Ridiculously Simple Ways to Create Awesome Custom E-Learning Graphics Posted Monday, March 03, 2014 at 10:26 AM

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In a previous post, we talked about adding graphics to your e-learning designs, which can significantly improve learning. But there’s more to that than simple visual embellishments—graphics need to be relevant, or they can do more harm than good. The challenge is to find appropriate graphics. And more often than not, we don’t have the time to source the right ones, or the budget to buy them.


Consider this: in a previous job at a power company, the courses I built often referred to technical and safety equipment you can’t find on stock photo sites—at least none that I’ve ever seen. (Coal pulverizer anyone?) One particularly frustrating day, my colleague and I wondered if we could build them ourselves. He fired up MS Paint (don’t laugh) and came up with these pictograms, which are simple representations of real objects:

 


From there, we found more and more ways to adapt these characters. We combined simple shapes to build forklifts, cranes, and other elements for our courses.  

 

Fortunately, you don’t have to be an artist to make these pictograms work. By combining a collection of simple shapes with a little imagination, it’s amazingly simple to create your own graphics.


Need a character? Just grab a circle and a few rounded rectangles to get started.

 

Need them posed a certain way? Or wearing some safety equipment? Just add a couple more shapes, then size and rotate them until you have what you need.

 

Your images don’t need to be fancy or complicated to be effective. The whole reason to include them is to communicate your ideas in the simplest way possible. As long as they get your ideas across to others, they are good enough.

 

Any tool that lets you create and combine simple shapes will work. The video below shows a few useful PowerPoint tips to help you create your own characters and other graphics.

 

View video tutorial.


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If you’d like to take a look at the examples I showed in the video, you can grab a copy here.


There are a lot of other ways to create your own graphics in PowerPoint. So what are you waiting for? Download some examples and give it a try!


If you’re already creating your own graphics, why not share them with other e-learning pros? We’d love to see what you’ve done!


Post written by Mike Taylor

 


 

For more e-learning tips, examples, and downloads, follow us on Twitter. And don’t forget to post your questions and comments in the forums! We’re here to help.

 

 

 

35 comments so far

User Rank Bruce Graham

7,203 posts

Posted Monday, March 03, 2014 at 4:35 AM

Great post :)

These "icon style" characters also stop all the arguments around "...that person does not look real", or "...can't that person look more old/young/whatever".

Love that simplicity, and it focusses attention on the message more.

Wonderful stuff.

User Rank Mike Taylor

909 posts

Posted Monday, March 03, 2014 at 6:12 AM

Thanks Bruce! That is a great point and another nice benefit of these I hadn't thought of.

User Rank Bruce Graham

7,203 posts

Posted Monday, March 03, 2014 at 6:16 AM

I se it as another manifestation of "flat design", (I think....). People get too caught up in getting the "right" image, so I have ben using simplified icon-esque people images for a couple of years now. Makes the design and acceptance so much simpler. Love the way you show that you also do not need to have a huge suite of design software to make images that work.

User Rank Mike Taylor

909 posts

Posted Monday, March 03, 2014 at 6:21 AM

I'm with you Bruce. Makes me thing of something I read about how having constraints (like lack of software, etc etc) can sometimes actually help you be more creative. Plus if it's good enough to effectively communicate what you want it too what are you buying with the additional time and money spent on making "higher fidelity" images? They aren't for everything but sometimes simple can be pretty good option.

Cary Glenn

195 posts

Posted Monday, March 03, 2014 at 9:55 AM

Those are nice graphics. Graphic creation is one of the next skills I really need to improve.

I used to work for a Power/Utility company and now I work for a crane company so this example is relevant to me personally.

User Rank Jeff Kortenbosch

1,012 posts

Posted Monday, March 03, 2014 at 12:42 PM

Great example Mike! I'm from the 'Less is more' school so I'm totally digging this!

Guy Martin

6 posts

Posted Monday, March 03, 2014 at 2:20 PM

First time I've posted here.  This is useful and something I can start doing straight away.

Thanks for a great article!

Nicole Boswell

16 posts

Posted Tuesday, March 04, 2014 at 7:55 AM

I love this! Thanks for sharing. Not all of us can figure out the pen tool in Adobe ;)

(Oh the frustration!!!)

gina orozco

11 posts

Posted Tuesday, March 04, 2014 at 8:12 AM

I work in the auto industry and its really hard to find good images that are not business or medical oriented. I'm going to play around with this technique and see if I can't create some auto mechanics for my courses.  

Nancy Matheny

22 posts

Posted Tuesday, March 04, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Thanks, Mike! So useful and inspiring. It's great to be able to go under the hood and see how you pieced together the different characters and elements.

