art_suppliesBeauty is in the eye of the beholder and a rose by any other name…should be placed in the diminish zone. Confusing? Understanding how the eye perceives and tracks information on a canvas has become an essential skill because so much of what we present has to be interesting, engaging, and relevant to our audience. All too often, we see training samples that are cluttered with text and devoid of any effective visual treatment to aid with the learning process—put down the mouse and step AWAY from the clip art, dear readers! In examples such as these, too much is left to the imagination of the audience. 

We don’t have to be a graphic design experts to design effective visuals for our learning materials as long as we follow some basic formatting and visual design principles.

In the spirit of enhancing the visual appeal of your training and increasing its overall effectiveness, let’s quickly review three basic, proven visual design techniques:

Technique #1:  Text Formatting
There are some simple formatting guidelines to help our audience track what’s important while they consume our training materials. They are:

  • White Space: As trainers, we believe everything is important and must be written down, resulting in single pages with far too much information. Trying to fit War and Peace onto a single page creates visual “clutter” for our audience and makes the information difficult to understand. A simple rule is to increase the amount of white space we use and eliminate the clutter.
  • Headings: Headings provide visual cues and organize information into logical “chunks.” Headers can pace our audience and enhance their ability to interpret the information.
  • Bolding: The use of bold text is often overdone (see what I did there?), thereby diminishing its ability to underscore critical information. But when used consistently and in a meaningful way, bold text can be powerful for emphasizing and directing our audience to key points, words, and phrases. 
  • Bullet Points: The use of bullet points should carefully balance efficiency and understanding. It’s always in our best interest to be efficient in how we communicate information because we know our audience (typically adult learners) has a limited attention span. Using bullet points helps with more effective and organized communication.

Technique #2:  Screen Design – PARC
There are four screen design principles considered to be absolutely fundamental, and they can be remembered by the acronym P – A – R – C.

  • P – Proximity: The grouping of related items helps organize information and reduce “clutter.” Have you noticed a theme yet? Clutter is bad. It is the enemy of effective training. It once stole my child’s lunch money. And it hates freedom. Show it no mercy.
  • A – Alignment: The arrangement of items so that invisible lines or borders are created establishes visual connections with other elements on the screen. 
  • R – Repetition: The repetition of visual elements throughout our designs creates continuity and serves as a visual smack upside the head of our audience. In other words, it can grab their attention.
  • C – Contrast: If two items are not exactly the same, then make them very different. By creating contrast, we create visual interest. Create contrast by using different colors, sizes, fonts, etc. as long as it draws attention to the important information.

Technique #3:  Real Estate
It’s important to understand how the four visual zones of a canvas (or “real estate”) impact how information is tracked visually by our audience.

  1. Premium Zone: The upper-left and center parts of the canvas are considered Premium real estate. As the name suggests, these zones are the most important because the eye catches them first and lingers. 
  2. Neutral Zone: The lower-left and upper-right corners are Neutral zones. These zones neither emphasize nor diminish our content as most of our audience’s attention will be focused on the Premium real estate.
  3. Diminish Zone: The lower-right corner is the Diminish zone. This is where decorative elements that could diminish our content should be placed. To be clear, I’m not referring to clip art when I say decorative elements. In fact, International Visual Design Law 44, section F, paragraph 6 expressly forbids clip art from entering ANY zone.
  4. Unobtrusive Zone: The borders are considered Unobtrusive or not easily noticed. We would not want to place key information in this zone.

In closing, these three formatting techniques, when used together, can significantly improve the way our audience perceives, learns and remembers key information. When we apply them consistently, we can create engaging, memorable, and clutter-free learning experiences.

To view a selection of our learning course samples, visit our Orgwide Samples and Client Testimonials.

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