2. Instructional Design

Design Principles – Part 2 of 5

Universal Principles of Design, a book describing 125 interdisciplinary principles, is a fascinating reference. I extract 25 of those principles and offer relevant examples in a series of five blogs.

Today’s topics – instructional design:

  1. Advance Organizer
  2. Recognition Over Recall
  3. Rosetta Stone
  4. Storytelling
  5. von Restorff Effect

Advance Organizer

 “An instructional technique that helps people understand new information in terms of what they already know.”

Advance OrganizersAdvance organizers are brief units of spoken or written information that embrace an overall concept. They are presented as context before new information is introduced. Advance organizers help facilitate learning and understanding. Unlike overviews and summaries, advance organizers provide context through the big picture.

There are two types of advance organizers: expository and comparative. Expository advance organizers are used to introduce material that is completely new to an audience. Comparative advance organizers precede information that is similar to information already known by the audience.

Recognition Over Recall

“Memory for recognizing things is better than memory for recalling things.”

People have an easier time recognizing things they have experienced than they do recalling those same things from memory. The reason is that recognition comes from exposure through one or more of the senses. Recollection memory comes from learning using a combination of techniques: memorization, practice, and application – more demanding ways of acquiring memory.

Recognition Over RecallPeople tend to choose a familiar option over an unfamiliar option. Strategic branding exploits this marketing principle.

Maximize recognition by allowing site visitors to select from a menu or choice of options rather than forcing them to recall something completely from memory.

Rosetta Stone

“A technique for communicating novel information using elements of common understanding.”

Rosetta StoneFollowing the loss of ancient Egyptian scripts, Napoleon’s army found an Egyptian artifact in 1799 that contained classical Greek writing and ancient Egyptian writing together.

Uncovered in the town of Rosetta, the artifact became known as the Rosetta Stone. The writings allowed Greek scholars to comparatively translate the Egyptian texts using the Greek writings with which they were familiar.

The Rosetta Stone principle embeds an element of common understanding as a key that the learner already understands to unlock a new, as yet not understood, concept. For more complex concepts, a greater number of keys are embedded.

When presenting website information, start with what the site visitor knows; then introduce new concepts or information.


“A method of creating imagery, emotions, and understanding of events through an interaction between a storyteller and an audience. ”

Storytelling, unique to humans, is the original method of passing knowledge from one generation to another. Storytelling can be oral (spoken tale), visual (movie), or textual (poem).

Image of Steve JobsKorean War Veterans Memorial, Washington, DCKorean War Veterans Memorial, Washington, DCStorytelling is used to engage an audience in a design, to evoke a specific emotional response, or to provide context for learning. The audience recalls the storied events in a personal way, especially if the audience relates to the event from firsthand experience. That experience adds to the entire story.

Digital storytelling has recently emerged as a way of relating information using digital media. The article titled Steve Jobs: his 10 most inspirational quotes written by Andy Bloxham for The Telegraph (Aug 25, 2011) can be considered a type of digital story. As Bloxham says of Jobs’ quotes, “I challenge you not to read them and feel a response.”

For a more traditional method of storytelling, see Steve Jobs’ commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Stanford University How to Live Before You Die.

In the fall of 2012, I visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, an outdoor sculpture exhibit. Walking amongst the life-size figures and reading the war statistics brought these soldiers’ stories to life. It evoked a visceral response.

This is a less traditional, but effective, mode of storytelling.

von Restorff Effect

“A phenomenon of memory in which noticeably different things are more likely to be recalled than common things.”

Fur Cup


Blue pencil among yellow pencils

The von Restorff Effect is the increased probably of remembering an item or event because of its unique characteristics. This is because increased attention is given to distinctive items, especially when viewed in a set.

Use this principle to highlight a key item in a presentation by using boldface or colour. However, use the separating technique sparingly; otherwise the unique separator becomes commonplace.

Unusual words, sentence constructions, and images are better remembered than their more common counterparts. Consequently, this makes them more interesting and thus easier to recall.

