A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

This guest post comes to us from Phil Cowcill, director at Development Made Simple and upcoming speaker at DevLearn 2016 Conference & Expo.cowcill-phil dl16 posy

The title of this post is a very common saying, and there is some truth to it. However, what the phrase doesn’t say is whether all the words are positive. Do some of the images used in your training have your learners thinking, “This sucks”? This doesn’t mean the training is poor—it’s just that the look, and maybe the layout, of the content is below a professional standard. This takes away from a good user experience (UX). I’ve seen enough PowerPoint slide decks from colleges, universities, and military organizations to understand bad images are an epidemic.

Over the years, the eLearning field has changed dramatically. If you focus on the tools, it’s now possible that you can do more—even if you aren’t trained in that particular field. One of the adverse effects of the shift in tools doing complex functions using an intuitive interface is that eLearning professionals are expected to do more. How has your job changed over the past five years?

Creating and manipulating images and designing an interface have also drastically changed with the tools. One of the biggest advents in our field is the use of images from cell phones. Pictures coming from a cell phone look pretty good (in most cases), but they can be improved. The camera on a cell phone does not have nearly the power of what a professional SLR camera can produce. This is very evident when you see a picture taken from a cell phone as-is compared to one that has been “punched up.”

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Trends in images tend to go in cycles. One of the newest pushes is to create flat-looking images. If you look at an iPhone or Android phone, you’ll see that bevels and glossy overlays are gone. This allows for the better-looking parallax animation that today’s phones have. In your training, do you normally incorporate parallax animation? Probably not. So why keep your content flat? One of the key things to do is to add depth to your interface or images. By using color (such as a black-and-white background with a color subject), you can make the main focus jump out. With today’s tools, you can easily simulate 3-D without actually making a 3-D image.

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There are times when background images are very busy. It can make reading text difficult. Using some of the features of today’s imaging tools, this is very easy to fix. The key is to reduce eye fatigue when the learner looks at your screen. If they have to strain to read the content, then the image is hurting your objective.

Many of today’s eLearning authoring tools come with an abundance of clip art and stock photos. These allow you to create a screen design that looks professional. However, you can make something that looks good look great. Often the difference between a good training course and a great training course is the user experience (UX). The look of a product is a big part of the UX. By adding a few tweaks to an image, you can take a flat stock image and create a simulated 3-D interface.

Some of the tools, like Photoshop for example, allow you to create true 3-D images. This is putting a very powerful feature in the hands of many. Some professional 3-D software costs over $3,600 and up. Using some of the features in a tool like Photoshop, you can take a flat logo and extrude it into a 3-D object. Then this logo can be placed in a virtual room that has shadows and reflections. There are no extra plugins required—it’s part of the Photoshop package. Imagine you need to add a heading to an image. What would it look like if the heading were in 3-D but embedded within a 2-D photograph? This can get your imagination running.phil cowcill post grad

While tools like Photoshop give you a lot of power to generate new images and effects, there’s a real powerful image editor that can fix damaged images. An environmental biologist came back from Alaska. While he was there he was taking pictures. His camera popped open and exposed the film, so his pictures of mountain goats had a massive red streak through them. Using some common features in Photoshop, this image can be fixed up in less than 30 minutes. While it’s not ideal to figure that a picture can always be fixed later, you don’t have to delete marred content, as it may be fixable.

Many tools keep adding more and more features based on users’ input. Photoshop has been around for over 20 years; Adobe has received a massive amount of input on how to improve Photoshop. For someone who is new to the product, this can be overwhelming. There are two ways to learn your tool and become more productive. First, look to workshops or courses. This shortens the time when learning a product’s new features. A well-planned lesson can answer multiple questions you may have. Second, practice what you’ve learned. It’s one thing to see the steps on how to mix a monochrome background with a colored foreground, but it’s another to be able to create it in less than a minute.

Take a deeper dive with Phil on this topic at his pre-conference workshop, Using the Power of Photoshop to Create Brilliant Images, at DevLearn 2016 Conference & Expo on Monday, November 14, in Las Vegas. Click here to learn more!

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