable interactions. They're great activities to help you learn more about the tools. Sign up using the links below. Seats are limited for the events. If you're interested in presenting at one of the roadshows, let me know.
  • Boston: July 18 & 19. Early bird rate expires July 7. Register here.
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  • Manchester: November 16 & 17. Seats will be limited. Details coming soon.
  • There are a couple of other events planned. Once we get all of the bookings confirmed, we'll add the registration page and info.

 

Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for elearning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly elearning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool elearning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This elearning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

Here’s a Simple PowerPoint Hack to Help with Course Design

PowerPoint Hacks to impress

Like many of you, I’m no graphic designer. I do have enough skill to get what I need or know enough to modify existing templates. The good thing is that today, it’s not that big of a deal because you get media assets like Articulate’s Content Library. So you have plenty of quality templates and stock images to help guide your design.

However, there are times when you may be stuck with a specific image and need to figure out how to create different (but matching) layouts without doing a bunch of edits in a different program. Here are some tips based on a presentation I gave recently on creating a professional portfolio. I had three images and used those to create different looks. And I did it all in PowerPoint.

I’ll show you what I look for and a few simple hacks to free up space and create different layouts.

Here’s a PowerPoint tutorial with more detail.

The tutorial below reviews what I’m sharing with more detail so that you can see how to choose and manipulate stock images for your courses and presentations.

PowerPoint Hack tutorial

Click here to view the tutorial video.

  • How to create more whitespace and get rid of extra content.
  • How to create matching backgrounds.
  • How to create content areas.

PowerPoint Hack: Start with Matching Graphics

Whenever I find a stock image that works for my project, I try to find more from the same artist. And if that’s not possible, I try to find images that are very similar in style. This allows me to mix and match elements. In the case of my presentation, I started with these three images:

PowerPoint hack

And with those three images, I was able to create various distinct slides.

PowerPoint hack various slides

PowerPoint Hack: Identify Content Buckets

By themselves, the stock images look fine and really don’t require any edits. However, when it comes to adding custom content, then the stock images have some constraints especially when it comes to adding content.

Identify places where you can add content (like images and text). If you start with a large enough stock image, you’ll be able to scale it and still maintain visual quality.

Here are a few areas from the images that can be modified to become content buckets.

powerpoint hack content area

PowerPoint Hack: Create Whitespace

After identifying places to put content, I look for ways to declutter the image and create more white space. There are a few ways to do that:

  • Cover up part of the stock image to get rid of clutter.
  • Zoom in and focus on clean flat areas.
  • Crop and reposition the image.
  • Create your own white space using image elements.

Here are just a few looks taken from a single image. In the first batch, I created three iterations of the one image.

PowerPoint hack custom layouts

And in the second, I replicated the background to give me enough whitespace and room to create my own matching images. In the presentation, I added a few white boxes to represent pages.

To learn more, watch the tutorial video. It provides the detailed step-by-step process.

The key point is that all of this is done right inside of PowerPoint and doesn’t require special skills or advanced features. What’s nice about this is that it only takes a few minutes and this approach provides an easy way to create professional quality layouts that are consistent in how they look.


Download the fully revised, free 63-page ebook: The Insider's Guide to Becoming a Rapid E-Learning Pro

Upcoming E-Learning Events

  • Articulate Roadshows. Join us for one or two days of e-learning goodness. Day 1 focuses on more general e-learning topics and Day 2 is centered on learning to build some nice, reusable interactions. They're great activities to help you learn more about the tools. Sign up using the links below. Seats are limited for the events. If you're interested in presenting at one of the roadshows, let me know.
  • Boston: July 18 & 19. Early bird rate expires July 7. Register here.
  • Toronto: August 9 & 10. Early bird rate expires July 21. Register here.
  • Seattle: August 21 & 22. Early bird rate expires August 7. Register here.
  • Austin: September 12 & 13. Early bird rate expires August 28. Register here.
  • San Francisco: October ?? Details coming soon.
  • London: November. Details coming soon.
  • Manchester: November. Details coming soon.
  • There are a couple of other events planned. Once we get all of the bookings confirmed, we'll add the registration page and info.

 

Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for elearning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly elearning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool elearning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This elearning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

Top 5 Reasons Why You Must Have Premium WordPress Theme For Your Blog

WordPress is for blogging sites, and this is a common phenomenon in the world of the internet. People know that they need WordPress to create their blog sites. However, they may not be completely aware of the fact that WordPress can help their blogs in various ways.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

5 Tips On Styling Your Adapt Authoring Tool Project

Use the following tips to help you transform your Adapt Authoring Tool project into your dream design. Learn about resources to help you get started with CSS, how to add custom classes to your project, work with existing classes, use your browser for testing, and gain inspirational resources.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

How To Use Scrolling Page Designs In Your eLearning (8 Strategies)

With Elucidat's Layout Designer, you can create longer, personalized pages that users scroll to reveal. But just because you can, does that always mean you should? Here's our guide to creating scrolling pages with purpose.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

How to Use Hotspots in Drag and Drop Interactions

hotspot drag drop interactions

In an earlier post, we looked at three ways to use hotspots in your e-learning courses. In most cases, hotspots are used as invisible buttons for interactive e-learning. But today we’ll look at ways to use the hotspot feature in your drag and drop interactions where the hotspot isn’t a button.

Drag and Drop Basics

Generally, there are two main components to drag and drop interactions:

  • an object that is dragged
  • a target to accept the dragged object

I covered this in more detail when we looked at how to create drag and drop interactions.

Use the Hotspot as a Catch-all Target

Usually, there’s an obvious correct or incorrect target for drag and drop interactions. But what happens when the object is dropped outside of one of the target choices? In most cases, the object gets kicked back to the starting point as in the image below.

Dropped object snaps back to starting point when dropped outside of the target.

drag and drop

In the above example, the dragged object can only be dropped on one of the targets. If it’s dropped outside of the target, it bounces back to the starting point. This is usually the default setting and most common in drag and drop interactions.

Dropped object triggers an “oops” layer when dropped outside of the target on the catch-all hotspot.

However, the hotspot feature can serve as a catch-all target to provide feedback when objects are dragged and dropped outside of the desired target. When an object is dropped on the catch-all target it triggers the appropriate feedback. In the example below, the catch-all target triggers an “oops, try again” layer.

dragdrop-2

If you create a catch-all hotspot there are two things to do:

  • Put the hotspot underneath all of the other targets. Otherwise, it covers the drop targets and the interaction won’t work.
  • Determine how the dropped object responds. By default the object snaps to the center of the target; and since the target covers the entire screen, it looked weird sitting on top of the guy who’s in the center of the screen. In the example above I let it remain where it was dropped.

drag and drop interaction

Use the Hotspot to Expand and Control the Drop Target

Another great use of the hotspot feature is to better manage the drop target area. Since the hotspot is transparent it can sit on top of other object and be sort of a surrogate drop target. Instead of dropping on what looks like the target, they’re actually dropping on the target hotspot.

By doing this, you can determine where the dropped object is displayed. Here are before and after examples.

Dropped objects align based on the target image and display outside of the box.

drag and drop interaction target free

The objects are dragged to the box. By making the box image the drop target and tiling the objects, you can see that the objects actually align at the top of the box image.

Dropped objects align based on the hotspot target and align inside of the box.

drag and drop interaction drop target hotspot

In the example above, the box image isn’t the drop target. Instead, there’s a hotspot placed on top of the box image and centered over the opened box. This allows control of the alignment of the dropped objects to create the desired visual effect.

drag and drop interaction hotspot target

The hotspot is a great feature for creating interactive content. Most of the times it’s used as an invisible button. However, because it’s an easy-to-see green box (for production) and invisible to the end user, it’s a great feature to create large, catch-all targets. And it also works well for controlling how the dropped objects align and display.


Download the fully revised, free 63-page ebook: The Insider's Guide to Becoming a Rapid E-Learning Pro

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  • July 18 & 19 (Boston). Articulate Roadshow. Details coming soon.
  • August 9 & 10 (Toronto). Articulate Roadshow. Details coming soon.
  • August 21 & 22 (Seattle). Articulate Roadshow. Details coming soon.
  • September 12 & 13 (Austin). Articulate Roadshow. Details coming soon.
  • November (London & Manchester). Articulate Roadshow. Dates and details coming soon.
  • There are a couple of other events planned. Once we get all of the bookings confirmed, we'll add the registration page and info. If you're interested in presenting at one of the roadshows, let me know.

 

Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for elearning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly elearning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool elearning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This elearning 101 series and the free e-books will help.