Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

The Origins of Graphic Screen Design Principles Theory or Rhetoric?

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

The Origins of Graphic Screen Design Principles Theory or Rhetoric?

Article excerpt


From flipcharts and overheads to presentation software and Web-based training, trainers have long relied on the use of visuals to enhance learning and improve training effectiveness. As the use of computer-based presentations and tutorials has increased, certain design tips or rules of thumb have been passed down through the professional literature (1-6). These guidelines include such things as:

* Avoid text heavy screens (the number of words per line and lines per screen)

* Don't use nonstandard typefaces or inappropriate font styles

* Use correct punctuation

* Never use poor grammar

* Avoid poor contrast between backgrounds and text

* Leave appropriate space between text and bullets

* Do not overuse effects such as blinking, flashing, or transitions

* Use mixed case letters

* Use pastel or soothing colors

* Avoid inappropriate page layout and justification

* Use colors and graphics consistently

* Use relevant graphics or familiar metaphors

* Avoid busy or cluttered screens

Often absent from these lists of guidelines are the broader principles of graphic design from which they have evolved and the learning theories that support them. These guidelines tend to be based on the opinions of experts rather than on the results of empirical research (7-8). Most simply promulgate the assumption that the use of these guidelines improves the transfer of information, thereby enhancing the learning process and that, conversely, any violation of these principles detracts from the learning process and is therefore detrimental to learning.

In an attempt to pinpoint the likely origins of many of the common graphic design guidelines used in both face-to-face and web-based multi-media (WBT) training, the authors considered the intended target audience. Training environments deal with adults and depend heavily on both sight and sound to initiate the physiological process that triggers humans to perceive and store information. Therefore the underling theories of visual cognition and adult learning were used to identify only guidelines that were theoretically and empirically based. Citation analysis was employed to discover the most frequently cited textbooks (associated with these guidelines) in the field of instructional design. From this most frequently cited list, seven instructional design textbooks and handbooks were randomly chosen. Next the Social Science Citation Index was used to narrow the list to five core texts. Finally, each of the five was analyzed with regard to graphic design guidelines and its empirical and theoretical theory base.


While training presentation methods vary widely, the two that this study is most concerned with include stand-up training supported by presentation software and multimedia computer-based or Web-based training (WBT). The context of these training environments depend heavily on two senses--sight and hearing. Visual cognition is the physiological process humans use to perceive and store information (9). Among the many theories of visual cognition, Paivio's dual coding theory relates most closely to these current training practices. According to dual coding theory (10) humans store words and visuals both verbally and perceptually. Visuals are often encoded twice and are therefore easier to remember. Dual coding theory helps explain why the use of visuals enhances the learning process.

Bransford's theory (11) offers a related and equally important perspective. He suggests that there are four components to learning, including "... learner characteristics, critical task, nature of materials to be learned, and nature of learning activities." It is the interaction of these four components that determines learning outcomes. Bradford's theory points toward yet another set of relevant theories, those of adult learning. …

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