Next: Part 3 – User-Interface Design

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1. Designs in Nature

Design Principles – Part 1 of 5

Universal Principles of Design, a book describing 125 interdisciplinary principles, is a fascinating reference. I extract 25 of those principles and offer relevant examples in a series of five blogs.

Today’s topics – designs in nature:

  1. Biophilia Effect
  2. Desire Line
  3. Fibonacci Sequence
  4. Golden Ratio
  5. Wayfinding

Biophilia Effect

“Environments rich in nature views and imagery reduce stress and enhance focus and concentration.”

Biophilia fall treesExposure to natural environments produces emotional, cognitive, and physical restorative benefits. Nature scenes appear to be the most reliable and consistent source for the general population.

In a long-term study, children who experienced the greatest increase in nature views from their windows made the greatest gains in standard tests of attention.

Biophilia DoorwaysInterestingly, the effect does not require real plants in the environment. Mere images of window views and posters on the wall have the same effect as the real thing.

Why should nature views improve concentration over urban imagery? It seems that the effect is deeply rooted in the brain and arises from an innate preference for green spaces.

Incorporate the biophilia effect in architectural environments where learning, healing, and concentration occur.

Desire Line

 “Traces of use or wear that indicate preferred methods of interaction with an object or environment.”

Desire Line path through treesDesire lines are paths where people walk – the beaten path that evolves as a shortcut to a destination.

The principle is applied more broadly to trace user activity in an object or environment in the real world.

Consider desire lines in projects emphasizing usability. Attempt to detect desire lines prior to finalizing design specifications; they represent user preference and efficiency.

Fibonacci Sequence

 “A sequence of numbers in which each number is the sum of the preceding two.”

Fibonacci Sequence in natureA Fibonacci sequence is a pattern of numbers in which each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers (e.g., 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…). Patterns featuring the sequence occur in natural forms such as flower petals and galaxy spirals.

The Fibonacci sequence is used in conjunction with the closely aligned golden mean design principle.

Fibonacci SequenceThe prevalence of the sequence in nature leads many to speculate that patterns based on the Fibonacci sequence are intrinsically aesthetic.

The sequence is deployed in classical poetry, art, music, architecture, and continues to be a popular pattern in mathematics and design, especially when used to develop rhythms and harmonies among multiple elements.

Golden Ratio

“A ratio within the elements of a form, such as height to width, approximating 0.168. ”

GoldenRatio ShellElements ranging from nature to architecture to modern design show how the golden ratio (also known as the golden mean) has been used to establish an optimum width to height proportion.

Piet Mondrian and Leonardo da Vinci used the golden ratio in their paintings. Stradivari constructed violins based on the golden ratio. Architectural marvels like the Parthenon, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and Stonehenge implemented golden ratio proportions.

And it influences today’s designs of technological gadgets like Apple’s iPhone.

GoldenRatio Mona Lisa

Recently, this principle came in handy when I was searching for a pleasing height to width ratio for a manuscript book design.

It is not known whether the golden ratio was incorporated in early art and architecture because its proportions were explicitly known or because of a subconscious preference for the aesthetic based on observations of nature.

All we know is that historical and current design makes use of this popular aesthetic.


“The process of using spatial and environmental information to navigate to a destination.”

Wayfinding involves four stages:

  1. Orientation – determining location relative to landmarks and signage.
  2. Route Decision – choosing from multiple route options to reach destination.
  3. Route Monitoring – scrutinizing chosen route to establish and confirm that it correctly leads to destination. Paths enable navigator to gauge progress.
  4. Destination Recognition – recognizing the destination.

Wayfinding map

The principles of physical wayfinding are easily translated to web navigation. Notably, the third stage, route monitoring, confirms for site visitors that they are on the right track to their destination.

