What is a graphic designer?
The exact role of a graphic designer is often misunderstood. The word ‘design’ is also used to describe multiple practices, especially relating to learning material. For instance, there is eLearning design, course design, interface design, and website design. When ‘design’ is used, each listener could assume that this is related to their discipline, when in actual fact, it could be quite a different story. Where does graphic design fit in, and what skills, ability or expertise can be gained by consulting a graphic designer.
Often mistaken in general for the creation of such things as clip art and pretty patterns, the term graphic design actually refers to the art of grouping and ordering information in a way that is legible and conveys information to the viewer in order to achieve a designated purpose. It is the responsibility of the graphic designer to use ideas, images and words to visually transmit the intended message in a way that is legible and easy to understand. In short, it is visual communication. Considering this, you can see that graphic design is relevant whether it be to a poster, a text book or on the web. After training and experience graphic designers can look at any visual communication and quickly identify the visual hierarchy of information and make suggestions to emphasise or make the subject more understandable. Graphic designers have no intention to change the message, their main aim is to transmit the intended message to the viewer in an understandable and easy manner. I think that this is the key to its potential in online learning.
My thoughts on graphic design in relation to TEL
The online or blended learner will judge their online course not only on the content, but the entire experience, including whether information was arranged in a way that was easy or frustrating to access, information that was easy to find or hidden, and therefore missed completely. Personally, when starting to look at where I could visually enhance an online course as a graphic designer, I was struck by the real need to go back to the basics with legibility and information hierarchy. These things include basic rules like optimum text line length and ordering information in an orderly and logical manner to the greatest number of people. Keeping things simple and minimising clutter so that the course content is king.
When first starting an online course I imagine students must be feeling overwhelmed, and have a certain amount of anxiety that they may miss something, especially without a lecturer standing in front of them, pointing them in the right direction, as I felt when I started my Coursera course on The History of the World from 1300. I was pleased to find that the information structure on Coursera was very easily navigated. In less than half an hour from the logon of the first day of my course I had explored the entire course area. I read the first post from the lecturer and found the section where the lectures would appear and where my assignments were going to be located. I found the space where I could connect with other students etc. I found the layout and execution of the video lectures particularly user friendly, two lectures per week, broken down into four or five chunks. When each weeks video lecture was completed, that week would collapse, accordion style, leaving you with the video lecture chunks yet to watch. Although this very linear method of delivery concerns some, I found it a very good base, in that, if you feel comfortable and in control of your course space, you will be more likely to engage in extra activities. I truly believe that if the student feels overwhelmed in the course space, and is continually clicking through multiple tabs and links, they won’t have the confidence to explore and connect with other media. These experiences are all underpinned by cognitive load theory whereby we are constantly trying to create logical patterns and familiarise ourselves with our surroundings.
Graphic design and TEL
As a graphic designer, I am constantly assessing visual stimuli. I am questioning which information I am ignoring, which information I am focusing on, why I am ignoring some information, why I am focusing on other information. If visual stimuli is hard to interpret, we have to work harder to decipher it. This leads me to believe, the general layout of the online course space, information labels, and grouping, should be as simple and legible as possible. This will allow the online learner to dedicate all of their processing power on the content, and not on being distracted by trying to find something that is hidden behind confusing tab headings and unintuitive layouts. Only then can other material be looked at by graphic designers and multimedia experts to enhance course concepts.