Practical Guidelines for Visual Design

The following are some practical guidelines to follow in the design of instructional visuals.


There are three major ways to represent objects: as pictorial symbols, graphic symbols, or verbal symbols.


Being creative... Designing visual images for instruction requires the ability to think visually coupled with the ability to relate verbal symbols (words) with corresponding visual symbols (pictures or graphical images) in a meaningful and creative way.


Research on eye movement states that people from Western cultures tend to look at the upper left-hand area of a visual first. Eye movement then tends to move to the right and then to the bottom. The 'rule-of-thirds' is a principle of photographic and graphic composition in which an area is divided into thirds both vertically and horizontally and the centers of interest are located near the intersections of the lines. The numbers at the intersections that divide the image into thirds indicate the percentage of people that look at that intersection first when reading a visual.


Keeping these two principles in mind it is important to place important information near the dividing lines and place the start of the main message where the eye first strikes the area. If the nature of the design puts important information in the lower left portion, then the design elements or objects need to lead the eye to where information is located.


Changes in a visual image help keep attention directed on the visual.

Too much detail in a visual image can detract from instruction. The age and developmental level of students viewing the visual determine the amount of detail to include in a visual image. Younger children need more detail than older children.


The layout of a visual needs to be clear and focus attention to the appropriate places in the image.

The shapes of several letters are useful to guide layout patterns. The letters C, O, S, Z, L, T, and U can be used as basic guidelines for layout.



When words are added to label parts of a visual image, be sure it is clear to the viewer of the image which words go with which objects.

Move labels close to the objects they refer to.


Typography has to do with the size, shape, and placement of words.


Letters styles are either serif or sans serif.


Serif style fonts have finishing lines at the ends of the letters.


Sans serif fonts are more block-like.


Text should be in lower case. Use capitals only where normally required.
ALL CAPITAL LETTERS ARE HARD TO READ, ESPECIALLY FOR MORE THAN ONE LINE.


The arrangement of words in a visual image should help clarify the message or information to be conveyed.


To make your visuals easy to read, be sure to have a good amount of contrast between the color of the letters and the color of the background.


These examples do not have good contrast between the color of the letters and the color of the background making them difficult to read.


These examples have good contrast between the color of the letters and the color of the background making them easy to read.


The size of letters used depends on the purpose of the visual.

Posters need letters large enough to be read at a distance, approximately 1/4 for every eight feet of viewer distance from the visual.


Emphasis can be added by

changing the typeface of key words,

changing the type size,

using a different color,

  • or by using an asterisk or check mark beside key phrases or words.


Trying to visualize numerical data, facts, directions, processes, maps, theories, emotions, and the like will help you develop your visual thinking abilities.