I met Connie Malamed at the last Presentation Summit where she presented on the topic, “Your Brain on Graphics–Get your visuals on target and on message.” I was impressed with her understanding of the field of visual communication and interested in her recommendation of “primitive features,” images that are simple in terms of color, size, orientation, movement, shape and depth. Therefore, she recommended reducing the realism of graphics, because the brain can process them more quickly and efficiently than more complex realistic images.
Connie is the author of Visual Language for Designers. The paperback edition will be available in August. (You can find the hardcover edition new on Barnes & Noble, used on Amazon, and on Amazon’s Kindle.) She also has a respected blog, the elearning coach, with tips and advice on instructional design for elearning.
I recently interviewed Connie about her work.
EllenFinkelstein.com: Can you briefly explain the research you synthesized and how it relates to presenting?
Connie Malamed: My goal in writing Visual Language For Designers was to uncover principles of visual design that are based on how people perceive and understand graphics, rather than relying on intuition or likes and dislikes. Using design principles based on cognitive psychology can help presenters create slides that accurately communicate their message. It can help audiences focus on what is important and it can help presenters better connect with their audience.
EllenFinkelstein.com: What would you say most people do incorrectly when creating slides for their presentations?
Connie Malamed: Presenters may fail to take the necessary time to identify how the visual aspect of a slide can enhance and increase the value of their message. Instead, they fill the slide with text or slap a stock photo onto it as window dressing. If presenters learn how people process visual information, they might be more thoughtful in how they design slides, which will give the presentation more impact and power.
EllenFinkelstein.com: Would you list 2-3 principles that presenters should use when creating their graphics that would help their audience understand and remember more?
Connie Malamed: One principle is to identify what is most important on a slide and then to use color, shape, size or a sense of movement to make the primary element pop out more than anything else. This takes advantage of the fact that people are scanning a visual before they are aware of it.
A second principle is to use photos with faces when your message needs to connect emotionally with an audience. Emotions can cause a visceral reaction in an audience. There are several areas of the brain that process facial information so people are very attuned to faces.
A third principle is that you can make visual communication more efficient by reducing the realism in graphics, using line art, silhouettes and other types of minimalist graphics to replace photographs.
EllenFinkelstein.com: How are these principles specifically applicable to information design for eLearning and similar learning experiences?
Connie Malamed: I think all of the principles in Visual Language For Designers are relevant to learning, because like other forms of communication, instruction is based on creating an accurate message. Understanding how to design for the human mind can help instructional designers to conceive or create graphics that are perceived and understood quickly. Also, many eLearning courses created for adult learners involve complex topics. Knowing the best strategies for clarifying visual complexity can improve learning and retention.
EllenFinkelstein.com: Your book is called Visual Language for Designers. After briefly what the book offers designers, could you explain what non-designers might get out of it?
Connie Malamed: Visual Language For Designers is really as much for non-designers as it is for designers. Because it’s based on cognitive psychology, the principles are applicable to anyone involved in visual design regardless of background. It’s really about designing for the human mind.
There are over 250 graphics from artists and designers around the world, so that aspect alone is very inspiring. It is a somewhat intellectual read, so readers should be prepared to learn a bit about our cognitive architecture, which I’m sure many people will find fascinating.