Do looks really matter?

Whether you realize it or not,  the technology we use everyday has made designers of us all. Unfortunately, not everyone has realized this nor what that means.  I get a strong sense that most people create documents, presentations, e-learning, etc  by just cramming stuff in there with little or…<gasp>.. no consideration for what it looks like.

Have you ever happened upon a document, slide deck or course that was so poorly designed that it set off alarms bells in your head? I know I’ve seen more than my fair share of these scary creations than I ever wanted to see.  Although some of these  may have some really great content they are so U-G-L-Y that I can’t force myself to take them seriously.  Sometimes I don’t even stick around to actually read or watch it.

This Stanford University study by BJ Fogg illustrates that people often pay “…far more attention to the superficial aspects of a site, such as visual cues, than to its content.” And nearly half, assessed the credibility of sites based in part on the appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size and color schemes.

This study was focused on websites but I believe there are many parallels that also apply to most other electronic content, especially elearning.

  • Design your content so it looks professional (or appropriate for your purpose)
    People subconsciously very quickly evaluate  based on visual design alone so don’t turn them off before they even get started.
  • Including links, reference, etc provide credibility
    This touches on the concept of ‘going beyond the course’
  • Show that there is someone real behind your content.
  • Make it easy to contact you
    Take a look at your course…go ahead I’ll wait….now imagine someone taking your course who finds a mistake. How can they tell you about it? What if they have a question about how to interpret something related to the course that is in one of those gray areas? How do they get advice on it? I personally believe you should NEVER publish a course with providing a means of communication/feedback.

If your interested in another really good related piece, take a look at “In Defense of Eye Candy”.

So if you want your documents, presentations and courses to be credible and trustworthy (and who doesn’t?) then the answer is yes,  looks do matter.

Now the obvious follow-up question for most of us who are not expert graphic designers is ‘What makes our designs good vs bad?’  For that I’m planning another post that will include some of my favorite resources for learning about graphic design principles that are simple and practicable. In the meantime, let me know if you have any that you’ve found helpful.

Published by Mike Taylor

Born with a life-long passion for learning, I have the great fortune to work at the intersection of learning, design, technology & collaboration.

2 thoughts on “Do looks really matter?

  1. Mike,

    I agree with your point that “perception is reality” when it comes to clients or learners assessing e-learning courses. The challenge that I have as a novice freelance e-learning developer/designer and a department of one is that I can’t be objective about the finished product. Yes, there are plenty of resources that can help me develop my visual design skills, but it’s not that simple because of the delicate balance between designing something that looks tacky vs tasteful or clever vs clumsy. There is no substitute for having a second pair of eyes review the final draft and provide feedback. I have been searching for a solution for this for a while now and I am guessing that there are a lot of novice (and possibly some tenured) e-learning designers/developers who are in the same boat.

    One crazy idea that I have is to ask my peers for feedback on pre-submission work. I know that it has some inherent risks because there will likely be some negative feedback and I will need to have a bit of thick skin. Nevertheless, I would be OK with this because I think the benefits outweigh the negatives by focusing on the constructive feedback and common themes that emerge. Feedback from the viewers would have to focus primarily, if not exclusively, on visual design. I was thinking that the new E-learning Heros site would be ideal for this type of concept and maybe the Articulate team might be willing to accommodate this. Like I said, just a crazy idea that I have.

    Thanks for covering this issue and looking forward to your follow-up blog.



    1. Bruno, thanks for commenting. I agree that having another set of eyes looking at your stuff is invaluable and I rarely if ever publish anything without having others looking it over. At you touched upon a critical thing for this to be successful is that you can’t be afraid of getting ‘negative’ feedback. (Hopefully it’s more constructive than negative right?) And I don’t think your idea is crazy at all. The Articulate site has been used that way before and I’m sure that you’d get some very valuable feedback that way. In fact, I’ll be watching for your stuff over there if and when you decide to go that route. Thanks again and I look forward to continuing the conversation.


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