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      5 common eLearning graphic design sins

      by Erin Doherty

      elearning design

      Whether you design your own eLearning content, or you outsource to an eLearning vendor like Logicearth, there are some design sins you should look out for. Here's how to improve the graphical design of eLearning content. 

      What is a graphic design sin in eLearning?

      When designing an eLearning course, a very important aspect is the use of graphics. Graphics tend to have a very positive effect on the user, making the course more visually pleasing and therefore enhancing the learning experience.

      However, if the graphics are not presented correctly, they can have the opposite effect. As either a user of eLearning, or a designer, be on the lookout for graphic design sins. You can and should demand more from your eLearning provider. Feel free to give them a copy of this blog and share our five common graphic design sins!

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      1. Muddled meaning

      When I studied film making, we were always taught that everything in a frame must have purpose. The same can be applied to eLearning. If a graphic is placed on the page with no thought to how it contributes to the message, it probably shouldn’t be there. Irrelevant graphics can distract the user and confuse the learning experience.

      Keeping graphics relevant to what is being put across is vital.

      When a user looks at an eLearning page, or any sort of webpage, they will immediately take in all the elements and try to figure out if they enhance the key messages or confuse them. Confused graphic messages are much like sending mixed communication messages - you'll end up disengaging your recipient and lose an opportunity to influence and persuade.

      To determine how effective the design really is, next time you see a webpage or a page of an eLearning resource, ask yourself some questions:

      • Is there any part of the design you find confusing?
      • Why has this type of colour scheme been chosen?
      • What do the style of images do to help explain the key messages?
      • Is every image or design technique on the page really needed?

      2. Staggering styles/themes

      Mixing graphic styles in a course can be messy and distracting for the user. Your graphics should look like they belong together and should complement the course content. The example below shows how even when graphics are relevant to the content they do not necessarily complement each other.

      style (Image from:

      3. Nasty navigation

      Using graphics for elements such as next buttons and exit buttons, as opposed to just using text, can streamline the 'look' of a course. However, always be mindful to keep these elements consistent. If your next button graphic is green with a white arrow, make sure it stays that way throughout the course.

      This ensures that the user doesn’t have to think about what the button does as it has been established already. Muddled and confused navigation elements is a common graphic design sin.


      4. Stocky staleness

      Stock images are great for eLearning courses as they give a sense of realism. However, it is worth taking some time to choose images that are high quality and are suited to the content of the course. Using low quality, irrelevant images will only serve to make the course look unprofessional and untidy, as well as giving the user irrelevant things to look at, thus distracting them from the important content.


      There is nothing worse than cheesy, overused stock images. Take your own photos or trying different stock libraries. People aren't perfect in real life so your stock images don't need to be the parade of the beautiful people! Some alternative stock libraries to check out: istock photo - good range of realistic photographic images and visual design metaphors - one of the newer stock image sites, with a more easy-to-use layout - smaller range, with some more unusual design motifs and metaphors.

      5. Forgetting the big four

      Choosing the right colour scheme with appropriate contrasts is one of the first stages of design. Using contrast is a hugely effective way to guide the user's attention. It highlights differences, which draws the eye of the user.

      A great way to utilise contrast is to use large images next to smaller graphics and splashes of colour on a monochrome colour palette to guide the user's eye. Contrast is part of the big four of design:

      • Contrast - our brains are wired to notice difference, so decide what you want to draw the user's eye to and use contrast in colours, styles etc to facilitate this.
      • Repetition - common themes should be repeated, such as backgrounds, navigation elements, fonts etc. This brings unity, cohesiveness and makes sure all elements of the design are part of the bigger holistic design.
      • Alignment - Nothing in a design should look like it was placed randomly. Misaligned design elements makes content look like it was designed by an amateur.
      • Proximity - related items should be placed together so they are viewed as a group rather than independent elements. If a design has poor use of proximity, then it can overwhelm the user as everything can appear too 'bity'.

      Read more about the big four of design here


      The bottom line - when you look at something that is 'designed', the designer should make it easy for you to quickly figure out what is the most and least important information for you to take in. Not committing any of these 5 sins is a good way of keeping a design good and wholesome! 

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      All is forgiven - we'd love to hear from you

      What design sins have you seen recently? Feel free to send us any design nightmares using the form below. If you'd like to work with an angelic eLearning content provider, get in touch. 



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