Visual Design Solutions by Connie Malamed [Book Review]

“This book is dedicated to the hard-working creative learning professionals who want to make a difference.”

I must confess that Connie Malamed´s latest book grabbed me from the very first page :)

Yes, I want to make a difference as an instructional designer.

I don´t want to create courses. I want to carefully craft learning experiences. I don’t want to create just eye-catching graphics. I want to convey meaning through purposeful visuals. I don´t want to make elements fly in and out of the screen because animations look cool. I want every design element to delight the learner but, most importantly, I want every design element to support the message I want to convey.

These were the reasons I started to read Visual Design Solutions: Principles and Creative Inspiration for Learning Professionals, and once I started, I couldn´t stop until the end.

Basic Design principles

The book is divided into four sections:

  • the big ideas,
  • building blocks of design,
  • power principles and
  • practicing design.

The first sections of the book cover basic design principles that can help you improve visual communication. From typography to use of color, from focal points to visual hierarchy, you will find answer to common questions, plenty of tips and examples to illustrate the key aspects you need to consider when planning your projects as a designer. Yes, because “you need to start thinking as a designer, you are one”, as Connie points out.

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Research findings

Throughout the book, Connie refers to research findings that support the impact of visual design on the learning process. I found this particularly helpful to: a) critically evaluate my own design decisions, b) deconstruct design examples from others and c) confirm or modify my long-held assumptions about what is right/wrong. Research findings can provide enough background to make well-grounded choices and also, they can increase our awareness of the benefits (and drawbacks) of some approaches.

Immediate application to real projects

Each chapter showed me how different concepts can be applied and how elements combine together to clearly convey a message. I was able to make immediate connections between the ideas on the book and my projects. I found myself constantly analyzing my graphics by drawing upon Connie´s useful insights. Also, I am paying more attention to details now. For example, did you know that there is a little trick to evenly line up a list of numbers? I didn´t!

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New ideas, new perspective

The book presents numerous examples of learning situations and images that can trigger a bunch of new ideas. Each example is accompanied by a clear explanation of the designer´s choices and how these choices can enhance –or worsen – the experience from an instructional point of view.

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Here´s my key takeaway:

If you typically create meaning through words, you will enjoy increasing your use of visual language to provide another channel for creating meaning. A key goal of visual design is effective communication. Helping the audience make sense of information through the visual dimension adds clarity to explanations.

As you generate ideas for visualizing content, you’ll discover there are many ways you can extend the meaning of an idea or concept… (Malamed, 2015:254)

And Connie´s Visual Design Solutions is a great starting point to discover different ways to ensure your design communicates meaning.