When I fell into the world of instructional design and eLearning, I really had no idea what I was doing. For context, I had been working in retail loss prevention for several years, catching shoplifters, when I was promoted into the role of “Training Coordinator” for the whole Loss Prevention Department for a large, nationwide retailer. I was not responsible for designing online courses and other training content for thousands of other loss prevention professionals throughout the company. At the time, I figured my knowledge of loss prevention would be enough for me to design effective and engaging online course content.
Color me shocked when I quickly realized that wasn’t the case.
You see, whether you call yourself an instructional designer, an eLearning developer, a learning experience designer, or just a learning professional, our roles have dramatically evolved over the last decade or so. No longer are we simply designing instructionally-sound training content. Instead, many learning professionals are tasked with creating instructionally-sound and visually engaging multimedia experiences. And this is something most were never prepared for.
You see, when I first fell into this industry and was tasked with designing and developing online courses to help my fellow loss prevention folks catch shoplifters, I thought my job was simply creating and delivering content. In many cases, this resulted in me designing slides full of bullet points, cheezy animations, and ugly clipart. The thought of putting forth some effort into the visual design of my slides didn’t cross my mind.
All this changed for me when a far more experienced coworker challenged me to view my course from the learner’s perspective. I recall her challenging me to put myself in the shoes of my learners and consider what they might think about the slides I had designed. At that point, it all clicked for me. I realized the content I was creating was equally as important as the design of how it was being delivered.
I share this story because I don’t think it’s unique to me. In the 10+ years I’ve been working as an eLearning designer and developer, I’ve encountered an endless number of instructional designers, eLearning developers, and other learning professionals who deprioritize or totally ignore the importance of visual design. Too often, investing time in the visual design of their learning content is viewed as a nice-to-have—a task to help make the content “prettier” if there’s extra time at the end of the project.
But here’s some truth for you: as I mention in my book, The eLearning Designer’s Handbook, “Humans are visual creatures! We eat with our eyes first, we fall in love with our eyes first, and we learn with our eyes first. It’s because of this that graphic design matters!”
Whenever I’m teaching new eLearning designers and instructional designers the importance of visual design, I always like to ask the same question: “If you were to prioritize the importance of instructional design, visual design, and user interface design when creating an online course, how would you order them?” The answer is always the same. Most folks respond with the instructional design first, followed by some combinations of the other items. But I like to think of it a bit differently.
Whenever I’m designing or evaluating the quality of an online course, especially interactive asynchronous courses, I like to prioritize the visual design first, the user interface design second, and the instructional design third. And to be clear, this is not to say that the instructional design is least important. Not at all! But, if the course is not visually engaging, if it isn’t helping me visualize the concepts being explained, and if it’s not easy and intuitive to use, then it doesn’t matter how good the instructional design is.
My point is when you apply good graphic design techniques, it has the power to help elevate your learning content. And on the other hand, when you apply bad graphic design, it has the power to detract from your learning content.
And this is why the topic of this book, Graphic Design for Course Designers, is so important. When I first met with Dawn Lee DiPeri, it was clear that we both shared a strong passion for good course design—not just with the content, but the total experience. And I believe she has written a book that will help you better understand how to apply commonsense graphic design techniques to your online courses.
The techniques presented in this book will not only help you make your courses look better, but they’ll help make them more effective and accessible. And that’s the power graphic design has when creating an online course—it’s not just about making your content prettier.
I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I’ve enjoyed writing this foreword.
Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning freelance eLearning designer, and creator of The eLearning Designer’s Academy. Having spent the last decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content, Tim has been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for his creative and innovative design aesthetics. I’m also a regular speaker at international eLearning conferences, a recognized Articulate Super Hero, a LinkedIn Learning instructor, and author of The eLearning Designer’s Handbook.