As a designer, it’s easy to make pretty pictures. Now try making designs that go deeper. “Deeper how?”, you may ask. Certainly we perceive things visually, but the factors that motivate us and help us interpret those designs have more to do with the content. At the intersection of instructional design and visual design are some tips that can help ensure success in learning.
1. Design to meet the need.
Know your audience. Design is all about perception: the perception of your learners. During the needs analysis phase, get to know your audience — both from a content perspective and a design perspective — by understanding the key motivators of the audience. Then, and only then, can you integrate smart, creative UI design.
2. Look for patterns.
Use familiar user interface patterns that your learners are used to in the real world.
For example, when designing an iPad® app, it is important to first have a strong understanding of how iPad users already interact with the device. Take advantage of native navigational elements before creating new ones that might confuse learners.
3. Maintain consistency.
Learners appreciate consistent navigation and repeated tasks for gaining information. Help guide your learners by being consistent with your treatment of graphical assets, navigation, and feedback within your interface. Changing these elements mid-stream will disengage the learner and distract from the key learning objectives.
4. Bring visual order.
Design is a visual translator for the world’s information. Design effectively to highlight key points, reinforce key concepts, and lead the learners in the order and direction you want them to go. You can do this through the size, color, and location of elements used within your design.
5. Provide feedback.
As humans we need and crave feedback and direction. “Where should I go next?” “How did I do?” Support your learning objectives through the use of strong visual feedback, as well as written feedback where appropriate. Simple approaches, such as rollovers and clicks, can show the learner that something has happened.
6. Give ’em the rules.
Set expectations at the onset of a course so learners know what is coming. We know it’s important to state the learning objectives and evaluation criteria up front. How do you use design to support this? Define and demonstrate a consistent set of “rules” on how to navigate the course. By setting these expectations up front, learners can easily adapt to your learning environment and increase knowledge retention.
7. Hand the power to the user.
Adult learners crave autonomy and the ability to guide their own learning. Harness this power in your user interface design by allowing users to make decisions that empower and enable success in the learning experience.
8. Simplify, simplify, and simplify.
If your solution is not easy, fast, and fun, it will not be effective. The Law of Pragnanz states that as humans, we must organize our perceptions into the simplest form for quick understanding. Have mercy on the brains of your learners by using informational graphics to explain complex or dry content.
9. Test out your design.
Seeing how learners interact with and perceive your design is critical. This will allow you to make informed enhancements to your design, and create a stronger, more-effective learning experience. Always consider conducting user testing to gauge the audience’s experience.
10. When in doubt, research.
As Picasso once said “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.” New ideas are formed by inspiration. Inspiration can be drawn from the world around you. Knowing what others have done, and seeing their results, can help you avoid unnecessary mistakes. Create a Pinterest board or Evernote notebook of inspiring creative design and instructional design. Don’t have time? Try turning off the television. 😉
Now go use your new super powers to battle bad design.