The Case for Graphics and Design

“It don’t care what it looks like. The content is there.”
“I’m not good at graphics. I use PowerPoint templates to create a slidedeck.”
“I’m a bullet-point junky. I can’t live without them.”

Describe you? Someone you know? I hear versions of these statements regularly in my work with nonprofit consultants and learning leaders. We don’t need good design. We don’t know how to do good design. We don’t have time for good design.

The reality is that everything we produce has a design, whether intentional or not. That design can fall flat and be forgotten as soon as it is seen. Or it can serve as the wind at our backs, or more accurately, the wind at the backs of the people we serve. It can help them to better understand, take action, and learn from our publications and presentations. Graphics and design are a tool in our toolbox that we can choose to use to achieve our goals. Given how short on time and resources our nonprofits are, it seems like leveraging every opportunity we have is a good idea.

“Design is intelligence made visible.”

– Alina Wheeler, author of Designing Brand Identity

I’ve been reviewing the research. Here are some highlights:

  • Graphics trigger emotions and attention, increasing engagement in learning. (Increased engagement means that people learn more.)
  • Graphics, in combination with narration, increases processing because you are using both auditory and visual channels into the brain. That means people learn more when you appropriately use graphics and narration together.
  • Graphics deepen the complexity of information that you can share without brain overload. That means that people learn more with a well-designed graphic over the same information delivered in writing.
  • Graphics particularly help novices learn more. People new to something need the added boost to make sense of what you are teaching them.

Notice the repetition here…. “people learn more.” That’s what this is all about: learn more, remember more, do more of what you learn.

So what does all of this mean? Since so many people rely on the PowerPoint slidedeck to share their content, it means first that we need to stop producing “slideuments” (a term created by Garr Reynolds), which are documents disguised as PowerPoint presentations. You know what I mean… slides and slides of bullet points that a speaker talks through. You have alternatives: workbooks, tools, jobaids, or whatever you need to create to augment or support the presentation.

A second piece of low-hanging advice for the folks who hold onto the “branding on every slide” principle:

“I realize there is a strong belief in making sure that every darn slide in the entire deck has at least one company logo on it…. Is the point to make sure they don’t forget who you are? Hmmm, wouldn’t the audience be more inclined to remember you if (1) your presentation is clear and relevant, and (2) the handouts are terrific and useful and nice-looking so they will be kept and not trashed?”

– Robin Williams, The Non-Designer’s Presentation Book

Design ideas to consider:

  1. Color. Choose a color palette that is crisp, allowing for strong contrast. You can use your brand colors if that works. Remember not to rely on color for all navigation and information because of the 4.5% of the population who are colorblind.
  2. Text. Use sans serif fonts to ease reading. Avoid center alignment except for titles. Center alignment is the most difficult text to read. Left-aligned (ragged right) is the easiest to read.
  3. Repetition. On one hand, repetition reduces cognitive overload. For example, you don’t have to process how information is being delivered if every slide looks the same. On the other hand, repetition impacts memory. When multiple similar objects are present, the one that differs from the rest is most likely to be remembered.
  4. Big picture. Step away from your computer and invest time in instructional design. Think about what story you are trying to tell. What big ideas are important to this story? What information do you need to convey, and how could you do that visually?
  5. Edit. Remove any superfluous information or purely decorative graphics that don’t support your learning or communication goals.

A key tenet in our nonprofit learning community is that nonprofit people have a lot to do. Every experience in which they gather—whether a training or a board meeting– needs to be excellent and outcome-focused. Good design is an important tool to get us there.

“Design is the intermediary between information and understanding.”

– Richard Grefé, Executive Director at the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA)

Published by Nancy

I work at the intersection of learning, nonprofits, and leadership. I am a teacher, instructional designer, and nonprofit person who has worn every hat possible. I regular write, speak, and consult on learning strategy, design, and leadership.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: