I’ve been with government my whole career and learned long ago that I could either not do something at all or I could figure out how to do it with no money. Or make the best use of the limited resources I did have. Or barter. Or otherwise punt. And spending lots of time looking to see how others are managing this. Since I started writing about working out loud I’ve tried to be more conscious of times I do something that might prove useful to someone else—something I had to learn, or took time to figure out, or picked up somewhere. Lately while working with art I’ve caught myself in a few of these moments and thought folks newer to eLearning might be interested.

Making the most of a single image

Figure 1 shows a recap from a safety tutorial. The program is branded with this cartoon character; he needs to have a presence in all the safety products but is a challenge to work with as he’s in a single pose and has no eyes or mouth. (Even Hello Kitty has eyes!) My solution is borrowed from an idea shared by Jeff Kortenbosch in the Articulate eLearning Heroes community, and I thank him for letting me adapt it. To create the buttons, I took shots of the separate pieces of the character—like the chest badge—in SnagIt and saved each as an image. With the PowerPoint shapes tool I drew circles and used the Shape Fill > Picture command to bring the separate images in.

Figure 1:
Making the most of Hazard Hero

(Image source: NC Office of State Human Resources)

Capturing the essence, not the specifics

Figure 2 shows another example, again working with limited art options. For this screen I used a stock warehouse image. The background characters were pasted onto it, saved as one image, and then blurred with SnagIt. I then inserted the image of the main character at the forefront. (Editor’s note: Another way to handle blurring is shown in this two-minute tutorial in the Learning Exchange—search on “Blur Backgrounds”: Blur Backgrounds and Tutorial)

As you can see here, blurring—and you could go a little more blurry than this if you wanted—is a great way to capture the idea of an environment even if it doesn’t exactly match a location in your own workplace. It can also help mask details like a background worker wearing not-quite your company’s uniform.

Figure 2:
Mike the supervisor

(Characters source: ELearning Art. Image source: NC Office of State Human Resources.)

There’s an app for that

Sometimes I have a different problem, like needing to mix images with different styles or from different libraries. Or I have a number of images from disparate sources or of varying quality and need them to have a unified feel. Or I need to take a custom photo but want to obscure identities, as my audience can find images of coworkers in training materials distracting or having limited credibility. Or I need to compensate for a problem with color or tint or exposure. There are so many free or inexpensive tools for helping with this kind of thing now. For instance, the two images at right in Figure 3 were created with a free iPhone photo app from the original photo at far left.

Figure 3:
Photo edited with a mobile phone photo app

Figure 4 shows the same original photo edited in PowerPoint. To get these effects I used Picture Tools > Format > then the “photocopy” and “cutout” filters respectively.

Figure 4:
Photo edited with PowerPoint Picture Tools

So: Be creative. Look at what you have and ask, “What else can I do with this? Can it be moved, combined, filtered, edited, changed?” Often there are ways of maximizing resources or of finding ways to get “forgiveness” with limited image libraries, not-quite-right images, mismatched images, or images with technical shortcomings.

Want more?

Don’t miss Connie Malamed’s great new book, Visual Design Solutions.

Tracy Parish has done a great job of curating resources for low-cost eLearning development. Check out her lists of tools for image editing and icon creation.

Editor’s Note

Another great source of tips is The eLearning Guild’s Learning Exchange, which is free and open to Guild members and Associates. Become an Associate—it’s easy, and it’s free!