Susan Lareau

23 posts

Posted Tuesday, March 04, 2014 at 3:25 PM

What a great idea! Thanks very much.

Laura M

106 posts

Posted Thursday, March 06, 2014 at 8:21 AM

These are great - thank you for sharing! I have a safety training that needs updating and the terrible clip art graphics are going to be the first thing to go.  I am going to think about putting together some characters like this for both customization and consistency.

User Rank Mike Taylor

909 posts

Posted Friday, March 07, 2014 at 2:12 AM

Thanks guys I'd love to see what you come up with. It is always cool to see what ideas and cool things others create! 8-)

Paul Alders

230 posts

Posted Monday, March 10, 2014 at 4:02 AM

Thanks for sharing Mike, after I watched your tutorial I was able to create my own eBird.

www.pinterest.com/.../568298046701014628

Thanks

Laura M

106 posts

Posted Monday, March 10, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Okay, this is not nearly as complex as the adorable owl Paul shared, but this was my first attempt at tweaking one of these characters to use in an upcoming safety training.  I work for a company with a lot of production and laboratory workers, so we see a lot of lab coats and PPE around these parts:  drive.google.com/.../edit

It seems to look fine once it's downloaded, but the preview in Google Drive looks a little funky.  

User Rank Mike Taylor

909 posts

Posted Monday, March 10, 2014 at 6:11 AM

Thanks for sharing Laura! I really like it...I think you've got the makings of a very nice lab worker there! No we'll just have to give him a name! 8-)

Jessica Huber

37 posts

Posted Monday, March 10, 2014 at 2:36 PM

So glad I saw this post - LOVE it.

Here's my guy - not finished yet, but I was excited that he came out so well so far! :)

drive.google.com/.../edit

User Rank Mike Taylor

909 posts

Posted Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 2:48 AM

Thanks for sharing Jessica! That is so cool...now he just needs some PINK! 8-)

Paul Alders

230 posts

Posted Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 4:01 AM

Laura - Great job...I love the idea how you combined Tim's tutorial with your own work field.

Jessica - Love it...I always watched the episodes of the Pink Panter....Now I can use him in an elearning course. Thanks for sharing!

Jessica Huber

37 posts

Posted Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 9:01 AM

Mike - no, thank YOU for sharing. This inspired me to solve my problem of trying to find a Pink Panther image :) And here he is in pink and black now :)

drive.google.com/.../edit

Paul - thanks :) He's always been one of my favorites too! He's going to fit nicely in a fraud training I'm working on :)

Mohammad Hassam

76 posts

Posted Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 3:09 AM

Great Video especially the points. This was  very new to me Thanks MIke.

User Rank Jeff Kortenbosch

1,012 posts

Posted Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 5:02 AM

Love how everybody start showing their Characters! Brilliant!

Mary Cropp

26 posts

Posted Friday, March 14, 2014 at 12:35 PM

Thanks! Mike's post and other posted examples inspired me to create a simple eye bank specific graphic using PPT - meet  a friendly cornea (still in progress.) drive.google.com/.../edit

Paul Alders

230 posts

Posted Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 2:27 AM

Here is my next example. I designed this for my entry of this week e-learning challenge.

www.pinterest.com/.../568298046701081877

Paul Alders

230 posts

Posted Friday, March 21, 2014 at 10:14 AM

Here is my next free to use shape-graphic More poses to come! www.pinterest.com/.../568298046701107206

User Rank Mike Taylor

909 posts

Posted Friday, March 21, 2014 at 10:47 AM

I love it Paul...can't wait to see what might be next?! 8-)

Paul Alders

230 posts

Posted Friday, March 21, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Thanks Mike

This experimenting with shapes really starts to be addictive ;)

Edie Egwuonwu

8 posts

Posted Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 9:07 AM

Something I did recently.. (Hope this is ok) I took one of the photographic characters from the character bundle in a pose I liked... I wanted the person to be just a "grey face" so I adjusted the brightness and it turned the photo into precisely that. It gave it a photo feel without the character specific constraints. Worked really well for me.  

It isn't quite the same as the original concept here but thought I'd throw it out there.

Jeff Zoller

2 posts

Posted Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 10:57 AM

I think it's funny that he used MSPaint! Simple solutions - simple tools!

User Rank Mike Taylor

909 posts

Posted Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 1:06 PM

That guys is good! The coolest thing is that with a little creativity even the simplest of tools can get the job done! 8-)

Posted Monday, July 28, 2014 at 10:11 AM

hmmm...if I post 2x it's because I got a page not found when I submitted. Anyway, as I was saying, I've made a bunch of my own images in PPT using a source image that I like as a pattern in PPT. Works well...but people are harder. Tx SO much for the PPT. Great Resource!