Illustrating Instructional Materials: An International Perspective

By Parker, Edmond T. | Training & Development Journal, January 1988 | Go to article overview
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Illustrating Instructional Materials: An International Perspective

Parker, Edmond T., Training & Development Journal

Illustrating Instructional Materials: An International Perspective

Providing culturally relevant instruction is not always easy. And illustrations can cause even more cultural problems than text. Clients and trainees see illustrations immediately and react to them more strongly thn to a written mistake buried in a thousand words of text. Every cultural gaffe or incongruity is immediately apparent to local viewers, and the number of potential gaffes in any series of illustrations is infinite.

Designing illustrations for use abroad is a complex task, and we've all heard stories of dismal failures. But there are several guidelines professionals responsible for producing materials for clients overseas can follow to make their job easier and success more likely.

The general view

Certain general principles are valid everywhere when planning illustrations.

* An illustration should promote and stimulate learning rather than merely decorate.

* Illustrations should emphasize what is important while minimizing or omitting the unimportant and distracting.

* One illustration should exemplify one concept rather than attempt to incorporate a variety of concepts.

* White space is desirable in an illustration; crowding is always undesirable.

* Because it can emphasize the important details, artwork is often preferable to a photograph.

* Field-testing illustrations is as important as field-testing text.

* Evaluating the usefulness of illustrations is as important as evaluating the text components of instructional materials.

Too often we forget or short-change these principles in practice. An artist may misinterpret directions or not have proper directions, and you might not have the time or money to have the artwork corrected. Or you may have planned an illustration with plenty of white space, but the client or consultants may insist on squeezing in a few extra details or concepts, with disastrous results. Or there may not be enough time or funds for field-testing or proper evaluation. And so it goes.

The point is, you must remember the validity and applicability of these general principles, whether you're producing materials for the United States or for someplace abroad.

Illustrators and their sources

It's unlikely that an illustrator will know exactly what people, places, and things look like in the client country. Culturally relevant illustration must appear authentic; the people, places, and things in the illustrations must look indigenous. For example, an artist shouldn't portray people driving American cars where American cars are virtually unknown.

Sometimes it is good to use an artist native to the target country. This clearly provides important advantages as far as authenticity is concerned. But it's not a good idea to have illustrations done in the client's country while the rest of the production is done in the United States. Good illustrations require extensive interaction between the illustrator and the instructional designer. There are few experiences more frustrating that being presented with a sheaf of completed, but erroneous, illustrations with no reasonable prospect for corrrecting them.

Using artists native to the target country can present some problems. Often they are not used to the idioms of instructional materials. Or much as some American commercial artists, they may draw people well but be inept illustrating machinery, or vice versa. Furthermore, they can provide you with a cultural trap if, unknown to you, they draw everything to confrom to reality in their own ethnic, religious, or regional enclaves.

Obviously nonnative artists first have to learn about the place they are illustrating. This calls for a great deal of attention to detail both on the part of the artists and on the part of those briefing the artists and monitoring the acceptance of illustrations.

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