One of the first deliverables you’ll review and approve for a custom e-learning course is the user interface (UI) design. The UI design specifies the look and feel of each type of screen within a course. Generally, the designer will present a mock up of an opening screen, a menu screen, a screen with text and an image, and a screen with text and an exercise for you to approve.
But, if you are not a graphic artist, how do you know if the design is any good? Should you approve it? What, if any, elements should you ask the designer to change?
You can use the questions below to evaluate the UI design, even if you have no artistic training:
- Does the UI design adhere to your organization’s branding standards? At a minimum, the design should use colors, fonts, and logos specified in the branding standards.
- Is the text readable? The readability of the text is a function of font choice and layout. Sans serif fonts are more legible on computer screens. This is because the screen resolution, typically 100 pixels per inch or less, makes serif fonts more difficult to read. In addition, text displayed in columns is easier to read than text that stretches across the full width of the screen. Finally, sufficient space between headings and text and between paragraphs facilitates scanning.
- Does the UI design make sense? I once received a mock up of a main menu screen from a graphic designer that showed previous and next buttons in addition to the menu choices. I couldn’t figure out where either the previous or next button would take me. This UI design did not make sense.
- Does the UI design help learners understand where they are? Like the sign in the mall that shows “You are here,” a good UI design should help orient learners to where they are in the course and within a lesson. There are several methods to accomplish this goal. A progress bar shows how much of the course has been completed. A breadcrumb link shows where the learner is both within a lesson and within the course. Different size fonts to denote titles versus subtitles orient learners as to where they are within a topic. The UI design should include enough of these sign-posts to ensure learners don’t feel lost.
- Is the UI design consistent? The same buttons should always appear in the same place. Clickable elements and clicked links should always be color-coded consistently. Activities should work the same way. For example, if learners will be answering questions, they should always click the same button to advance in every activity. I’ve seen courses where they click Submit during one activity and Continue during another. This is not a consistent UI design.
- Does the UI design make it easy for learners to tell where they left off or to reference specific information once the course is done? Bookmarking, check marks next to completed lessons, and a menu structure that reflects the actual job can be invaluable if learners will access the course in multiple sessions or for reference.
- Does the UI design include appropriate user control? I get annoyed if I have to sit through the same opening sequence every time I access the course. A “skip intro” link would alleviate this problem. Sound and video controls are also essential.
- Is the UI design built for efficient navigation? Remember in the Wizard of Oz how Dorothy clicked her heels three times to go home? Well, that’s my rule for e-learning, too. Learners should be able to get virtually anywhere in the course by clicking three times. If more clicks are required, the graphic designer needs to explain why this is unavoidable.
- Does the UI design include all elements? A graphic designer once sent me a UI design that didn’t include how images would be displayed. This UI design was incomplete.
- Is the UI design visually appealing? You should just like looking at it. If not, discuss this issue with your graphic designer until he or she is able to come up with something that is visually pleasing and still meets all of the above criteria.