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Reviewing the User Interface

When purchasing a custom-designed e-learning course, one of the first deliverables you’ll review and approve is the user interface (UI) design. The graphic designer does the heavy lifting in terms of the design. But you need to know what you’re both trying to achieve.

Specifically, the UI design should be more than just icing on the cake. A good UI design facilitates learning and later references as well as enhances the course’s credibility. The latter is more important than you may think. The information your course conveys will carry more weight if the course has high-end production values. If it looks like it was thrown together with little thought, that’s exactly what learners may come to believe. As a result, they don't take the training seriously.

 Even if you have the artistic sensibility of a door knob, you can still weigh in on the UI design by asking the following questions:

  1. Does the UI design adhere to your organization’s branding standards? At a minimum, it should use colors, fonts, and logos as specified in the branding standards.

  2. Is the text readable? For example, sans serif fonts are considered more legible on computer screens. This is because of the basic constraint of screen resolution— typically 100 pixels per inch or less—make serif fonts more difficult to read. In addition, text displayed in columns is easier to read than text that stretches across the full width of the screen. Finally, there should be sufficient space between headings and text and between paragraphs to facilitate scanning.

  3. Does the UI design make sense? I once received a mock-up of a main menu screen from a graphic designer that showed previous and next buttons in addition to the menu choices. I couldn’t figure out where either the previous or next button would take me. This UI design did not make sense.

  4. Does the UI design help learners understand where they are? Like that sign in the mall that shows “You are here,” a good UI design should help orient learners to where they are in the overall course and in a particular lesson. There are several methods to accomplish this goal. A progress bar shows how much of the course has been completed. A breadcrumb link shows where a learner is, both within a lesson and within the course. Different size fonts to denote titles versus subtitles orient learners as to where they are within a topic. The UI design should have enough of these sign-posts that learners don’t feel lost.

  5. Is the UI design consistent? The same buttons should always appear in the same place. This is not a game of “hide and seek.” Clickable elements and clicked links should always be color-coded consistently. Activities should work the same way. For example, if learners will be answering questions, they should always click the same button to advance in every activity. I’ve seen courses where they click “submit” during one activity and “continue” during another. This is not a consistent UI design.

  6. Does the UI design make it easy for learners to tell where they left off or to reference specific information once the course is done? Bookmarking, check marks next to completed lessons, and a menu structure that reflects the actual job can be invaluable if learners will access the course more than once or for reference.

  7. Does the UI design include appropriate user control? For example, it can be annoying to have to sit through the same opening sequence every time the course is accessed. Where is that “skip intro” link?

  8. Is the UI design built for efficient navigation? Remember in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy clicked her heels three times to go home? Well, that’s a good rule of thumb for e-learning, too. Learners should be able to get virtually anywhere in the course by clicking three times, including home to the main menu. If more clicks are required, the graphic designer should explain why this is unavoidable.

  9. Does the UI design include all elements? For example, does the UI design include how images should be treated?

  10. Is the UI design visually appealing? You should like looking at it. If not, discuss this issue with your graphic designer until he or she is able to come up with something that is visually pleasing and still meets all of the criteria.


This article is excerpted from the InfolinePurchasing Custom E-Learning Solutions” (July 2011). This Infoline provides a detailed overview of how to obtain a quality e-learning course, and offers step-by-step instructions on how to get a quality course developed and delivered, from choosing the right programming tools to getting through the final approval process. In addition, it highlights the importance of ensuring you can update your course in the future, and includes the steps to help you do so. This issue also covers common mistakes that are made, and offers real-life examples to help make sure you understand each step of the process.

About the Author
Diane Valenti, founder of Applied Performance Solutions, Inc., uses her instructional design ninja skills to help companies reduce their sales onboarding ramp time and help sales teams rapidly acquire product knowledge. She works with Fortune 500 and startup companies, alike. Get Diane’s checklist to learn if you are making these 10 incredibly common mistakes that slow sales onboarding.
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