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More Than Pretty: A review of Visual Design Solutions

By Ryan Tracey / April 2015

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While Connie Malamed is a highly reputed instructional designer, she is also a talented visual communicator. I devoured her Visual Language for Designers offering several years ago, so it was with much anticipation that I peeled back the cover of Visual Design Solutions: Principles and Creative Inspiration for Learning Professionals. And I wasn't disappointed.

Malamed's latest offering is more consciously targeted toward learning and development folks. While the book would prove useful to anyone who works with the visual medium, her context is more about learning outcomes than it is about advertising, for example.

Her work covers a breadth of topics relating to visual design. In one sense it could be considered a "back-to-basics" tome; while it offers fundamental advice for novices, it also offers plenty of tips and tricks for veterans who may have lapsed into bad habits.

Visual Design Solutions begins by examining the power of pictures. Malamed refers to empirical research to argue why visuals are so effective and why you should use them. She reinforces the point that as an L&D professional you are also a visual designer; so get over your self-doubt and commit yourself to improving your skills over time. You don't have to be an Old Master to create meaningful and effective visual messages. However, a little bit of insight goes a long way.

Malamed covers the practicalities of visual design in the book, including an overview of the common tools used by graphic designers, the terminology of the trade, and the standard practices you are likely to encounter.

She outlines important principles such as white space, the rule of thirds, and dynamism, and she fills the book with tidbits of advice that make a real difference, such as "make every graphic your own" and how to turn bullet points into something much more compelling. Thankfully, Malamed is not a fan of clichés and cheesy stock photos, so she offers real alternatives.

And yet there's more. Malamed examines color, contrast, visual hierarchy, unified design, grouping, cues, textures and patterns, symbols and metaphors. Perhaps the most insightful chapters are the final two, which cover the art of storytelling and how to make numbers interesting. One chapter of the book is devoted to typography, and again while it contains useful advice, I feel on this topic Malamed delves far deeper than is necessary. If the intent of her book is to inspire L&D professionals to design better learning solutions, then the minutiae of fonts is probably redundant.

But I am nitpicking what overall is a fine piece of work by someone who has a wealth of experience and expertise. She uses loads of example graphics to illustrate her key points, including rich captions that could be read in isolation of the main text. Cover to cover, the content is evidence based with a long list of references for anyone who wants to dig deeper.

I highly recommend Visual Design Solutions for all varieties of L&D professional.

About the Author

Ryan Tracey is an Editorial Board Member for eLearn Magazine and an E-Learning Manager in the Australian financial services industry. His work focuses on adult learning in the workplace, and he maintains a particular interest in blended delivery, informal learning, and social media. Ryan has worked in corporate e-learning for over a decade, following several years in the higher education market. He holds a master's degree in Learning Sciences and Technology from the University of Sydney, blogs as the E-Learning Provocateur, and can be found on Twitter as @ryantracey.

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2015 Copyright held by the Owner/Author. 1535-394X/15/04-2767469 $15.00


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