In the world of eLearning, good visual design should go hand in hand with good writing - when they are both attuned to each other, they greatly improve the overall learning experience. But what does good visual design look like? How does one approach it?
To answer these and other questions of a similar nature, we sat down with Alice Piotrowska, a Visual Designer at SwissVBS, to get insight into her world, ask about her process and see what sorts of things she considers when approaching a new topic all while working within a broader team of writers, illustrators and media developers.
Interview with Alice Piotrowska
How do you typically approach a new digital learning course?
Alice: A digital learning experience requires a well thought out “blueprint” that requires one to consider numerous details before beginning the visual design and media process. The first thing I think about is the audience. Who are the learners? Are they used to a specific style of learning? We also can’t forget the client’s needs. Is there a specific concept that they would like their audience to primarily focus on? If yes, this concept will become the base of the module and will be highlighted in the media. The visuals work in harmony with the audio narration to truly emphasize the importance of that concept. Lastly, you can never neglect the tonal qualities of a module. By reading the script, does the language appear light-hearted and casual? Or does it have a stern undertone to it that needs to be accounted for? These are the just a few questions that I try to keep in mind when approaching a new digital learning course.
How do you determine the design look and feel?
Alice: Often times, this is an area that can be really fun to explore. To begin with, I think about the budget and scope and what can be accomplished with the amount set out for the project. Can this project allow for more detail or not? Increased production value? It’s also important to consider the subject matter and what is appropriate for the topic. For example, if it’s a technical module I tend to commit to cleaner, simpler designs that don’t suppress the fundamental information that the learner will have to concentrate on. Clarity of learning concepts is of the utmost importance here. It’s all about finding a balance between what is happening visually and the information being conveyed. If the module is overly visual and simultaneously delivering a ton of information, it will be difficult for the learner to make sense of the actual learning concepts.
How do you work with the writer, the illustrator and the animators?
Alice: We have a highly collaborative design process that is both creatively and critically engaging. Collaborating with writers, illustrators and animators always brings varied perspectives to the process that would otherwise be missed working individually. When reading through the script I like to focus on the visual directions the writers have suggested. It’s important to talk through these ideas because they can provide valuable pieces of insight that can ultimately guide the direction of more challenging screens.
When working with illustrators I trust their judgement for design and colour due to their keen sense of visual acuity on screens. I provide them with an asset list, and give them any additional instructions on specific assets that need to look a particular way for the module.
When I work with animators, I prepare a storyboard and spreadsheet with the following layout: Screen #s, Audio, Interactive Exercises, Visual Directions, Screen Text, Voice Talent(s) used per Screen, New Assets per Screen and feedback. This helps keep us all in alignment, and also keeps the Project Manager happy. My working relationship with animators is very close due to the nature of the work itself. Bringing illustrations to life can be quite difficult without clear directions and communication. I often find that taking the extra time to draw out screens helps guide animators in creating an animation that is relatively close to what was envisioned for the client.
What are the different styles of visual designs you use and how do you determine which one is best for a given topic?
Alice: The styles of visual design I use are all strongly related to the brand of the organization. For example, if the brand is known to target younger audiences and often resorts to using more sleek and modern graphic design, then a contemporary minimal aesthetic is applied to the learning module. As well, if projects are not entirely technical and can be pushed more conceptually, I’m all for it. Giving new meaning to shapes or objects can encourage the learner to think in a way they might not be used to, which can bring a contrasting interest to the project. Sometimes it’s better for the visual designs to not depict exactly what the audio says. It is its own medium for a reason.
What do you do to make sure that more dry and or complex topics are still visually engaging?
Alice: Dry and complex topics often don’t allow for a lot of creative freedom, but at the same time, offer unique opportunities for how to tackle tricky topics. In instances where modules are more technical and resemble PowerPoint slide decks, the best method I find to be more engaging is through the use of fluid transitions. When a screen transitions to the next screen effortlessly and is more advanced than a regular pan to the right, it can be much more interesting to the eye. Playing around with dimension in your transitions, cloning items or just parenting them with others are a few ways to create visual interest out of a dry subject matter. A great link to learn more about transitions is: https://medium.com/ux-in-motion/creating-usability-with-motion-the-ux-in-motion-manifesto-a87a4584ddc
What is one project you have worked on that you really liked and why?
Alice: The one project I really enjoyed working on was a course on diversity and inclusion. It involved three biases that we all experience in our everyday lives: affirmation, benevolent and confirmation bias. I learned a lot from this project since it forced me to think of solutions for a very challenging subject matter. I had to ensure I wasn’t being biased while storyboarding or writing visual directions for the animation. How do you represent a “typical manager?” or someone who is often discriminated against? I resorted to a completely conceptual approach, using simple objects and shapes to get the message across. The creative freedom that resulted from such a restricted unbiased starting line was very satisfying.
What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
Alice: I would say the most rewarding part of my work is being able to see the end result of my ideas coming to life. Since I don’t actually create any specific end media but map out the vision for illustrators and animators to follow, it’s really rewarding to see how the project is finalized with my direction. Our production flow is a highly collaborative process. It’s incredibly rewarding to the see the final product and to have clients be proud of what we all created together. I find that my work helps guide my personal and professional growth as a person.