We recently hosted our second live Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Articulate visual designer Greg Christman. We got tons of great questions and we’d like to give a big thank you to our community members for participating. We’re recapping all of Greg’s best tips in this helpful article.
Danika Clark: How do you mix and match fonts? I struggle with choosing fonts and knowing which ones to download, there's so many and so many websites for fonts. Do you have any "go to" typefaces you recommend?
Greg Christman: As far as typefaces go, a lot of the free sites you’re going to find will have really wonky stuff. I can’t stress enough that dafont.com is a place no one should download type from (unless you need like some super-specific 8-bit display font). A great free / pay what you want resource is http://losttype.com/. I have a ton of friends that have done fonts on it and I have contributed to a few pieces for the site. When mixing and matching type I generally use sans serif type as headlines with secondary type being a serifed font ... but it’s so subjective. Sometimes a large serifed headline looks great and can make a piece feel sophisticated.
Melissa Milloway: Do you think Dribbble is a good place to post for any graphic designers? I'm not great but it would be cool to get feedback and inspiration.
Greg Christman: Dribbble is a great resource for feedback. It can sometimes be a breeding ground for designers just patting each other on the back, but its initial intent is to allow us as a community to give recommendations and show things in the beginning stages. I try to utilize it for that as much as possible.
Jackie Van Nice: Do you ever get stuck on a visual design problem and need new ideas? Where do you go for inspiration?
Greg Christman: I get stuck all the time; every designer does. It can be a super-hard thing to work through, but I've found over the years that just getting up and walking away solves it. Give it time. If you can’t get something out in the first, second, or third try, it’s probably just a block. I posted earlier about inspiration sites, but here they are again. Looking at the way others have solved design problems can be really inspiring:
Simon Blair: How can someone get started developing design skills when starting from zero?
Greg Christman: Great question. There are so many sites devoted to teaching fundamentals. You could take some courses on skillshare ... I mean, just go to YouTube, do a quick search, and you’ll find a ton of resources for entry-level design courses. I think what works best for me has been studying what others are doing or have done a long time ago. Mimicking (as long as you don’t try to claim it as your own) is a great way to learn new skill sets. Heck, half the time when I need to create a custom type piece I look at what others have done with certain letterforms. Then I try and make it my own.
David Anderson: How do you find the right design concept for each article topic? What does your process look like?
Greg Christman: I think a lot of it comes from my process of breaking things down. I’m a huge fan of icon design, which is basically just breaking something down to the quickest, easiest, most understandable representation. So I’ll generally take a word that feels the most powerful from the headline and try to work around that.
What’s the most iconic symbol for that word? What’s the general shape of it? Can I make a funny or clever spin on it to make it something else that’s in the headline? For example, for this article header—https://community.articulate.com/articles/elearning-medical-examples—I needed to convey e-learning and the medical training. It’s just a take on the medical cross symbol but with pencils.
We kind of have to work quickly on article headers, so simplicity is key.
Paul Alders: What is your opinion about using different graphic styles in one single e-learning template? For example, recently the whole world looks “flat”; is there another style of graphics that is easy to combine?
Greg Christman: I’m a huge fan of consistency. I generally want a piece to feel cohesive from start to finish. I think as a whole it makes the template feel more considered. As far as trends go ... they are ever evolving and if I could predict the next trend in design I’d probably be some kind of millionaire. Sadly, I am not. ;)
Andrea Morinetti: What is your advice for presenting different e-learning designs to a client? How many versions would you show (2-3?)?
Greg Christman: Two or three is perfect. Sometimes I get overly excited about a project and just design thirty options. The client, hands-down, will always pick the worst one. That’s why you never show a worst one (I’ve sadly made this mistake a bunch of times). When it comes to presenting, just be confident. The client can tell you are excited about something if you are legitimately excited about it … that goes a long way. Also, speak to reasons why you chose certain things. You made those choices because you felt they were right.
Tracy Parish: I'm curious to know what fonts might be the ones that are your steadfast and true ones to use. I know that it all can come down to the item/piece you are designing for, but are there ones that are always in your go-to bucket?
Greg Christman: Buying type can be super expensive. You can never fail with Helvetica. http://losttype.com/ is a great resource for free well designed type. And if you’re looking for a cheap display font, http://tendollarfonts.com/ is great. Also here is pretty much every free font on behance: https://www.behance.net/collection/4860923/Free-Fonts
Just promise me you never use Comic Sans. For anything. Ever. Not even as a joke.
CJ Andrew: Can you offer your opinions about how design could be used to guide and/or communicate the e-learning process better? What kinds of strategies or tactics would one (e.g., a newcomer to graphic design) apply for more effective visual communication?
Greg Christman: Simplicity... or, as my old design professors used to yell from the mountaintop, “KISS: Keep it simple, stupid.” The whole point of graphic design is to convey a message as easily as possible to the viewer. I think that goes a long way with education as well. The more you add in and junk it up the harder it’s going to be to focus on the subject of the course. Simple colors, simple shapes, and a clear message.
Jeff Kortenbosch: How do you go from designing a single graphic element into a consistent and complete style? How do you find the key elements that define that style?
Greg Christman: I LOVE making mood boards first. http://www.gomoodboard.com/ is a great tool for compiling images and resources from around the web to show the general style you are thinking of going with a project. When a project first comes to me and it’s more expansive than a singular image, I like to get buy-off first from the client. It’s always so frustrating when you just start working and show a ton of progress only to have it killed because you went down the wrong stylistic approach. So, I generally compile some things I like and how I can see the project being designed, get feedback on that, and design a single page. Once that’s approved you just go for it and have fun on the rest!
I hope you found this recap helpful! Feel free to head on over to the discussion to have a look at all of the questions and answers that were posted! And feel free to tune in later this month for our third AMA with Trina Rimmer about project management for e-learning!
If you have feedback or questions, we’d love to hear them in the comments below. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for the latest e-learning advice, tips, and tricks.