Putting the Design into Instructional Design

1st ed. cover by Paul Rand

1st ed. cover by Paul Rand (Wikipedia)

“To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit: it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse. To design is to transform prose into poetry.”

– Paul Rand

Paul Rand’s Thoughts on Design is back in print and it should be. He has a lot of interesting things to say about design and the design process. This is a good time of year to go back to this because this is the time of year I most often get the questions “what is an instructional designer?” and “why do I need an instructional designer?” I come at the design world through the back door. In the mid-90s, some universities I worked for supposed that if instruction was to take place on like, we had better start teaching instructors HTML and Photoshop. This sort of made sense at the time: the web can be a visual medium, so understanding the principles of visual composition and visual learning together would be a good place to start. I didn’t like a lot of the web design books I saw because the color schemes, fonts and images all seemed to come from video games. One book that I used a lot was the Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams. I used this book as my quick introduction – it is still a useful book. I then thought, why let the programmers determine how the web should be presented? What can we learn from how we engage with the print world? What can be applied to the web and what can’t? I used to use social realist images in my posters for the tutoring center because I figured that they worked for the WPA in the 30s, why wouldn’t they work for me now? And they did, they were arresting images that made people stop and look. I began to read more about design. I know that there are faculty out there who shudder at the thought of looking to Madison Ave. for help with designing online courses, but think about it: how effective would the outcome of an advertisement be if all it did was communicate the bare information in text? But by using graphic design and typography, the best advertising asks you to engage with the information. It asks you to ask questions and to want to know more. Shouldn’t that happen in an online classroom? The best lecturers do the same: they lecture in ways that engage the students, lead them somewhere, and compels them (through curiosity) to want to know more.

Don’t get me wrong, advertising is certainly an ethically fraught enterprise. But in the absence of face-to-face interaction, design considerations, at all levels, are paramount in online courses. This includes graphics and layout – I don’t separate them from the pedagogical concerns of traditional instructional design because the visual elements become another voice in the fugue. Attention to images, fonts, layout, and graphics help students remember your course and the course material. Students begin to use the images and icons as mnemonic devices that organize the course and the information.

There is/was a movement in education around “design thinking” which I know is sometimes criticized. I don’t think there is a one-sized fits all ideal process, but I am not one of those critics – anything that gets instructional designers, teachers (and sometimes even students!) together at the table to discuss teaching and learning is a good thing.

This entry was posted in design and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.