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Narratives and themes

Part 2: The Graphic Designer’s perspective

THRIVE’s mission is to create off the shelf (OTS) content that is nothing like you’ve seen before. We want our content to deliver key messages in the simplest way, and that needs more than words. 

You’ve probably heard us banging on about our imagery adding value. Making sure all of our imagery serves a purpose needs a fair bit of thought and creativity. And one way we can do that is a themed narrative. 

Connor’s already given you the Learning Design insight, so now it’s the turn of our Graphic Designers to share their wisdom. Cue Tim!

Visual storytelling…

That’s what it pretty much boils down to. When creating a narrative, we’re telling a story – both with words and visuals. But just as integral as the story is to delivering the content, the visuals are to the story.

To help put all this in context, let’s look at Connor’s mafia themed module from my perspective.

So we’ve got a topic area (‘Creating a presentation’) and a theme (the mafia). How do I bring this to life – and marry these things?

First up, let’s have a chat

It might sound obvious, but a sit down with the Learning Designer to lay the foundations of the story is vital. 

The theme is one thing, but there’s so much more I need to think about:

  • Setting up the story
  • The characters and their role
  • The learners role in all of this
  • The crux of the story, the mission
  • The history/time period
  • The style which will fit best with the theme.

Here the Learning Designer can also talk me through any visual elements that might have been scripted that’ll help bring the theme to life and are needed to deliver core messages. 

Up next, research

Before I can put metaphorical pen to paper, I need to do a fair bit of research.  For the mafia piece, I started by looking at the classic aesthetics – we’re talking The Godfather, Scarface, Pulp Fiction and Peaky Blinders. 

Next, I moved on to how that could look in an illustrated style, creating a moodboard that showed simple to highly detailed illustrations, and everything in between. 

Here I’m looking for ideas around scenes, clothing, character shape, and of course the infamous Don character. 

During this research stage, I’ll also create a list of objects and concepts that relate to the theme. This list acts as a fallback plan when I’m creating the actual assets for a module, in case I’m out of ideas for an individual image.

And then, styling 

By now, I’ve got a load of great ideas swirling around my mind. But before I can create different styles, there’s a few things to take into consideration.

For the mafia piece, I had to think about visual elements and creating the mafia theme, as well as course elements and how that will help deliver content. Of course we can’t forget the characters, especially our mafia Don, and any other objects that will add to the theme.

I then reviewed my research in light of the considerations to figure out which ideas would work best. 

Now, it is possible to have too many ideas (we’ve had this dilemma more than once). In this situation, I’ll work with the Learning Designer to refine my research and narrow down our ideas before moving on to styling – otherwise there’s a risk of trying to cram too many ideas into a single style. 

When there’s a couple of core ideas we’re confident will work, I’ll create a couple of different styles that the wider team can take a look at. It’s crucial at this point to get a fresh and honest perspective.

Let’s plan

First, I’ll create an image list – a list of all the visual themes, items, locations, etc. on a screen by screen basis. This is useful to make sure we’ve got all our ducks in a row, but also make sure that details of the story will actually map onto the theme in a realistic way and without distracting the learner. An example?

In the mafia module, a decoder was a key part of the plan to break into the bank vault. But if we think back to the 1920’s, technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today. So we had to reframe this to fit within our theme, changing a typically digital item into something more authentic to the time – an alpha-numeric code breaker, which you can see above.

 

Last but not least, let’s illustrate

After all of this, I get onto the fun stuff – creating the illustrations for the module. The end result? Here’s some examples from our mafia piece…

 

 

And we can’t forget the animation. All THRIVE’s content starts with one to hook the learners’ attention. But again, they need to serve a purpose – this one set the scene, providing the background to the story and the learner’s role. 

Key to the success of any animation is working collaboratively to refine the narrative and create the image storyboard together before animation begins (or you risk wasting a whole lot of time!)

Oh and we can’t forget, review

A review of the visual elements helps to make sure they’re not only accurate, but help to tell that story. But arguably, when that review happens is most important. 

Sure, I could create the entire module and share with the Learning Designer to review. But if it’s not hit the mark or has strayed down the wrong path, all that effort is wasted as I’ll likely have to start again. 

This is where collaboration comes in. You’ll probably have noticed that the entire process is pretty collaborative. From the initial research and styling stage to creating each graphical asset, it’s important that I work with the Learning Designer, and the wider team, to keep things moving in the right direction.

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