Make Helpful Images Not Just Beautiful Ones

Make Helpful Images Not Just Beautiful Ones

How do you balance aesthetics and helpfulness when creating videos? Diane Elkins, the Co-owner of Artisan E-Learning and E-Learning Uncovered joins The Visual Lounge to discuss.

Diane is a national e-learning expert. She helps people create courses they can be proud of — and visual aids play a big part. It’s not simply about creating visuals that look great. They also have to be purposeful, offer value, and complement the rest of your content.

For the yes’s, maybes, and absolutely-nots of creating visual content that gets the message across, watch the video, listen to the podcast episode, or keep reading.

The role of visuals in e-learning

What makes good or bad e-learning?

That’s a popular debate in the L&D community, and while it doesn’t just boil down to visuals, they play a huge role.

First, it’s important to note that “good visuals can’t fix bad training content.” Before you consider adding visuals, double-check that your content can hold its own and deliver value to its target audience.

As L&D professionals, the aim is to put information in people’s hands, so that they know how to do their jobs better. That should be the driving force, not pretty images, and mind-blowing graphics.

Conversely, if your training material looks bad, that could ultimately inhibit learning.

You could have the best content in the world, but if it's in the wrong package, people won't listen to you. - Diane Elkins

Anything from clashing colors to unreadable fonts and even complex diagrams can halt your message in its tracks. In most cases, people learn better when there are simpler design elements at play.

However, remember that while learning is the key aim, it’s not the end of the road. You want your audience to adopt and apply your message where it’s relevant. If your message is presented in a sub-par package, people may take it in, but they’ll be wary of applying it.

Things to consider when creating visuals

Within Diane’s framework, there are three levels of professionalism for creating visuals:

  1. Simple
  2. Average
  3. “Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful!”

For the most part, it’s OK to stay at the simple level, and if you’re not a trained professional, it’s highly advised.

Besides the levels, you should also consider the three-font, three-color rules. You’ll rarely need to use more than three colors — dark, light, and an accent. In terms of the font, you just need one for the heading, another for the body, and an accent.

It’s equally a good idea to avoid mixing patterns unless you really know what you’re doing.

Bottom line: less is more when it comes to combining design elements, so keep it simple.

Guard against going overboard with graphics

It all points to the driving force behind your content.

If the main concern is how “cool” your work will look, then you’ve missed the mark. To conquer this “aesthetics-first” mindset, Diane recommends changing the prompts in your head.

Rather than thinking things like:

  • What should my slides say?
  • What should my bullets say?
  • What image should I add?

Use prompts like:

  • What visual aid will help me get my message across?
  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • What visual will help me accomplish my goal?

Basically, this ensures that you’re not predisposing your answer, but picking the best-suited design element for your content. This mindset shift will help you stay on track and focus on what’s important and helpful.

Is your content helpful?

Whether it’s visual or textual, it’s important to ask yourself whether your content is helpful. Sure, it can be cool or flashy but is it serving any other purpose?

If the answer to that question is ‘no’ then the first thing to do is to look back at your content. Especially when it’s conceptual information, you really need to look back at why you’re putting it together in the first place. Why? Well, conceptual information is a lot harder to illustrate and you may fall into the trap of decorating it instead.

So, if your content is in this category, take a look at it and ask yourself if it’s actually being helpful. Can someone easily pick out practicable tips from this content? How would they use this visual?

Helpful tip: analogies can help you create great visuals, so lean into those when you hit a brick wall.

How to combine visuals with analogies

Your slides should make no sense without you - they aid your message, they aren't your message. - Diane Elkins

You have a great analogy to ease into your training material. How do you incorporate it in a way that doesn’t inhibit the message?

According to Diane, the answer lies in telling the analogy first. But why does the order matter? Let’s say your topic is patience and your analogy is about a tortoise. It wouldn’t make sense to pop a picture of a tortoise on the first slide. People are going to wonder why they’re looking at a tortoise.

Start off with the story, add your visual, then explain how they work together.

There are tons of ways to ensure that your visuals are adding value to your content. Check out TechSmith Academy to learn more!

Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. In this role speaks and teaches about video creation and visual communication. A graduate of Indiana University he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr

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