The Essential Guide to Minimalist Design for E-Learning
It’s the spare designs we remember most. The graceful spire of the Washington Monument, the terse language of Ernest Hemingway, even the bold typography and simple lines of the label on a can of tomato soup (you know the one)—they leave lasting impressions on us because of their artful use of only a few elements.
The best e-learning does the same.
Using a minimalist design approach in your e-learning can help learners focus on and then remember what they really need to know and do. Following a few simple design principles can also help you determine what elements are truly necessary to tell your story.
Let’s walk through these design principles and some considerations to keep in mind for embracing a minimalist design aesthetic in your e-learning.
You’ll often see black-and-white schemes employed in minimalist designs. That’s because color contrast is a great start. After all, you should already be using high-contrast colors to make your designs dyslexia-friendly.
But using high-contrast colors is just the beginning. You can also use contrasting elements, like a large feature image or a graphic paired with smaller text. Both are a great way to draw focus and make your content stand out.
For instance, in the Rise 360 image and text block below, you can see the impact of contrasting a dominant image on the left with smaller text on the right. If you try to make the text fill the same space as the image, you’re left with a crowded-looking design. Keeping the text a little smaller than the associated image creates more harmony.
One important principle of minimalist design is to “use one less element than you want to.” The same goes for color. The inclination when creating minimalist designs is to rely more on color to make elements stand out and relay importance. This can lead to a lot of visual clutter.
Instead of a traditional four-color palette, trim it to just two. If you want to really challenge yourself, use a single hue. It will unify the look of your course and immediately give it a sense of cohesion.
The one exception here is if you want to draw the learner’s attention to a certain point. Using a pop of contrasting color has even more impact when the rest of your training uses a limited palette. Check out this article for a great example of this idea (and a link to a free PowerPoint download).
Don’t underestimate the power of white space. It’s important to leave “breathing space” around your design elements to give your learners a visual break. This is easy to conceive, but harder to put into practice.
Research can take over a project and turn the most well-intentioned “quick introductory” course into a 100-slide behemoth. But then, when you try to cram all that information into a shorter course, you need every single millimeter of space.
Take sensitivity training, for instance. There is no lack of studies, infographics, research papers, testimonials, and thoughtful quotes to support the topic. And all of it seems vital. So you try to cram everything you can into a single slide.
But what if, instead, you gave the content space to breathe and presented things one at a time? You get a course that people can digest bit by bit instead of all at once. Let’s look at the same content, built in Rise 360.
Another option is to take a step back and consider what your training would look like with one less element. Clicking through your course screen by screen, ask yourself: does everything in my course serve a purpose? If not, it probably needs to go.
If you’re cutting down on text, you might be inclined to add more images and graphics to fill the space. After all, if a picture says a thousand words, then five or six images are equivalent to a dissertation, right? But add too many and you’ll end up with a visual cacophony that confuses and overwhelms your learners.
Using just a single major visual element, even if you don’t necessarily need one to illustrate your concept, keeps the focus on what you’re trying to achieve.
That element doesn’t even have to be an image. For instance, you could use a large block of color or even a quote presented in a visually striking format (like with the Rise 360 quote block pictured below).
The goal here is to use an attention-grabbing visual to give the learner focus.
If your usual development routine is to place assets like characters and icons onto Storyline 360 slides and then “eyeball” the distances between them, you may have felt that your slides looked a little “off” or unbalanced. Why is this?
Minimalism is about using space smartly. The easiest way to make sure you have a harmonious design is to evenly space elements on a grid. It’s not a concern in tools like Rise 360, where the elements are already spaced for you. In Storyline 360 you can quickly enable a grid by pressing Shift + F9 or selecting View > Gridlines. With the grid in place, you can place your design elements in a way that makes them feel harmonious, like they’re meant to work together.
Sans serif fonts are the big winner when it comes to minimalist design. Their clean lines and simple strokes lend themselves to clear communication and striking presentation. They’re also dyslexic-friendly.
Speaking of, while you might want to use a more ornamental font to contrast with your sans serif typeface (as per the previous section on contrast), keep in mind that the more ornamental a font, the harder it is for your learners to read.
After all, the ultimate goal of a minimalist course is clear communication, so always prize readability over style.
Did you find these tips helpful? If so, we have lots more to share. Here are a few more items to add to your reading list:
- 5 Formatting Tips for Creating Dyslexia-Friendly E-Learning
- Flat Design Graphics for E-Learning
- 5 Ways to Look Like an E-Learning Design Pro (Even If You’re Not!)
- How to Use Typography to Improve Your E-Learning
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