Here's How Snapshots Can Help You Design Better Courses Posted Friday, September 30, 2011 at 2:40 PM

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Are you looking for some fresh ways to present data and charts in your course? What about designing the right look and feel for custom courses? Well, USA Today's Snapshots might be just the inspiration you're looking for.


"What are Snapshots?"


Snapshots are these really fun, graphical polls that appear daily on each of the paper's four main sections. They're simple, visual and easy-to-read public opinion "snapshots" on current trends and topics.

In addition to visual inspirations, Snapshots offer two specific benefits that make them relevant for e-learning designers.

  1. Content: Snapshots are designed around a wide range of topics similar to what you're already designing. The content drives the visual design choices.
  2. Design: Snapshots are visually aligned to the topics they're presenting. Their visual voice supports the data and topics of the polls.

Let's look at some ideas for just how Snapshots can help course designers.


Better graphs and charts

The majority of Snapshots include percentages and most of those are represented as bar graphs. This makes Snapshots a great resource for designing more visually engaging graphs.



Keep in mind that getting too creative could mislead or misrepresent the data, but that's the case anytime you're working with numbers and graphs. The important thing here is to evaluate how you're currently working with charts and look for more visual ways to present them.


Branding and style guide workarounds

In design mapping, we work to identify the common course elements—fonts, colors, objects, characters—and how to go about selecting the appropriate elements based on the content.


The challenge for many e-learning designers is that corporate branding prohibits tampering with, or disabling, the existing style guide. That's okay. We can work with that.


Snapshots work with similar constraints—they use the same font style and colors and slide design for each graphic.


This constraint emphasizes the importance of visually aligned elements over player templates and corporate branding.



Reduce on-screen text and bullet points

If you're looking for another way to present course objectives, consider leveraging the graphical solutions from Snapshots.


Rewrite the objectives as statements or stick with your measurable approach. Either way, the visual presentation emphasizes the importance of each objective giving learners an immediate sense of relevance.

Visual quiz designs

Snapshots are poll results and present mostly percentages and bar graphs. But their format and visual elements also work for designing more graphical quizzes.

Additional resources

Here are some sources for Snapshots. 



I also found a book on Amazon that highlights several hundred of the most popular Snapshots.

What do you think?

Hopefully this gives you some idea for ways to approach your course designs.


What do you think of Snapshots? Would something like Snapshots work with the courses you're currently building? What are the risks with using graphics and images to present data?


(Special thanks to Kelly Smith who inspired this post after a recent Skype conversation)



Post written by David Anderson



11 comments so far

Linda Lorenzetti

226 posts

Posted Monday, October 03, 2011 at 8:49 AM

Love the idea, thanks David!

Kim Hannan

36 posts

Posted Monday, October 03, 2011 at 9:38 AM

I love this!  Thank you for sharing!  I have been trying to incorporate more visual descriptions like this in presentations and online courses, but I recently realized what an impact this can have in other communications...  an email with text-heavy stats/bullets, intranet snippets, etc.  

User Rank Jeff Kortenbosch

1,181 posts

Posted Tuesday, October 04, 2011 at 5:26 AM

Excellent post. Great example on how to make your content visually appealing!

User Rank David Anderson

3,292 posts

Posted Tuesday, October 04, 2011 at 6:12 AM

Thanks Linda, Kim and Jeff. I'm really digging Snapshots because of their simplicity. While they were created by illustrators, there's no reason we couldn't use our default MS clipart library combined with Tom's ungrouping techniques to create similar examples.

Efrat Maor

124 posts

Posted Wednesday, October 05, 2011 at 6:05 AM

I was thinking in these directions when I saw the NY Lation Film Festival infographics:

They are just so cool.

Kim - I'm also trying to do my best when developing eLeanring courses. I have an hour eLearning (developed ~1 year ago) that has 3 bullet points. One of the modules has a mazimum of a short sentence on each slide (most have none).  

It is a lot more work, but much more fun.

Efrat Maor

124 posts

Posted Wednesday, October 05, 2011 at 6:07 AM

And David - it is a bit funny to say "Tom's ungrouping techniques".

I know elementry school teachers that were teaching these in Office 2003 and before that...

User Rank David Anderson

3,292 posts

Posted Wednesday, October 05, 2011 at 6:27 AM

@Efrat - those infographics are great!

And good call on the ungrouping comment. Having worked in Illustrator since 1993, I know those types of tricks are essentials. I didn't mean to imply Tom invented the technique. It's just one of his signature posts that a lot of users reference.

Wendy G

19 posts

Posted Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 7:41 AM

@David - Thank you for sharing the idea.  Very creative and effective.  Can't wait to use the concepts.

@Efrat - The infographics have inspired me to think a little more out of the box.  I like the simplicity!  Thank you!

Khanh Bui

4 posts

Posted Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 12:02 PM

Love it. Kinda like dashboards for presentation!

Beth Worthy

70 posts

Posted Thursday, July 04, 2013 at 5:23 AM

Hi David !

It was really awesome. This helps enrich our presentation and make it more interactive.

Walt Bailey

7 posts

Posted Monday, September 09, 2013 at 9:35 AM

@efrat - Agreed that the technique has been around for a long time

@david - Very creative idea. I don't read USA Today but just ordered the Snapshots book from Amazon to check out more examples.