Thursday, September 10, 2015

10 ways bad GRAPHICS can ruin online learning

Bad graphics abound on the web and in online learning. In practice, it’s often an awkward affair with iteration after iteration, but get the art direction and graphics right and your programme will be lauded and be a better learning experience. All too often this process is fraught with far too many iterations and conflicts, so here’s some tips on smoothing that ride and reducing the number of iterations.
1. Avoid gratuitous graphics
The famous BBC editing course warned editors of doing ‘Lord Privy Seal‘ editing – showing a picture of a Lord, then a toilet then a seal. The tendency to shove up any old, stock photo or graphic to vaguely reflect the accompanying text is an absolute plague in online learning. Think in instructional terms and try to use a ‘relevant’ image, graphic, diagram, graph, quote; anything but illustrative wallpaper.
2. Be wary of cartoon candy
Online learning courses are often let down with inappropriate art direction. Too many go down the easy route of ‘cartoon-candy’.  Unless it is some sort of clever adult parody and you have the skills and budget to do a ‘Simpsons’ of Family Guy’ think carefully before you start down this route. Adult, even school-age, audiences often find this form of communication condescending, even patronising.
3. Consistent palette
Art direction is precisely that – an art, so get your palette sorted. A good palette will calm the learner, focus attention and present a consistent learning experience. A good graphic artist should be able to present a limited but relevant palette, with complementary colours. Stick to it.
4. Consistent navigation
It’s always tempting for the graphic artist to go off on flights of fancy when it comes to navigation. But the well-researched rule is that you should stick to classic, conventional and consistent positioning and icons. Learning programmes should not place an unnecessary burden on the learning process by confusing learners with fanciful navigation.
5. Still waters run deep
Just because you can flip, animate, tumble, grow and generally bugger about with graphic images, doesn’t mean you should. In fact, in general in learning programmes, avoid these fancy effects. They’re a cognitive distraction. The worst are little animated icons that constantly move when you’re trying to read the nearby text, then there’s the horrific transition madness as the screen explodes like a firework every time you simply move on. Keep calm and think of the learner. Still waters run deep.
6. Readability
Pay attention to readability. Online learning should not make reading difficult., so think about width of columns, text colour, background colour, maximum amount of text within a box. When it comes down to it – being able to read easily is better than looking good – every time.
7. No text on complex background
To be very specific - do NOT put text on top of a picture or complex graphic. It makes the text damn difficult to read and that is a bad thing in learning. Text should be against a plain background, one that gives high contrast. Research has shown that the best readability results come from black text on a white background. Mess with this rule at your cost.
8.  Proximate labels
Mayer’s research showed that labels and text that are distant from the graphic or item within a graphic that they refer to, reduces retention and recall. Put your labels and relevant text next to what it is meant to reference. Sounds obvious but it’s a rule that’s often broken.
9. DON’T let graphic artists enter text
This may sound odd but it will chime with every project manager and interactive designer who has spent more than a month in the job. Graphic artists are talented but so are writers and interactive designers. Here’s a rule. Never allow a graphic artist to type in a word, phrase or caption. Make them cut and paste from a text file – even single words. Why? You will save untold amounts of unnecessary corrective iterations, angst and loss of faith. Note that the converse is also true, writers creating graphics.
10. Graphics and team
Graphic production is always iterative, so sit your graphic artist within the team or at least next to the project manager, writer or interactive designer. Someone who can meld the learning experience, reduce errors (iterations) and get the optimal look and feel for the programme without compromising the learning.
Good graphics are never easy. It needs skilled artists and the ability to execute a look and feel that is attractive. Let professionals do their job. Nevertheless, in online learning, the ‘learning’ should take precedence, so don’t let fanciful graphics hinder or overwhelm the learning experience. One last, thought, rules are rarely absolute. They can also be broken!
More in this series:
10 bloody good reasons for using much-maligned text in online learning 
10 essential online learning writing tips & psychology behind them 
10 essential points on use of (recall not recognition) open-responsequestions
10 sound pieces of advice on use of AUDIO in online learning 

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