The Power of Aesthetics for Instructional Design

E-learning design guru Connie Malamed shows why aesthetics are important to L&D materials and how to start improving your designs.

Published on 1 March, 2016 | Last modified on 20 April, 2023
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By Connie MalamedAuthor and e-Learning Coach

How much time do you spend on the visual design of your instructional materials? How often do you check whether learners find your products visually appealing? If you disregard the aesthetic dimension of learning experiences, you are throwing away a powerful opportunity to enhance learning and to convey your message.

Humans have a natural capacity to experience pleasure from beauty. People find enjoyment in breathtaking landscapes, exquisite architecture and expressive paintings. Why not try to evoke this aesthetic pleasure from every product you create? This includes products you may not immediately think of as beautiful, such as online courses, slides, handbooks, workbooks, manuals, and job aids.

Benefits of Visually Appealing Instructional Design

If you take the time and effort to think through the visual design of your instructional and information materials, you will create an experience that delights your learners and users. You will find that your audience is more enthusiastic and motivated when using well-designed materials than when using poorly designed ones.

But motivation is only one of the many benefits of beautifully designed materials. There are many others:

  • Captures attention

An effective visual design captures attention. The design does not need to be grand or complex. Through simplicity, clarity and focus, you can call attention to your products. And attention is the first step in the learning process.

  • Enriches perception

A well-designed product makes it easy to perceive the words and images. When you unclutter your design and remove extraneous images and text, learners are more likely to notice the most important information. Thus, good design enhances perception.

  • Increases comprehension

A design that focuses on clear communication uses sufficient white space (the space between elements). This gives the eyes somewhere to rest and it allows the design to breathe. When there is an abundance of white space, it brings clarity to the content, which can increase comprehension. 

  • Improves credibility

An attractive design can improve the perceived credibility of the person or organization sponsoring the product. Consistency is one way to achieve an aura of quality. Use repetition in the colors you choose and in the shapes you select. When you design with intention, your materials will reflect your professionalism.

  • Enhances usability

An effective design that focuses on all of the principles mentioned above, improves the usability of the materials. Usability refers to how easy or difficult a product is to use. It also refers to the degree of satisfaction or frustration that a person experiences. It is well known among usability practitioners that aesthetically pleasing products are perceived as easier to use. Thus, effective design goes a long way toward providing a delightful user experience.

How to Get Started, instructional design, e-learning

How to Get Started With Beautiful Instructional Design

The next time you create a product, include time for visual design in your project timeline. Think about white space, imagery, colors and font selection from the start, rather than as something that can be layered on at the end. Let visual language communicate your message.

Try to think like the members of your audience. What would make your instructional products pleasurable to use and easy to understand? During the design process, get feedback from audience members so you can improve your work. Learn the principles of visual design so that you can make smart choices that will benefit instruction. (See my book for learning professionals, Visual Design Solutions, for help with this.) Then design with intention. An attractive design is evidence of thoughtfulness and care. The power of aesthetics goes a long way.

About the Author

Connie Malamed is a consultant, author and speaker in the fields of online learning, visual communication, and information design. She is the author of Visual Design Solutions and Visual Language for Designers and publishes The eLearning Coach website and podcast. Connie has helped nonprofit, government, and corporate clients transform their content into interactive learning experiences for more than 20 years. She has degrees in art education and instructional design.

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