Next: Part 2 – Instructional Design

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Design Principles

“Design matters. But design is not about decoration or about ornamentation. Design is about making communication as easy and clear for the viewer as possible.”  Garr Reynolds

25 Principles

I couldn’t wait to crack open my course textbook: Universal Principles of Design (Rockport Publishers, 2010). Authors William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler identify 125 ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions, and teach through design.


The textbook is a reference for designers ranging from architecture to graphics to user-interface. It teems with 125 design principles, some with captivating names like Rosetta Stone or Fibonacci Sequence. Others sound like they are named after the discoverer: Ockham’s Razor or von Restorff Effect. There’s the exotic Wabi-Sabi and wacky Five Hat Racks.

I randomly selected 25 principles that caught my eye. Over the next several weeks, I present each design principle together with an illustration. The principles are grouped into five categories featuring five design principles each.

Designs in Nature

  1. Biophilia Effect
  2. Desire Line
  3. Fibonacci Sequence
  4. Golden Ratio
  5. Wayfinding

Biophilia Bee

Instructional Design

  1. Advance Organizer
  2. Recognition over Recall
  3. Rosetta Stone
  4. Storytelling
  5. von Restorff Effect

Golden Ratio storm clouds

Marketing Design

  1. Anthropomorphic Form
  2. Archetypes
  3. Baby-Face Bias
  4. Colour
  5. Red Effect


Product Design

  1. Aesthetic-Usability Effect
  2. Contour Bias
  3. Horror Vacui
  4. Ockham’s Razor
  5. Wabi-Sabi

Biophilia Tulip

User-Interface Design

  1. Alignment
  2. Chunking
  3. Comparison
  4. Five Hat Racks
  5. Operant Conditioning

So let’s explore this series of principles beginning with Part 1 – Designs in Nature.

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Got Gridlock? Webpage Grids

Creating an eye-catching page layout takes an artistic touch.

Joshua Johnson is a web designer with some well-tested tricks in his toolkit. If you encounter designer’s block, consider Joshua’s 10 Rock Solid Website Layouts. Keep these alignments on your drawing board when you are stuck. Or before you get stuck.

  1. Three Boxes
  2. 3D Screenshots
  3. Advanced Grid
  4. Featured Graphic
  5. Five Boxes
  6. Fixed Sidebar
  7. Headline and Gallery
  8. Featured Photo
  9. Power Grid
  10. Full Screen Photo

Basic principles:

  1. Choose an alignment
  2. Design to include whitespace
  3. Highlight important elements through sizing and positioning

To familiarize myself with his layout concepts, I searched the web for samples of my own to share with you.

Three Boxes

The three boxes layout features one main graphic area followed by two smaller boxes underneath. Each box can be filled with a graphic, a block of text, or a combination of the two.


3D Screenshots

Provide a headline and descriptive text, then add stylized previews of your application using 3D effects.

3D Screen Shots

Advanced Grid

Similar to the three boxes layout, use one primary graphic heading followed by a uniform grid of thumbnails. To add interest, merge some of the thumbnails to create areas of differing shapes. These areas can contain graphics, blocks of text, or a mix of both.

Advanced Grid

Featured Graphic

Sometimes you don’t have enough images or you want to highlight one icon, photo or symbol. An effective solution is to feature one strong graphic.

Featured Graphic

Five Boxes

The five boxes layout expands on the idea of the three boxes layout to accommodate the inclusion of more distinct content. Of course, the secondary boxes become smaller.

5 Boxes

Fixed Sidebar

Fixed vertical navigation features a strong vertical column on the left or right side of the page. The fixed element stays in place so that navigation is accessible from any point on the site. Design the rest of the page incorporating any of the other layout options.

Fixed Sidebar

Headline and Gallery

A gallery page is very visual. Use a headline, an optional sub-head, and then showcase a solid, uniform grid of images. Make the headline big and bold.

Headline and Gallery

Featured Photo

Feature one large image showcasing your design, artwork, or photography, then add a navigation system.

