Connie Malamed

Author of Visual Design Solutions: Principles and Creative Inspiration for Learning Professionals

Connie Malamed is a learning, information design and visual communication consultant. She is the Author of Visual Design Solutions: Principles and Creative Inspiration for Learning Professionals, Visual Language For Designers, and publisher of the Instructional Design Guru mobile app. She is also the creator of The eLearning Coach, a blog where she shares actionable strategies, practical content, product reviews and resources to help learning professionals design, develop and understand online learning. What she does on a day to day basis, is helping organizations with the design of learning experiences, information presentation and structure and visual communication.

Christopher Pappas, Efthymios Savvakis & Nasia Efthimiou

Interview with Connie Malamed

What are the secrets of your successful eLearning Coach site?

It depends what you mean by success. If you consider success as the ability to connect with people and provide value to their work lives, then the secret is love. Loving the readers, loving our field, and loving the learners who benefit when we are successful. I’ve written over 250 articles on the theelearningcoach.com since 2009.

How has Online Learning evolved over the last decade?

I think online learning is slowly becoming more aligned with what learners need and how people really learn. For example, over the past decade it has become well accepted that people learn informally, socially and from repeated interventions, practice and opportunities. Our field has evolved due to improvements in research and technology. Learning solutions like performance support, microlearning, blended learning, content portals and social media for learning are a result of these newer realizations.

What facts do you consider as “revolutionary” in this field now?

In addition to what I mentioned in the previous answer, I think it’s revolutionary to look at problems and solutions with a wide lens. To understand that training is not necessarily the solution to every problem. That’s why I believe it’s important for people in our industry to understand related fields, such as user experience, interactive design, visual design and user interface design. We might find revolutionary answers in those domains.

Do you commonly use social media in your personal learning process?

Yes, I have a robust personal learning environment based on social media, using Twitter (@elearningcoach), Facebook, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, RSS blog feeds, and the like. Most people in our field clearly love learning and I’m no different. So I use my social network to discover the most interesting articles, conversations and tools related to our own and other industries.

I really can’t imagine life without it. It makes you feel connected to humanity and up-to-date.

Interview with Connie Malamed 1

You probably deal with numerous eLearning professionals in your work. What are the most common mistakes you observe?

First of all, I think eLearning professionals are getting more effective all the time. There are some very positive signs out there when you listen to the buzz. But of course, as an industry, we have knowledge gaps that need closing. We could become more informed about design thinking and about how to get learners involved in the design process. We could also go deeper into instructional science and cognitive psychology so that our decisions and choices are always based on how people learn. I also think there’s a knowledge gap when it comes to understanding visual design and how to create aesthetically appealing materials.

I wrote Visual Design Solutions to help close that gap.

What are the most important 4-5 tips someone needs to know in order to achieve a better educational outcome?

That’s a tough question, but I’ll take a stab at it. Here’s my list of how to achieve better educational outcomes.

  1. Think of yourself as a problem solver in addition to a learning experience designer.
  2. Think broadly and consider solutions that don’t involve courses.
  3. When designing formal learning, spend time with the audience to understand what they need and align it with what the organization needs. Make it super relevant.
  4. During design, keep in mind that people can only process 3-4 bits of information at one time. Avoid overwhelming people with a firehouse of information.
  5. Less is more.

You mention your goal is to “fill the world with well-organized and comprehensible products that connect with the audience.” Which would you define as the most important product element in order to achieve a successful so-called “connection”?

If you look at our deliverables as products, I’d say one of the most important elements is visual design and the resulting aesthetic. This can have a significant impact on learner motivation, how well the content is understood and how much information is retained. With my art education background, I’m biased in that direction so I see things through that lens.

You have published a mobile reference app for Instructional Designers. What does this learning tool include and how does it work?

You’re talking about my Instructional Design Guru app. It’s a resource for instructional design students and practitioners. The app defines many of the specialized terms and concepts one comes across in the industry. I imagined a potential user sitting at a meeting or hearing a lecture or reading an article and quickly being able to look up the meaning of a term or concept. I wished I had a reference app, so I created one.

