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Visual and Information Design with Connie Malamed / by Lynn Ballas

On May 30th, Connie Malamed, known to her blog followers as the eLearning Coach, presented two very informative and timely presentations. The first, a half-day, hands-on workshop was titled “Visual and Information Design: Do it Like a Pro!” The evening presentation was titled, "Designing and Writing Apps for Performance Support.” The event was co-hosted with the NY Metro ASTD Performance Support SIG.

Connie, with degrees in Instructional Design and Art Education, is an expert in the field of online learning, visual communication, and information design. She is the author of the Instructional Design Guru app and the book, Visual Language for Designers, which presents visual design principles based on cognitive science.

Visual and Information Design: Do it Like a Pro! [workshop]

In this workshop, Connie took her participants through a review of the basic principles of visual communication and design using a blend of lecture and hands-on exercises. Connie’s aim was to give her audience members, who for the most part were not graphic artists, helpful pointers on how to evaluate, enhance, and even create graphics for technical communication and eLearning.

To begin the workshop, Connie explained that our brains are actually “hardwired” for visuals and taught us about “processing fluency.” She defined processing fluency as the “ease with which a person processes information.”

The visual clarity of content – both graphics and words – “affects the perceptual aspect of processing fluency” according to Connie.

In other words, the easier a person finds your information to visually process, the more positive a feeling that person will have toward your content. 

Research shows that we react negatively toward cluttered images, or text that is densely presented in paragraphs that are too long, or to fonts that are too small to read, or perhaps inappropriate to the subject matter, Connie said. In essence, “readers devalue the message of a visual presentation that is difficult to understand.”

Following are a few of the interactive exercises that Connie guided us through to illustrate her points.

“Enhancing Creativity: Fives”

Since the brain is hardwired for graphics, Connie challenged us to come up with nine ways to represent the quantity of five without referring to the numeral. It was good training in looking beyond the obvious for more creative ways to present information.

 In general, Connie suggested presenting information as a visual – such as a chart, a graph or a timeline.

“Organizing Space: Declutter a Layout”

Next, we put processing fluency into action to declutter a slide on workplace communication. We used the design principles of organizing space (contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity). We also used the “rule of threes” which states that an arrangement of anything (like flowers, for example) is more pleasing to the eye when done in threes. A third idea used, was to design from the inside of a space (such as a slide) out, so the observer does not experience the elements of the design as “trapped” in the space.

“Designing With Typography: Discriminating Minds”

Connie advised us to consider the following when selecting a typeface: 

  • Type of content
  • Affective state that you want to project
  • Audience
  • Medium and use

Designing and Writing Apps for Performance Support [Presentation]

During the evening’s presentation, Connie shared the wisdom she had gleaned from designing her own app, the Instructional Design Guru, which defines more than 470 terms for instructional designers.

If you are thinking about designing an app, Connie suggested looking at apps that are similar to the one you envision.

It is important to consider where your app will live. Will it be native to the phone, available through the Internet or a hybrid?

She mentioned two authoring tools worth investigating, Hot Lava Mobile and Pastiche® for the iPad.

As an app designer you will need to write specifications that detail what your app does, whom it is intended for, and the type of information it will provide.

In your functional specifications, create wireframes to convey how each screen will look, diagram the user navigation, and document the gestures that the user will make to interact with the app. You will also need to work closely with your developers in deciding the language the app will be coded in.

Another important decision to make, is where you will sell your app; through Google Play or the iTunes Store.


These are just some of the highlights of Connie’s two presentations. For more information, visit Connie’s blog, the eLearning Coach, at http://theelearningcoach.com/ or connect with her on Twitter @elearningcoach and Facebook at www.facebook.com/elearningcoach.