Visual Design
ATD Blog

Visual Design Meets Instructional Design: Are You Ready?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What does it take to develop truly engaging training? A degree in instructional technology or learning theory? A deep understanding of user interface and user experience design? Or maybe both?

Historically, e-learning professionals have been laser focused on instructional design, with very little attention given to visual design. Consider all that we experience outside learning as we interact with mobile apps and web content. Pair that with the limited time in which we consume massive amounts of information, and it becomes clear why visual design is essential. Only when visual design and instructional design work together can an enjoyable, meaningful learning experience take place.

Do you know what UX and UI stand for and the difference between the two? Are you familiar with the Gestalt principles of how humans perceive and interact with content and visuals and, more important, how you can use this to achieve effective results for today’s learners? Getting on the path to effective learning design isn’t as difficult as you might think.

With the technology and web fields moving at lightning speed, the e-learning industry is forced to remain in lockstep or be destined to reinforce the perception that “training is boring.” Failure to regularly add new practices, skills, and techniques to your design toolbox is a surefire way to become extinct. It has always been expected that the instructional design component be strong, but now, more than ever, it is essential that the visual design be aligned as well.

Decades ago, when classroom instructors began authoring material for asynchronous delivery, the focus was so much on the “how” that many of them skipped some important factors, such as understanding learner needs and the elements of a well-designed user experience.


After many years (and ugly courses), we’ve come to realize that e-learning needs to be well designed instructionally and visually to capture a return on investment. Gone are the days when tossing bullets onto a presentation slide passes for instructional design. To be effective, we must first consider how learners consume content. And if we are to craft an engaging learning experience, we must understand visual design fundamentals enough to either create or collaborate with a visual designer. Bonus points for involving a visual designer early and often in the process, which is increasingly the way it needs to be done.

One of the many things that makes SweetRush so successful is that we’ve bridged the gap between instructional design and visual design. Our creative directors and instructional designers collaborate early on in every project, ensuring graphical and instructional integrity. As a result, our deliverables and the user experience are instructionally sound.


The ATD 2017 International Conference & Exhibition is your chance to get a handle on how these visual design principles can make your deliverables even more effective. You’ll come away with a good baseline understanding of visual design, as well as 10 easy ways to make your projects hit the mark every time. Don’t miss. Join us for the session, Design for the Mind: UI and Visual Design for a New Generation of E-Learning, on Wednesday, May 24, at 8:15 a.m.

About the Author

Erin Krebs is director of Client Solutions at SweetRush. She is known for her ability to work with clients to capture both the big picture and the details, and to craft innovative solutions that work. Erin holds a master’s degree in learning systems design and development, and is a speaker and author on numerous topics, including learning techniques for Millennials. 

About the Author

John-Carlos Lozano is chief creative officer at SweetRush. He is the driving force in exploring and developing higher levels of custom interactivity, simulation, and gamification in learning for a long list of clients. With a dual degree in graphic design and illustration/animation, he is an extraordinary artist, and a passionate learner, leader, and teacher. John-Carlos sets the bar of quality, never accepts status quo, and constantly pushes his phenomenally talented team of artists, designers, and animators to reach higher.

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