Too many times, evaluating the look and feel of a piece of e-Learning is reduced to a love-it or hate-it subjective evaluation. With a little thought, though, you can set objective criteria for your training’s look and feel and create a framework for deciding when a look and feel is working, and when it is time to go back to the beauty parlor.

The “look” of learning is the combination of the interface design, design elements, copy style, typography, navigation, imagery, motif, underlying messages, and themes that give a program its identity. Good-looking learning supports the content of the training by taking advantage of the natural messages and signals that are embedded in your material.

Here’s how to identify the messages flowing through your training program and translate them into requirements for the look and feel of the program:

1. List the themes of your training

If you’re training users on how to use the new company-wide email system, your themes are email, mail, letters, correspondence, documents, etc. If you’re training on forklift safety, your themes are: forklifts, pallets, shelves, trucks, moving, packing, boxes, injuries (or lack thereof), health, etc. The themes are simply what your training is about. Make this list as long as you like.

2. List the themes of your organization

Take a step back and think about your company or department identity. I’m not talking about how the organization wants to be perceived, or what it wants to say about itself, but what it is actually about. Best Buy is about electronics, technology, and appliances. American Express is about money, finances, and travel. Human resources is about payroll, promotions, and performance.

3. List the messages of your training

Earlier you listed the themes of the training. Now list the messages that should stick in the user’s mind after the training. Don’t worry about being too literal here. In reality, your users will probably be unaware of these messages on a conscious level. No one is likely to finish your course on the new email system and think, “The new email system is fast and dependable. I can count on it for my important correspondence.” But that might be just exactly the message you want to communicate. Writing it out in this way will help you apply it to the look and feel.

4. List the messages of your company

Now include all that company propaganda you received during your orientation. Your training will be better received if you can incorporate the real-world messages of the company rather than the fake messages your company would like to communicate. Target Corporation, for example is always “fast, friendly, and fun.” That’s a pretty easy company message to weave through your training.

5. Sort and weight your themes and messages

Once you identify the themes and messages you need to communicate, it’s time to rank and sort them. Most designs can only communicate a few ideas effectively, so you need to spend some time ranking them. Keep only the top two or three in each category. Once you’ve got a good list culled, rank your themes in order of importance.

6. Translate themes and messages into requirements

Once you’ve finalized your list of messages, translate the list into a set of requirements for the look and feel of the course. You might say, for example, “The look and feel must convey the message that Acme Brokerage is ideally suited to upscale clients.”

7. Translate your messages into visual elements

Now translate your list of requirements into actual visual elements. To evaluate the look and feel of a program objectively, just ask yourself if the screen you are looking at satisfies the requirements.

For example, messages that need energy or fun demand brighter colors and relaxed icons and imagery. Illustrations should use softer lines that are more relaxed. Unusual fonts, happy smiling people, and lots of white space all help communicate a sense of energy and fun.

Themes that revolve around trust and dependability need stronger, bolder colors and visual clues that invoke trust.

By creating a list of requirements, you create an objective framework for evaluating the look and feel of a program.