Featured Photo

Power Grid

For pages that contain a variety of related content, the power grid may be an effective solution. Define a large container to hold a series of shapes formatted in a strong but varied grid. In the example below, a defined container holds columns of variously-sized content boxes.

Power Grid

Full Screen Photo

Use one large, attractive graphic as a background to display a limited amount of content. Content laid over a background image can be difficult to read, so ensure that navigation is clear. Perhaps use an opaque horizontal bar to hold navigational elements.

Full Screen Photo

Hope these layouts inspire your next design project!

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Why am I doing this anyway?

I was wondering how to approach the planning of a blog.

Do the pros plan a month in advance? A quarter? A year? Or do bloggers wait for inspiration to strike? For life to happen?

Darren Rowse runs ProBlogger. A video blog by Rowse describes a full-day planning meeting held with a core team of four colleagues to discuss the upcoming schedule for 2013.

Firstly, the team reviewed the past year’s activities in 2012 and the blogs’ current position based on four critical areas:

  1. Content: reviewed publication frequencies and types of content, including feedback received via comments. Assessed survey results about content.
  2. Community: reviewed quality of comments and signups. Assessed whether people joined forums and engaged in social media channels. Gauged quality of community interaction.
  3. Stats: reviewed analytics on traffic quality and quantity, visitor types, and traffic sources. Assessed balance of new and repeat visitors and whether they arrived via search engine or social medial referrals.
  4. Monetization: reviewed their income generation and evaluated opportunities where they could capitalize on their established brand. This area is critical since the company desires to be sustainable over the long haul.

The review also examined areas for improvement as well as ways to further develop successful ventures. Unsuccessful initiatives were evaluated for improvement or elimination. Throughout, they brainstormed.

Secondly, they listed activities such as product launches and scheduled events; then slotted them into their annual calendar.

Thirdly, they reviewed their goals and sought ways to achieve those goals, scheduling them into their annual calendar. This allowed them to break down the process to milestone those goals and engage in project planning. Some initiatives were penciled in for trial. This way, they could launch a trial and assess it before committing it more permanently in their annual calendar.

Once the calendar was complete, they reviewed the entire year and scheduled new initiatives in the gaps. This creates momentum for the year, and the framework provides clear direction for the next 12 months.

For new bloggers, Rowse’s video suggests that planning an entire year ahead is critical to success.

For solo bloggers whose operations are smaller and less formal, planning is still mandatory. There may be prolific seasons followed by fallow seasons. Write while the well is deep to shore up those dry spells!

For this new social media-ist, before dashing off to brainstorm a list of bloggable topics, I need to re-examine my reasons for entering the blogosphere. Yes, I am aware this is an effective delaying tactic…

WordPressVanGoghWhat is the main purpose of my blog? Who is my key audience? What are they interested in learning? What am I interested in researching? What are my niche areas of expertise? What is the tone of my blog? How can my personality better permeate my writing? How can I attract more traffic to my blog? How can I build community?

All good questions that demand great answers.

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Snake Oil over Ramen Noodles

My colleague Helen is a data analyst and researcher at the University of Toronto. Daily, she mines volumes of data about graduate education.

Most of her reports feature black and white charts with texts and numbers. The reports are robust with comparative data. Whenever I need to check a graduate program’s data set, her reliable annual report is my ultimate go-to resource.

However, we both agree that traditional statistical reports can use a shot of pizzazz!

Helen is also a foodie, so I love dining with her. Today we find ourselves lunching at Kenzo Ramen.

We are discussing a Ted Talk by data journalist David McCandless titled “The Beauty of Data Visualization” (July 10, 2010). An information designer, McCandless talks about visualizing the connections between data so that relational concepts are better understood when presented graphically.

With the emergence of data visualization and infographics, the future is beautiful. Information is beautiful. His recent project, Snake Oil?, presents comparative scientific data on popular health supplements.


