Simplify your visuals – simplify learning

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A picture may be worth a thousand words – but what if you don’t need a thousand words? In her book Interface Design for Learning, Dorian Peters suggests some strategies for simplifying graphics to reduce cognitive overload. At the center of these strategies is Richard Mayer’s Multimedia Principle, which states that words and images are better than words alone for supporting learning.

Some of Peters’ simplification strategies include:

  • Stick to relevant graphics – Interesting but irrelevant graphics can actually decrease learning outcomes, while relevant graphics help learners process content and increase engagement.
  • Use thoughtful reduction in data graphics – Remove graphic detail that does not communicate data. Just be careful not to go too far, as “dramatic minimalism” can reduce readability and undermine clarity.
  • Simplify explanatory visuals – Reduce visual elements to help learners recognize and understand graphics more quickly. Simple line drawings are actually more memorable than photographs or detailed graphical representations.

In the category of simplifying explanatory visuals, Peters writes about the use of pictograms – extremely simplified graphical representations that are meant to be universally understood. In an age of increasingly spare interface design, they’ve enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Check out this article about how and when to use them. And when you’re done – tell us, what are some of your strategies for simplifying visuals?

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