How confident are you with your design choices?

As a non-designer, it can be positively overwhelming to make design decisions. You can spend all day asking yourself: Do these colors go together? Is this font readable? Does my website look as cool as my friend’s site?

Before you know it, you’re swimming in a sea of doubt. You’re stuck in the weeds when you should be focused on shipping.

With just a little bit of quality design advice, you can get back on track.

That’s why we sat down and talked with Jane Portman, one of our all-time favorite design and User Interface specialists. Jane was delighted to share her insights about course design, so that you can skip the uncertainty and get straight to shipping.

Insight #1: Design is important!

The design of your course is like the wrapping on a gift. It might be old newspaper, or shiny wrapping paper. It can look old-fashioned or modern, messy or neat, dull or colorful, tasteful or over the top. How you “wrap” your course says a lot about your product to your students.

But design is even more than how your course looks. As Jane explains:

“A lot of things go into making a final product: copywriting, code, and design. But design is the first and primary thing that’s facing your user. It’s the primary way of communicating all your ideas and your quality upfront.

Design serves a few very important roles. First, it’s the way you comfortably display information so that it’s easy to use and easy to read.

Then, it’s aesthetically pleasing — it gives your user something nice to look at while they do something more important.

And last but certainly not least, design communicates the quality of your product. Because most times, good design is quite expensive. And the fact that you invested some time and effort into building something nice means you have the same amount of effort invested into the back end of things. This tells your user that your course is reliable, and it is the product of hard work, both on the outside and the inside.

The external look of your course actually defines the way the user perceives the quality of your course, and the quality of the information it represents. The information can be great, but if it’s wrapped in an ugly shell, it’s not going to be that effective.”

Insight #2: Make decisions easily and ship faster

Design is important, but it isn’t everything. And it certainly shouldn’t prevent you from getting your product out the door.

According to Jane:

“The most important thing is not to fixate on colors and fonts, but to get something that’s satisfactory overall. And ship your product!”

That means: Don’t get bogged down by the details. Don’t fixate on every little decision. Don’t try out 500 fonts to find one that’s just right. Design trends change every day, so 100% perfection is impossible.

Instead, focus on getting it to a good place, not a perfect place. We advise our clients who are “stuck in the weeds” to ship when they’re 60%-80% satisfied with the look of their course. You can always revisit it later.

Insight #3: You don’t have to reinvent the (color) wheel

We’ve heard from quite a few people who have gotten stuck when trying to come up with a color scheme for their course. They put so much pressure on themselves to create something new and different. Then, they fall down a rabbit hole of options and ideas…and they get overwhelmed.

Instead of trying to be a design wizard, Jane recommends you focus on the basics:

“You don’t have to be exceptionally creative. Design is supposed to be a creative industry, but in fact, it’s utilitarian. There are few traditional combinations, like black text on a white background, for a reason. Because it works. I’m much more inclined towards something more classic than something extraordinary. Classic principles don’t change. If you stick with something readable and comfortable to use, there’s no way you can lose.”

Especially if you’re a non-designer, here’s Jane’s formula for creating a classic color scheme:

“Start with something traditional like black text on a white background. Then, apply a couple of colors. Think of one neutral color, like a neutral blue. And one color that’s going to be the color of your call to action buttons, like a special orange.”

With just black and white and two colors, you can build a complete color scheme without falling down the rabbit hole.

Insight #4: Don’t send mixed messages

When you’re coming up with your color scheme, you have to make sure the hues you pick mean what you want them to mean. You don’t want to confuse your students by using iconic colors in a non-traditional way.

According to Jane:

“There are elements that have certain meanings, like red for an alert. You want to make sure your normal color scheme doesn’t contradict with that. So, if you have red popping up somewhere, it should be for something very important. Colors like red, green and yellow are traditional for a reason, because they do their job fairly well in terms of UI.”

Mixed messages can also happen across your own channels. If your website has bright, cheery colors, and your course page is pale and minimalist, users can get confused about what your brand is trying to say.

“Pick one color scheme that goes across all of your media — across your emails, your website, your course design and everything. The main thing about color is being consistent.”

Insight #5: Use free tools to get the job done

If choosing colors sounds like a horrible nightmare, use tools to make the job easier. Jane recommends Adobe Kuler.

“If you’re not a designer, it’s hard to come up with a hue that’s attractive. With Adobe Kuler, you can easily pick a nice hue, get the color code, and go from there. It offers five colors per scheme, and that’s more than necessary for something like a course. Your course should be much more simple and straightforward. But it can be quite handy if you want to pick a nice base color.”

A few other tools you can use:

  • Eye Dropper is an amazing Chrome browser extension lets you pick colors from other people’s websites and identify the exact shades you like.
  • Paint websites like Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams provide paint palette suggestions that you can repurpose for your course.
  • Start with the main color of your logo and find colors that match it nicely with palette generators like Paletton or Coolors.
  • Try playing around with our professionally designed course themes to find the one that works for you. It’s easy to switch templates and swap colors.

Insight #6: Update your design every 2-3 years

Is your course already up and running? Good for you! If it’s been a while, it might be time to give it a design makeover.

“It’s good practice to revisit your site design every few years. Once you have the time and resources to give your site an upgrade, use resources like Dribbble or Behance. Have a glance at what’s happening there so you don’t miss out on important trends.

You shouldn’t miss design trends anyway, because as you surf the web, you see trends, too.”

You don’t have to redesign your course every time a new design trend emerges. But if you keep an eye on what’s happening around the web, you’ll have a stronger sense of when your design starts falling behind.

Insight #7: Rejoice! You live in the golden age of web design!

Web design has had plenty of ups and downs in its short history. (Geocities, anyone?) But right now, design is as sophisticated as ever. If you follow the trends that are happening today, you really can’t go wrong.

Changes in technology have forced design to be supple and sleek. As Jane points out:

“Design changes are often related to technology updates. For example, responsive technology appeared a few years ago. That led to a fantastic trend of flat, minimalist design, because designs needed to work within so many different devices and environments where people browse the Internet.

I’m totally happy to be in this century of clean, flat design. In my olden days as a Creative Director, I observed all the time that went into bringing skeuomorphic [incredibly lifelike, 3-D] designs to life. Crafting all those small details took tons of time.

Today, minimalist design is so much more efficient. It’s going to be hard to get rid of this trend. I think it’s going to become a classic.”

Insight #8: It’s okay to have fun

“Don’t be afraid to experiment. The web is so diverse, and there are so many great products that are successful without great design. Any attempt to create great design will be appreciated and noticed.”

So have fun with it! Make bold choices and don’t look back. Design is a vital part of your course experience, but it’s just one part of many. Never let it stop you from getting your product out the door.

The most important thing to do is ship, ship, ship!

Create a professionally designed course at the click of a button. Sign up for Summit Evergreen and browse our theme library to get started.

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