Use of Characters Seen as Unprofessional?

Feb 09, 2015

Hi All!  I am a newbie and wondered what you have seen with the use of animated characters outside of the US.  I am currently developing some international (internal process) training for my company's UK and Ireland locations and a local SME reviewer found the characters unprofessional and childish.  She is new to online training vs. in person and has never experienced that before.  Is this her personal bias or should I re-think using animated characters for training outside the US.  Thoughts?


20 Replies
D Sutton

Interesting question. I have used some of the built in characters (static ones, not animated) in my earlier training, and we're now engaged in doing some updates to create v.2. I'm looking at the characters now and thinking that they look a little amateur, but I'm having trouble envisioning what I should replace them with. Maybe images of real people would be better, or some element that relates to the overall topic or content... 


Jackson Hamner

In general my group doesn't use animated characters, usually we use images of real people, and that's because we think that having animated characters could draw the learner's attention away from the topics we are teaching. A real person blends in with out themes far better than animated ones would.

If you look through many of the courses people post on here though you'll see animated characters used very well in ways that I wouldn't think was unprofessional. So it is not a rule that animated characters are unprofessional, but some of them could be in some situations. It all depends on your who your working for and who your audience is.

Sylvia Harrell

Thank you both for your replies.  I will reconsider the use of Storyline's characters for this SME/region and see what other inexpenseive options I can find!  I have limited budget (looks like Articulate has some real people products that you can buy for $999 for a group of 8 or $299 for person in a variety of poses) but if you come up with any other options, please let me know!

Have a great day!

Steve Flowers

Hi Sylvia -

Depends on the context of use and the audience. The style of character used can also make a difference. There are advantages to using artistic characters in many situations but there will always be some folks that are conditioned with an expectation. Comics aren't just for children! But some styles of art are more child-friendly (adult-repulsive) than others:)

You might want to take a look at It's pretty cost effective for Web resolution images. Not bad for higher resolutions either. A pretty good library of photographic cutouts and backgrounds.

Georgie Hamblin

Hi Sylvia,

I think it depends to some extent on the industry and target audience. Most of my clients are in the UK and some clients (especially those in professional services) who wouldn't dream of having animated characters in one of their courses. 

That said, the best client course I've seen recently contained illustrated characters that looked like they had been drawn specifically for the course. It worked brilliantly as the course played out as a story, with the characters finding out information as they were going along. With lots of interaction built in and done to a very high standard I think almost everyone would have enjoyed the course!


Allen VanBrunt

Depends on the audience, stake-holders, and organizational culture. Sounds
like at least one SME thinks it is unprofessional.

Question: Does the local SME reviewer have final say-so on your project
reference this issue, or are there other SMEs? If so, what are their
comments on this? Did you identify the use of characters in pre-production
documents or was this the first time SMEs saw your product demos?

Try to identify this as early as possible in the design process in order to
get some guidance from the decision makers on the use of characters in your
training products is the obvious answer. You will know the answer to the
question before expending time and money going down the work path.

Make alternative recommendations to develop your project such as live
actors video or audio content to convey content. But also inform her of
the trade offs for these alternative delivery methods such as more time and
money needed for these alternatives. Usually, money and time drive the
train for developing training products.

Anna Veach

I don't have any thoughts about outside the U.S. but I did get some feedback in my own department that in one course I developed which rather "serious" content the animated characters didn't seem serious enough.

And by the way, check out eLearning Brothers website, they have tons of the cut out people and lots of templates for use in Storyline (and PPT and other platforms) and it's cheaper than the cost of the Articulate people pack. (Not a paid endorsement, just my own findings)

Bruce Graham

I use real photos from the Storyline product and from elearningart most of the time if I need people.

Alternatively, I use images from animation products, as they are "agnostic", and people see them just as visual metaphors, rather than the usual "...that does not look like our people" kind of comment.

As Georgie says, I get the best feedback from custom-drawn characters though.


Ralf  Baum

I'll agree with the argument that it really depends on company culture and also it depends on the topic.Some topics like communication skills or learning foreign languages could be visualized very good with the illustrated characters. In my opinion this is not depending on the country where you are living. Other topics would loose their „integrity“ if you use characters. Topics like „security“, „compliance“ etc. are not topics that you can cover with illustrated characters in a very easy way..

Maybe there are minor differences in the different countries but I think the topic is more important than the residence of the client.

Bruce Graham

Not so sure I agree - I think Security and Compliance are *exactly* the
sort of topics that can be lightened up.
"*Just because it is deadly serious does not mean it has to be deadly dull*
It all depends on whether it's done keeping the subject matter integrity. I
think it is the Compliance departments that think it has to be "serious"
rather than it being a limitation in how we design it.

Ralf  Baum

Hi Bruce,

but in this case it is a kind of coin flip what will happen.

Choice 1: Characters lighten up the serious topic

Choice 2: Departement says: A very serious topic needs a very serious enviroment

I think there is not really a third option existing.

But I'll agree 100% with your idea:

"I think it is the Compliance departments that think it has to be "serious"
rather than it being a limitation in how we design it. "

Nancy Woinoski

It is funny that you say this about compliance and security courses - I have a standing gig developing Security courses for a company that sells these courses to a wide range of companies (some very large and very stogy). I use illustrations and animated characters and my client has told me that the companies he sells to just love the courses. There have even been inquiries from NASA.



Bruce Graham

Nancy - that is a GREAT "war story".
I've said it before, but I will say it again. I think the whole issue of
"compliance=boring" is one that our community of IDs does not "get". Our
ROLE is to be the voice of the learner, and our RESPONSIBILITY is to
counter the people who insist that the facts speak for themselves.
Look at any learning theory, or the popular world, and no-one EVER
recommends the standard compliance style as effective. Our role is to sell
the idea that compliance IS important, and as such there are ways and means
to do it.
Yes, we may make ourselves unpopular, and yes - we may fail, but we have to
keep trying. That's our job.

Good on you for standing up against mediocrity.
Nice one :)

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