Numerous studies have proven that images are a powerful way to tell a persuasive story and improve learning. The human brain can comprehend visual content much faster than text-based content. Photos, icons, charts, graphs and diagrams help learners understand complex concepts and increase retention. Vivid imagery also catches the attention of lackadaisical learners and inspires them to dig deeper into the content.

Choosing exceptional visual elements to illustrate training content is just as important as using high-quality words to explain it. However, visual communication is often treated as an afterthought, merely a decorative skin to hold the content. The best practices of visual communication that are explored in this article will help you create a visual narrative that will leave a lasting impression on your training audience.

Enhance Rather Than Distract

Just like a stage crew working behind the scenes of a theatrical performance, visual design is most effective when it is hardly noticed at all. Graphical elements should always reinforce the message and give context for the information. Artistic images used just to fill the space often divert attention from the true training objectives. By adopting a content-first design approach, you prioritize the delivery of valuable information and ensure that the content informs the visual design decisions, rather than the other way around.

Simplify and Declutter

A jumble of text and graphics not only crowds the page but also confuses learners and keeps them from learning something meaningful. Just as chunking text into smaller sections makes the content feel more manageable, selectively choosing images and leaving white space reduces clutter and improves readability. It is important to remember that white space does not have to be white; any empty space free of elements offers the brain a moment to rest.

Point It Out

Whatever the learner sees first will be cemented as the most important concept. Careful formatting of elements establishes a visual hierarchy that guides the learner’s attention, first to the key concepts and then to other essential information. The learner’s eyes naturally scan the screen from top to bottom and left to right; thus, it is most effective to place the hierarchy of content in the same pattern. You can also use bold text, increased size, significant white space and contrasting colors to create a focal point and highlight “must-know” information.

Tell a Story

Pairing images with words creates a visual narrative that evokes emotions and makes the content more memorable. Will your image make the learner laugh? Feel compassion? Recall childhood memories? Crave a cup of coffee? Because learners quickly form their own interpretations based on the visuals they see, it is crucial to choose imagery that accurately reflects the brand identity and training message. Basic photo-editing software allows you to experiment with filters and cropping to convey a particular emotion as well as to establish uniformity throughout a course.

Know Your Audience

Learners want to ensure that the training will be relevant and helpful to them. Choosing images that reflect the characteristics of the audience (e.g., how they dress, where they work, how old they are) makes the training feel familiar and relatable to them. For instance, if the learners work in a manufacturing setting, then the images should depict characters who are dressed appropriately for industrial work rather than swimsuits or pajamas.

Pay Attention to Details

Just as a misspelled word can distract learners as they read, a pixelated photo or an off-kilter column can cause confusion and divert attention away from the key message. Designing with a template or style guide ensures a visual sophistication that inspires confidence in the training program. Proper alignment, consistent shadow styles and predefined color schemes work together to create a cohesive learning experience. And, when there is a good reason to make an exception to the rules, the divergence is even more compelling.

Given the abundance of immersive multimedia in the world today, training audiences have come to expect visually rich learning experiences as well. However, designing these powerful visual narratives does not always come easily to training professionals. Because graphics often make a greater impact than text, training initiatives that rely on puzzling images and cluttered screen layouts run the risk of confusion and miscommunication.

The choices you make throughout the design process determine the effectiveness of the visual communication. Implementing the strategies described here will give you insight and awareness of how to design eye-catching, powerful visuals that bring a story to life and positively impact the learner’s experience.