By presenting research in such an engaging way, information is accessible to the public. Scientific data is not languishing on dusty shelves or in rusty filing cabinets. (OK, maybe no one but me files paper in physical cabinets any more…)

In fact, consumers are flocking to buy infographic posters as much for their informational significance as for their visual appeal.

McCandless explains, “The eye is exquisitely sensitive to patterns in variations in color, shape, and pattern. It loves them, and it calls them beautiful. It’s the language of the eye. If you combine the language of the eye with the language of the mind, which is about words and numbers and concepts, you start speaking two languages simultaneously, each enhancing the other. So, you have the eye, and then you drop in the concepts. And that is the whole thing – it is two languages both working at the same time.”


Indeed, information is beautiful!

Data visualization empowers us to readily examine complex data to develop our own interpretations. When data is understood, it can be better analyzed which, in turn, can lead to informed change. We no longer depend on someone else to parse the patterns. We can visualize it for ourselves. Secondary bias is eliminated. We can comprehend concepts unfiltered – on two cognitive levels – the eye and the mind.

Not into supplements? How about a serving of vegetables from Over 400 Vegetables on One Incredibly Healthy Poster (Pop Chart Lab).


Add a little ramen to the mix, and now we’re cooking! Or noodling…

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Entering the Blogosphere

I am a novice blogger.

Celebrities and status-seekers write blogs. Corporations with social media strategies write blogs. Unconvinced that the blogosphere offered much to significantly impact my life, I consciously steered clear. Until now.

When my writer friend Elaine moved to Hong Kong, she started to blog about her travels as a way to record her impressions and to inform her friends back home that she was safe and having the adventure of a lifetime. A cracker jack journalist with an engaging writing style, her prolific blog chronicles her excellent adventure.

I followed her online. I trailed her to this temple, that market, and that historic site, learning about the people and politics of Asia along the journey. Her travel blog is a journal that kept us connected.

As I ponder my project for a Visual Design course, the creation of a design blog, I got to thinking about the actual definition of a blog. In order to create a blog, I need to define it!

 My search for an answer led me to two promising resources:

  1. the archives of the ProBlogger website where blogger Darren Rowse answers the question, and
  2. a YouTube video by Brian Brown at Pajama Market.com, the Business Blog Authority.


So what is a blog?

BlogShort for web log, a blog is a type of website that takes the form of an online journal written about a particular topic. A blog allows authors with little or no technical knowledge to update and maintain a blog, thus making this type of communication accessible to a broad audience. So now, people with something to say can do it online without tripping over the technology to accomplish it.

Yes, that’s for me!

Blogs contain current content, so the author (blogger) updates the blog regularly to capture and hold audience attention – and to maintain currency. Blogs can feature content from multiple authors or guest authors.

Well, this is a required class assignment, so I’d better be the sole author!

RosieBloggerAn entry on a blog is known as a “blog post” or “post”; blog posts appear in reverse chronological order with the most recent content appearing first.

A blog comprises text, hyperlinks, images, and links (to other web pages and to video, audio, or other files).

Aha! So a blog is the perfect medium to explore visual design and display of information. 


Comment feature

Blogs are written in a casual style and document the author’s research or opinions on a focal topic. Some blogs are monologues – the author presents information for site visitors to read. However, many blogs are conversational and invite reader response through a comment function.

The comment option takes site visitors to a form where they can leave their name, email, and link their own blog. Visitors can also leave feedback, comments, critique, or questions about the blog topic.

I am not sure if all feedback is posted or whether there is a filtering or monitoring process that weeds out offensive or unrelated submissions. I’d better check that out!

Archive feature

Besides the comment functionality, blogs feature an archive. Successful blogs have lots of content that needs to be organized for easy retrieval. Archives can be searched by category or by date.

Subscribe feature

A subscribe feature allows readers to sign up so that every time a new blog post is available, the reader receives an email. This makes it easy for readers to follow a blog.

Hmmm…well, I am not expecting many followers, but now that I understand the basics, it’s time to choose a blog topic.

Wish I were writing about travels in Asia.

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