Graphic Design vs. Visual Communications for eLearning

This last week, I had the pleasure to traveling to Philadelphia, PA to teach a two-day workshop on Visual Communications for eLearning. Besides this being one of my favorite topics to discuss, it’s also a subject that is shrouded in a lot of misconceptions. Visual communications, graphic design, and visual design are all terms that get lumped together and used interchangeably.

It easy to assume these terms all reference the way a course looks and feels. However, graphic design and visual communications for eLearning represent two very different types of design processes.

What’s the difference?

Graphic design for eLearning relates to the way your course looks and feels. This is how your fonts, colors, images, graphics, layouts, and effects work together to create a cohesive design.

  • When you’re provided branding guidelines from your marketing department or client, that’s graphic design.
  • When you crop or remove the background from an image, that’s graphic design.
  • When you use shapes to create custom icons, that’s graphic design.

visual communications for eLearning

So, what about visual communications? If graphic design is all about the look and feel, what else is there to consider? Visual communications for eLearning relates to how you communicate ideas, processes, or procedures visually on the screen.

  • When you carefully select an image to represent an important idea, that’s visual communications.
  • When you create a series of animations to explain a complicated process, that’s visual communications.
  • When you design a diagram to show the relationships between different concepts, that’s visual communications.

visual communications for eLearning

Which one is more important?

Now that you know the difference between graphic design and visual communications for eLearning, which one is more important? The truth is, they’re both important…in different ways. Graphic design and visual communications should work together to help elevate your message and make it easier for your learners to understand, remember, and apply your learning content.

visual communications for eLearning

When the balance between graphic design and visual communications is off, it can detract from the effectiveness of your course. For example, what good is it to use effective graphic design techniques if you’re simply going to fill the slide with bullet points?

visual communications for eLearning

When you start the development of your course, graphic design plays an important role as you initially create your slide templates or prototypes. This is when you’ll want to make important decisions regarding colors, fonts, and layouts. Visual communications, on the other hand, becomes more important during the storyboarding and development process. This is when you’ll start finding different ways to visualize the content of your course, whether it be with a carefully selected image, diagram, or set of animations.

Understanding the differences between graphic design and visual communications for eLearning can help you create more effective and beautiful courses.

Additional Resouces

This post was originally published on E-Learning Uncovered.

Tim Slade
Hi, I’m Tim Slade, and I’m a speaker, author, and award-winning eLearning designer. I’ve spent nearly a decade working to help others elevate their eLearning and visual communications content. I’ve been recognized and awarded within the eLearning industry multiple times for my creative and innovative design aesthetics. I also speak regularly at national eLearning conferences, and I’m a recognized Articulate Super Hero and co-author of the popular E-Learning Uncovered book series.

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