After hearing from several more test users (classmates in EDTECH 506), I decided to remove the arrow from step 2. Since the sub menu and its label (step 2) were in close proximity, the arrow was not needed. One tester suggested dropping step 3 because it isn’t a user action required to change the tool. That is correct, of course, but I left step 3 there so the user will know to look for a different shape tool icon the next time she searches for the shape tool menu.
Selection – Organization – Integration
Click the image above for a full-size version of the graphic.
I designed this graphic to help learners during lesson one of the Fireworks CS6 unit. Shape tools are among the first tools that beginning graphic designers utilize. This shape tools graphic will serve as both an instructional tool and a reference for later use, allowing students to learn and reference how to get to each of the different shape tools.
Staff at Anytown Private School (APS) will have the option to complete this course online. People outside of APS who find the unit online will also have the opportunity to complete it. This assumes that all who choose to work through the unit will have a working knowledge of computers and the Internet. Users will also need Fireworks CS6 installed, though many of the steps in this unit can be adapted for use with other graphics editors, such as Google Drawings. People of almost any age will be able to work through this unit, as long as they are able to read at least at the sixth-grade level.
Why will this graphic work?
Selection is the first principle of PAT – Principles, Actions, and Tools, and it involves our sensory memory (Lohr, 2008, p. 60). To take advantage of sensory memory most effectively, the graphic designer must work to eliminate elements that draw the learner’s attention away from the intended message. When considering figure-ground perception, for example, it is important to be certain that the ground does not compete with the figure for the learner’s attention (Lohr, 2008, p. 102).
I needed two images for this graphic. The first is a screen shot of the entire Fireworks CS6 tools palette. I also needed the shape tool sub menu, which I drew using each shape tool in Fireworks. I added the text in Google Drawings because Google renders text more smoothly than Fireworks. The most important part of the complete shape tools graphic is the sub menu because it provides target audience members with a list of the shape tools that are available. This image became the figure, relegating the tools palette image to the ground. The ground image is not extraneous, however, so I did not delete it in an attempt to conserve data ink (Lohr, 2008, p. 102). Instead, I kept the ground image to indicate to learners the location of the shape tools menu as it relates to the rest of the tools palette. To keep the ground from competing with the figure, I set the opacity of the tools palette image to 50%. This allows the learner to see the location of the shape tools icon on the tools palette without the palette becoming too strong of an image, detracting from the larger, more prominent shape tools sub menu.
There is a potential distraction in the shape tools sub menu. The sub menu uses a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters. I did this intentionally to duplicate the menu as it is seen in Fireworks CS6. At first glance the mix may be distracting to target audience members. However, when they compare this graphic side by side with the Fireworks CS6 shape tools sub menu, the two will be a perfect match, lending confidence that the learner is, indeed, in the right location.
There are three Cs to consider when designing educational graphics to reach maximum selection potential (Lohr, 2008, p. 103).
- Concentration The topic of the graphic is easily identifiable through the use of contrast in the title font size and weight.
- Concise The three steps are chunked into small phrases that are easy to comprehend and retain.
- Concrete Red lines provide continuity from the ground to the figure, making it easier for the learner to understand the relationship between the tools palette (ground) and enlarged sub menu (figure).
Figure-ground perceptions are maximized in this graphic to bring the learner’s eye to the enlarged menu. This is accomplished with a red outline and bold letters of the enlarged sub menu contrasting with the white background of the entire graphic. I chose red outlines and bold text to provide obvious contrast. Slight differences produce only conflict, not contrast (Lohr, 2008, p. 111).
The ground in this image features a screen shot of the actual Fireworks CS6 tools palette. To help the learner make the connection between the figure and ground, I selected the shape tool icon in the tools palette using a red rectangle. This rectangle is the same shade as the box around the enlarged sub menu, and both are 2 pixels thick. The lines that take the user’s eye from the small red rectangle (tool icon) to the large red rectangle (enlarged sub menu) are a lighter shade of red. I picked a lighter shade because those lines are needed only to help the learner understand the relationship between the figure and ground. A darker shade would make the lines more prominent and they would compete with the figure itself.
Steps 1 and 3 are both related to the background (tools palette image) more so than the enlarged sub menu, so I left-aligned the 1 and 3 in this graphic. This helps bring steps 1 and 3 together in the learner’s perception. As an added bonus, this alignment produced an interesting effect between the black arrows pointing from the numbers to the shape tool icon, and the red lines that point from the shape tool icon to the enlarged sub menu.
User Test Results
Before asking for input, I explained that this graphic was to illustrate how a graphic designer might address figure-ground perception to increase learning. With that in mind, what jumped out at the user? The title – which was good. I used contrast to make that appear obviously different from the other elements. But the second thing was that it was blurry. The user was correct – the text and other graphics were blurry on every device we tested. I can’t find a monitor or printer that will make the image appear less blurry.
Once we got past the apparent blurriness of the image, the user also mentioned that the background was pushed past the point of a non-competing ground image. It was obfuscated. I had originally applied the blur filter to decrease the competition with the figure (enlarged sub menu), but I had blurred the ground image too much, making it unintelligible.
Changes to the Original Image
After the initial user test, I made several changes to the original image to improve figure-ground perception.
- changed the ground image (tools palette) to an easy-to-read screen shot with 50% opacity
- increased the size of the numbers 1, 2, and 3 to make them more prominent
- added bold to the letters in the sub menu to grab learners’ attention
- added more text to each of the steps for clarity
- rearranged the position of the three steps to align the 1 and 3
Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.