Could you share with us some facts about your book «Visual Lanquage for Designers»? Which has been the strongest motivation for its creation?

Visual Language for Designers presents visual design strategies that are based on cognitive psychology to help people create graphics that can be understood. The motivation to write it was to spread the word that design should be based on cognitive science to be most effective.

Although I wrote this book for a wide audience, I was thinking about instructional designers much of the time.

Is there another book in the works?

Yes, I recently published Visual Design Solutions: Principles and Creative Inspiration for Learning Professionals. I wrote this book specifically for people who work in the field of learning. It teaches visual design skills in the context of designing eLearning and slides and presents new ideas for fresh designs.

Visual Design Solutions: Principles and Creative Inspiration for Learning Professionals

What exactly is Visual Design Solutions and what should a professional expect to find in it?

Visual Design Solutions is my new book that teaches learning professionals how to create visually effective and aesthetically pleasing instructional materials. Many designers and developers feel challenged when it comes to visual design. The goal of the book is to present easy ways for practitioners to improve their skills. An equally important goals is to offer creative inspiration.

The book covers the foundation principles of visual design as well as ways to add visual excitement to eLearning and training slides. I’ve included lots of graphic examples too. Some of the topics I cover are how to: select and enhance images, lay out a slide, choose a palette, select and mix fonts, direct the learner’s eyes, transform bullet points to images, make numbers interesting, tell a visual story, and a lot more.

 What need of yours triggered the creation of the book?

You don’t need to draw well to be able to design well, but most people don’t realize this. Design and art are two different crafts. Anyone can learn and apply the foundation principles of visual design to make their work more effective and appealing. I wanted to share this knowledge with practitioners in our industry.

Also, I have degrees in Art Education and Instructional Design and Technology. So I enjoy combining my knowledge of both fields. I find there is a strong synergy there.

What kind of innovation does your book bring to the field of Learning Design?

Research of the past few decades has shown that aesthetics, or the appreciation of beauty, affects how people respond emotionally to a product. We choose a mobile phone or a favorite website partly based on the beauty of its design. But people in our industry don’t realize that this same response to design also affects the motivation and interest of learners. It impacts the effectiveness of learning too. My book presents principles and techniques for making instructional materials aesthetically pleasing and engaging. This is an innovative way to think about learning experience design.

How has the specific area of Visual Design changed over the past decade?

Visual design trends are always evolving, even if they harken back to previous times. But in the past few decades, visual design has been influenced by the requirements of technological innovation. For example, the flat design and minimalist design trends meet the needs of lower bandwidth mobile users.

The interesting thing, however, is that many underlying principles of design, such as the use of white space, establishing a visual hierarchy and creating a unified design, are consistently applicable to all types of design.

That’s because those principles meet the requirements of the human brain.

Interview with Connie Malamed 2

What sort of everyday life experiences give you inspiration to write?

When I teach visual design workshops and when I see examples of online learning, it often seems that people are designing randomly or in a haphazard way, rather than intentionally. These types of experiences motivated me to write Visual Design Solutions. I’m also fascinated with the intersection of cognitive science and visual design, so doing research in this area is very intellectually satisfying.

Writing is another way to think.

 What is the most enjoyable part of writing a book?

As every author will say, writing a book is very hard. If you have full-time work, you have to get up very early or stay up very late and put in the hours of organizing, researching, writing and editing. In this case, I had to create and select around 140 example images too.

On the other hand, it is also very fulfilling to know that what I write might contribute to making the lives of learning designers and developers easier and that their instructional materials will be more effective. Everyone benefits—both designers and  learners.

Who did you choose to read it first, and why? How encouraging was the first informal feedback?

Prior to publishing, the first people I got informal feedback from were people from the intended audience, practitioners in our industry. These were the beta readers. The beta readers did a great job of giving me helpful feedback and I feel indebted to them. I had my publisher send them a book when it was published, as my way of saying thank you.

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