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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Hekking

Design and Psychology: Why ‘Pretty’ is Not Enough

By Carolyn Taylor |

It was the height of 1922 when William Addison Dwiggins first coined the term ‘graphic design’ to communicate his technical abilities to lay out type settings and imagery for the books he published. However, contrary to popular belief, this was not the birth of graphic design. (Cue SHOCK and HORROR!).

Graphic design truly began its infancy in the era of the caveman! Although our predecessors' creative technical skills were fairly limited to organic materials and documented via cave paintings, creatives have long since looked to these prototypical layouts and compositional choices to create a better understanding of those who came before them. One thing has stood at the root of every design choice and communicating a message through visuals is just that.

(Good) visual communication works because every human on the planet shares basic psychological cues that aid in multilingual communication. The more we can identify a target audience in today’s world of oversaturated information, the better the design choices we can make to communicate more effectively.

“No design works unless it embodies ideas that are held common by the people for whom the object is intended.” - Adrian Forty

Function over Form(at)

Contemporary design (especially EdTech design) needs to put function at the forefront of design choices. Design is a key tool in communicating content to a wide audience, but designers must balance functionality and aesthetics. A great way to do this when it comes to building educational platforms with engaging content is to create a narrative within your design.

Annie Murphy Paul, an educator and psychologist, says, Our minds treat [narratives] differently than other kinds of information. We understand them better, remember them more accurately, and we find them more engaging to listen to in the first place.” This, and the fact that learners on average have the attention span of a potato (10-15 minutes long if we’re precise), means that anything created for them needs to be more than just a pretty (inter)face.

To create a design narrative that works for your learners, you can use many psychological cues to engage them better. From color choices to icon styles, each design choice will impact how the information they represent is being digested (yum).

“Color does not add a pleasant quality to designit reinforces it.” - Pierre Bonnard

Social Blues

One classic example of using psychological cues to enhance usability and draw engagement to an online platform is Facebook. While their user interface has changed drastically over the years from what it used to be, one thing has remained the same—their color palette. This is not by accident, nor the result of an eeny-meeny-miney-moe decision, but rather a carefully considered and deeply researched one based on the effect of blue on the human psyche.

Blue hues/cool tones are often associated with calmness, trust, and innovation. A brand that carefully and effectively uses color psychology within its identity can sub-consciously build a certain idea of that brand within the consumer’s mind. Facebook, being a social media platform designed to hold your attention for as long as possible, chose blue as it was the easiest on the eye. Users were also more likely to stay online for longer, aimlessly scrolling if they felt at ease.

This is just one example of how something as seemingly simple as picking a color to represent your brand/platform can have a lasting effect on your users. Similar techniques are used when it comes to font choices, layout, icons, content structure, usability, etc. Good design will get you noticed, but great and considered design will keep your users coming back and engaging with the content in a more interesting way—and that’s what we, at Construct, aim for!

Accessibility is KEY

With the rapid advancement of technology over the last few decades (think of your first cell phone, then think of the phones that 5-year-old’s currently sport), we can have a much wider and diverse audience looking at the same content. Although we think that this is creating equal opportunities for learners from all backgrounds, many students will not engage with the content in the same way due to different abilities.

Learners who are colorblind may not be able to read the pastel-shaded graph you so beautifully created and lose out on engaging with the content in the same way as other students. A learner who is deaf will not find the content video to be as valuable as it could be without a designer ensuring that there are subtitles to guide them. A company specializing in creating learning content needs to ensure their content’s accessibility, ideally designing for better and more equal opportunities.

This is why design can be, and should be, considered and thought-through, with its varied learners at the forefront. Thoughtful design will ensure that whatever content you are putting out there is accessible to people of various abilities, creating a considered and user-friendly program that gives learners the best opportunity to learn. That is the best thing you can do for your learners, clients, or even just your own company.

Thus, while ‘pretty’ may be visually stunning, on its own, it is not enough to create truly engaging, effective, and impactful experiences within the world of EdTech design.



Carolyn Taylor

Graphic Designer at Construct

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