Instructional Design

Can You Improve Instructional Design with Images?

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The benefit of using illustrations for instructional design can be forgotten.

Photographs are praised because they are more “human” (and the content is intended for humans). I don’t disagree. Photographs are an excellent way to emphasize the human element to the content you’re developing especially with technical or “dry” content. The downside is:

  • you need to ensure diversity of people in photographs to avoid alienating your learners
  • you could run out of consistent styles of photographs (then they become distracting)
  • they can become a crutch, instead of using them to enhance the content, they become instructional design “ornamentation”

Why Illustrations?

Illustrations in instructional design can provide an easy reference to support the text. In fact, you could make the image the core content, so that the graphical elements communicate real meaning.

Rather than considering illustrations as simple line drawings, think of:

  • designing step-guides
  • Illustrating the relationships between systems, ideas and people
  • Using infographics


You may need to work with a graphic designer to develop illustrations, but you don’t have to. If you have a graphic designer (either on staff or within your budget), I say use them.

If you don’t, there are some ways you can develop illustrations yourself: Use presentation or mind mapping software: these include a range of shapes, colors and formatting options. Switch on grid lines/ guides to ensure you work to scale.

There are some guiding principles:

  • Remember your purpose: visualize information
  • If you can, make it interactive, to engage learners more
  • Do some exploration yourself: see if illustrations can become primary screen elements, with text as support
  • Let learners take it home: offer illustrations as downloads, to act as job aids or easy reference sheets (this simple step can boost the value of your content)

Above all, keep in mind you’re designing instruction. Use the right illustration to enhance the content – don’t just add ornamentation.