Instruct Visually: Design Principles for Successful Learning Solutions

In a third of a second your eyes have already held a conversation with your brain about the meaning of this sentence. They spoke of word order, typography, color, grammar, and a handful of other visual elements. You brain was trying to assign meaning to the words to decide whether to keep or discard the information.

Implementing basic visual design principles increases the clarity of communicated information. Michael Zielinskie, instructional technology expert and graphic designer, will teach you the visual design principles you must consider to create successful learning solutions. 

It’s always good to know the rules before you make decisions to break them. Read Michael’s blog post and download his full guide to learn how to instruct visually.

Instruct Visually
How to Design Effective eLearning 

The instructional designer is someone who systematically creates instruction. IDs carefully consider how their target audience processes visual information. This can be difficult for instructional designers without a strong understanding of visual design principles.

Implementing basic visual design principles when designing instruction increase clarity of communicating information. However, these principles are adaptable in nature. There are times when the subject matter of instruction requires the ID to bend and break design principles for a desired effect.

It is always good to know the rules before you make decisions to break them.

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Visual Design Principles


Successfully designed instruction focuses on the learner. How does the learner interpret visual information? Instructional designers often forgo learner analysis in favor of a particular learning solution. Without a clear picture of how the audience receives information, instruction can easily fall flat. Having the ability to add animations and images to instruction does not mean they have to added. The profile of your audience should guide your decisions when determining the visual assets for instruction. Asking questions along the way is a great way to reinforce clarity.

  • Does this image complement text information presented simultaneously?
  • Does the added animation promote knowledge retention or learner engagement?
  • Does my audience need this graphic asset learn?

The answers to these questions will often surprise you. If the project budget and timeline allow, do not be afraid to replace multimedia assets you believe to be ineffective for clear communication.


Not all instructional designers are specifically trained in creation of effective multimedia assets. This can be problematic during course design and development, but the fun is in the challenge. Cast off the myth of the “stick figure fallacy.” The stick figure fallacy is the idea that because you can only draw stick figures you cannot create well designed visual assets. IDs can create dynamic and effective learning solutions without inherent artistic ability. Your ability to sketch should not influence your design decisions. Contrast, alignment, repetition, proximity, hierarchy, balance, color, and space are only a few of the design principles that can enhance content to promote learner engagement. Content storyboards can be made with simple shapes, lines, and yes: even stick figures. Rapid development platforms such as: Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, and Vyond, can make simple storyboards aesthetically pleasing. It is up to the instructional designer to assure those aesthetic choices are made deliberately.


Style decisions should be made as early as possible in design ideation. Consistency and style go hand in hand. Setting themes and visual design guidelines for instruction helps to immerse the audience. Sudden shifts in quality of images, location of information, or color decisions can confuse and clutter up the mind’s visual processing. Having too many fonts; mixtures of photographs and illustrations; or wild color choices can force the brain to work harder to distill information. IDs want to deliver information to their audience as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Applying Principles to Practice

Here are a few points to consider before diving into Vyond to create eLearning elements:

  • Will this video be effectively received by my target audience?
  • Will this video enhance my intended learning outcomes?
  • Will this video align with my current design style guidelines?

If the answer to all of the above is “yes,” then start creating! Remember to be aware of your communication, composition, and consistency decisions throughout the instructional design process. With these visual design principles in your toolbelt, you will have no problem creating dynamic learning solutions that increase learner engagement, and transfer knowledge effectively.

Download the Guide »

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