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Grabbing Your Trainees with the Right Picture

— by Trina Rimmer

ElearningWeb based training

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand bullet points, and this is particularly true of training. Training designs are at their most engaging when words AND pictures work together to drive home the message. But when one element is missing or in conflict with the other (see above) you end up with a design disconnect, where message and media compete for the learner’s attention. If you’re a non-designer designer, how can you keep your training from being the next “Death by PowerPoint” anecdote?

Step 1: Let Your Message Dictate the Tone
Great training starts with great content, but as any non-designer designer will tell you, it’s one thing to write and quite another to communicate with graphics. If you suspect you’re a little “tone deaf”, ask yourself:

  • What do I want my audience to feel, remember, or do after this training? (Hint: Think big picture and focus on one thing. This is your message.)
  • Is my message serious or critical? (i.e. an operational imperative, life & death = serious tone)
  • Is my message inspirational? (i.e. motivating the sales team with new techniques = exciting tone)

Step 2: Use Tone to Help Define Qualities
Now that you’ve found the tone, what visual qualities should you look for to reinforce your message?

If your tone is serious, look for images with…

  • Appropriate facial expressions for the subject matter
  • Black & white treatment, or images using subtle or neutral color tones
  • Close-ups

If your tone is exciting, look for images with…

  • A lively expression on the subject’s face
  • Bolder colors (i.e. vibrant, more saturated colors)
  • People working in teams or group activities

Step 3: Find an Inspiration Image
Even when you know what tone and qualities you’re looking for, sourcing for images can be daunting. My advice: don’t worry about finding every image you need. Instead, focus on finding one inspiration image as a starting point.

My training budget is usually about $1.50 (my wages included), so for me the best images are free. There are several sources for free images, but I usually start with Microsoft Office Clipart because the options are plentiful and the image vendor is tagged in the photo – in case I want to blow my entire $1.50 on similar images.

Another option I’ve used is Flickr Creative Commons. A creative commons license is one that allows the photographer to keep their copyright, while giving people like us the ability to copy and distribute their work (for free!) – provided we give credit accordingly. You’ll find attribution requirements detailed under the Additional Information section on each photo.

Step 4: Use Color to Tie it All Together
Color, when used well, gives your training that professional look we all aspire to. The quickest way to achieve that look is to create a color palette based on the inspiration image from step 3.

  • Finding Color Values to Build a Pallet
    Colorpix is a free, downloadable app that samples color pixels. Simply view your inspiration image and launch Colorpix. Move your mouse over the image and hit any key on your keyboard to lock your position and record the color value – RGB, HEX, or CMYK. To build a pallete from your inspiration color, try Kuler – a free web app from Adobe. Just define your inspiration color and, viola – Kuler creates a complete color pallet for you.
  • Creating a Custom Theme in PowerPoint
    With the RGB values from your pallet, you can create a custom color theme in PowerPoint. Customizing a color theme is super easy, but if you’ve never done it before, I’ve put together a quick demo of the steps.

In four easy steps you can say bye-bye to too many bullets, create cohesion, and design training that’s engaging and full of professional panache!

Looking for more simple non-designer design tips? Take a look at The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams (not the actor). Or, looking for ideas from other people who are using words and pictures to engage? Check out the inspiring portfolio from Ethos3.

Do you have suggestions for other non-designer design resources? Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking the comments link.

Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training solutions. When her training skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own design muscles. Contact Trina at

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