How do we explain something? How do we explain how something works? Instructional design is explaining how something works as simply and clearly as we can. We as designers must give extra care when designing things that instruct people.
There are lots of different levels to instructions, they are all around us in daily life. From trying to use an automated phone system (audio instructions), using a ticket machine or a parking meter, even mundane things like refilling printer ink or manipulating a household appliance. Instructional design is inescapable.
Poorly designed instructions are infuriatingly inconvenient for us (and our users)!
Taking a look at Ikea flat pack furniture, be all end all, standard. A good example of a simple instructional graphic. It appeals to a global market with its lack of verbal instructions so they can be followed easily regardless of your spoken language.
An interesting example of cross-cultural instructional design is this graphic for coal miners in South Africa. The people of the area read right to left, and so the miners dumped their coal onto the tracks! The lack of cultural foresight with this company caused unnecessary confusion and was detrimental to production.
When you think of instructional design for doctors you can see the necessity in creating graphics that are as functional as possible – lives are at stake.
Cognitive load theory
We use what is called “working memory”. Our working memory is how we manipulate and store memory, its also very limited. Graphics packed with text overloads the working memory and causes issues, this is remedied by the split attention effect. It’s proven effective to split between visual and verbal instructions.
The after is messier, no grid or neatness, no obnoxious legend. The principle of proximity gestalt theory applies here. Things that are close implies the objects are related, working in favor for the new grid.
Here’s two examples of info graphics for opening a plane thing.
The photography info graphics suck, there’s too much going on, too much information to take in, no salient points, details all have equal visual weight. So unclear !
The second is a better example: static, simpler graphics, shows salient points and a limited color palette only having emphasis on the important part (red). It shows actions with arrows. This example is better for an emergency situation.
Kinds of interactions
What does interaction have to offer? Cairo Alberto categorizes four different types of information graphics in relation to interactivity:
- Instruction – user tells a program to do something by pressing buttons/clicking the mouse.
- Conversation – user has conversation with a program, a back and forth dialogue to retrieve information.
- Manipulation – user manipulates elements by dragging and dropping them, changing appearance and organising objects.
- Exploration – user immerses themselves in an exploratory environment, an open game-like experience for people.
What are some challenges and opportunities of working on an interactive medium?
- Limited screen area
- Limited resolution
- What users want
What do users really want? To design good quality stuff we need to get into the shoes of our users. Redundancy and repetition is actually an important facet to instructional design, it offers lots of different learning methods for users to feel comfortable and in control. Give users a sense of control!
Summary & Key point
- Interactive design is all around us
- Good instructional design saves lives
- Be aware of cultural differences
- Cognitive load theory
- Photography makes poor graphics for instructional design
- Alberto Cairo’s four distinct types of information graphics
- Challenges and opportunities on working in interactive medium
- Redundancy is good for instructional design and users need a sense of control
The point I’ve taken as the most important is the necessity in understanding the users needs, cultural differences and getting into their shoes. The importance of giving a user control so they can access information easier.