For new e-learning developers trying to learn the ropes or even e-learning pros without a graphic design background, the idea of designing the visual aspects of your e-learning course might be super-intimidating. If you're feeling crippled by some imposter syndrome, it's no wonder! Your course’s visual design is very important; it's how you’ll support its great instructional design—and bring concepts to life for your learners. When your visual design is on point, your courses look and feel more credible, relevant, and inviting to your learners, and your visuals support your learner’s ability to comprehend the training content. That makes adding strong visual design to your skillset an e-learning career necessity.
So if you’re someone who’s been working hard to try and build your visual design skills, you might be wondering: is it possible to fake it ’til you make it?
I think the short answer is yes.
Two good starting points for building your visual design skills are Allison LaMotte’s article 5 Graphic Design Mistakes Newbies Make and How to Avoid Them and David Anderson’s article 3 Essential Visual Design Concepts. And in this article, I’ll share a few simple ways you can create more professional-looking e-learning—right now—while you’re still building your visual design skills. With my tips, you’ll look like an e-learning design pro … even if some of your skills are still a work in progress.
#1: Use Templates
When the course you’re creating doesn’t require a ton of custom interactivity, the easiest way to create it is with Rise 360. Better still: start creating your course from a customizable Rise 360 course template. Just grab a Rise 360 template on a related topic and then pop in your content. Not only are Rise 360 templates a nice instructional design time-saver, they also prevent you from stressing out over your visual design choices. That’s because all the lessons in each template include beautiful hi-res images selected by visual design pros to support the topics being covered.
But what if you need to build a course with more custom interactivity in Storyline 360? Just because your project needs to be customized doesn’t mean you have to start from a blank canvas. Templates can help you here, too!
With Content Library 360 templates, you can kick-start the course-building process by choosing from a variety of prebuilt slide layouts. All Content Library 360 slides are designed with plenty of white space (more on that in a moment) to make your content easier for learners to read and absorb. And with slide templates designed for building scenarios, interactions, media, quizzing, and more you’ll find loads of different layouts you can mix and match—many with beautiful, professionally sourced visuals, icons, and characters that can adapt to almost any topic. Best of all, because Content Library 360 templates are built using design themes, they’re easy to customize with your own design theme colors and fonts.
To learn more about working with Rise 360 templates, check out How I Created an Information Security Course in No Time Flat with Rise 360 Templates.
And to grab a few pro tips on working with Content Library 360 templates, don’t miss 3 Time-Saving Tips for Customizing Content Library 360 Templates.
#2: Get Comfortable with Using White Space
White space, or negative space, is the space between layout elements like the buttons, images, or paragraphs or columns of text on your slide. And to be clear, white space doesn’t have to be the color white; it can be whatever color your slide or background color is.
The point of white space is to create some visual breathing room on your slides so they’re not too overwhelming or distracting for your learner to parse. For example, adjusting line spacing to add a little more white space around text can make your content more legible and improve reading comprehension, as you can see in the examples below.
The important thing to know about using white space, is that it’s all about helping your learners see what’s most important so they know where to focus their attention.
#3: Stick to a Limited Color Palette
Sometimes branding guidelines encompass a large assortment of approved colors you can work with. This might seem like a blessing at first, but it can quickly lead to design paralysis when you’re not sure which colors really work well together.
When there are too many colors in your course it not only looks busy, but it also creates confusion for your learners. Should they click on that image, since it’s outlined in blue, like a hyperlink? Should they focus on that green button? Or should they look first at the bright yellow box with text? What about that bright pink accent text at the top?
That’s why I always recommend that folks who aren’t comfortable with visual design stick to a limited color palette of one, two, or maybe three colors at most. Restraining your color palette might seem frustrating at first, but it helps you get the hang of working with color hue and saturation, as well as contrast and emphasis, so you can learn to direct your learner’s attention more deliberately.
One easy idea to try this is to use a sophisticated grayscale palette with a punchier accent color, like in this free PowerPoint download pictured below.
No matter the color palette you decide to use, here’s one more pro tip: use the same color palette on every slide. People are pattern-seekers, and they associate meaning with colors, so once you’ve established a color pattern (for example, that green rounded rectangles are always clickable buttons), you don’t want to disrupt that pattern by changing rounded rectangle buttons to a different color on each slide.
#4: Create Visual Cohesion by Customizing the Course Player
While you’re busy perfecting the visual design of your slides, it’s easy to forget about customizing the course player! But just a few small adjustments to the course player can make it blend more seamlessly with your slides for a more modern look and feel.
The modern course player option (the default option in Storyline 360) comes in two themes: a light theme or a dark theme, and you can add an accent color to complement these themes. I like to use the same accent color from my slides as my player accent color, just to tie the slides and the player together. For instance, if your slide designs and color themes are light-colored, try using the light player theme with the same accent color from your slides to give your project a fresh look, like this:
And if your slide designs are darker, try using the dark-themed player with your slide’s accent color to give it a sleek look, like this:
Whichever way your visual design leans, light or dark, taking the time to choose a player theme that complements it, and then carrying over the slide accent color to the player, will help make your design look intentional and feel more professional.
You can learn more about working the course player settings in this article from our user guide, Storyline 360: Working with the Player.
#5: Apply the Same Artistic Treatments to Every Image
While we’re on the topic of visual cohesion, one of the easiest ways to create it is to apply the same artistic treatment to all of your images. Start by choosing similar types of images. In other words, avoid a mix of illustrations and photos, like this:
And instead choose all of one or the other, like this:
Finally, make sure your images share characteristics, like a similar shape, scale/size, and cropping, and similar color treatments, borders, and effects.
For example, in the “Before” example below, you can see how busy the slide feels with a mix of images and illustrations of different colors and dimensions. The “After” version feels much more cohesive—just by sticking with all grayscale images presented in the same aspect ratio and size.
Wrapping It Up
If some of these pointers seem way too simple for you, you’re probably a much stronger e-learning design pro than you give yourself credit for. Go you!
But if you found these ideas helpful, that’s great news too! I hope the ideas and resources in this article have you feeling less like an e-learning design imposter—and a little more like an e-learning design pro.
Did you enjoy learning about this topic? Do you want to delve deeper into the fun and nerdy world of visual design for e-learning? We’ve got you covered! Here are some related articles from the E-Learning Heroes archives to check out:
Eager to try something you learned here, but haven’t got around to checking out Articulate software? Go ahead and sign up for a free 60-day trial of Articulate 360. Remember to come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on the latest e-learning tips and tricks.