Co-workers brainstorming with sticky notes on white board
eLearning Learning
November 30, 2021

Say I Do to the Art of Learning

Learning leaders are often focused on content in training solutions but sometimes do not put the same emphasis on how the course is designed. In this episode of Powered by Learning, I talk with d'Vinci Visual Design Director Melissa Wimbish to explain how to marry art and science to create impactful learning experiences.



Show Notes:

  • In order to motivate a learner, you have to get their attention. Grab their attention, and keep their attention. One way we do that is through visual design. 
  • The first step is often to brainstorm about the learning solutions project. When you're brainstorming, the idea should be generated freely by all individuals within the group. Keep in mind that every idea matters.
  • Use a learning solutions creative brief to align on the project’s goals before discussing your design. The information captured in the brief will guide design principles at the same time that you create the learning content. 
  • Typography and color are really a key step when you're establishing that visual hierarchy of content. They're used to complement the brand. They're extremely important for not only word emphasis but also visual design direction for the user.
  • Integrating impactful design doesn’t have to break the budget. Depending on your learners and the objectives of your course, you can scale design to meet their needs and stay on budget. 

Download our Learning Solutions Creative Brief template to drive better results with your next project.

Watch this short video to see how d'Vinci can help you revolutionize learning experiences.


Female Speaker: [00:00:00] This is Powered by Learning, a podcast designed for learning leaders to hear the latest approaches to creating learning experiences that engage learners and achieve improved performance for individuals and organizations.

Male Speaker: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at

Susan Cort: Hello, and welcome to Powered by Learning. I'm your host, Susan Cort. Today, I am joined by d'Vinci Learning Solutions Director Jenny Fedullo and Visual Design Director Melissa Wimbish, who are going to talk about the art and science of learning to help you create more successful learning solutions for your organization. Welcome, Jenny and Melissa.

Jenny Fedullo: Hi, Susan. Great to be with you.

Melissa Wimbish: Hello, Susan.

Susan: [00:01:05]  Well, I'm so glad you could take some time to talk about this topic. I know you recently presented this topic of saying, "I do," to the art and science of learning recently for a Training Industry Leader Talk. Let's talk a little bit, first of all, about why you feel that the art is an equal partner to the science.

Jenny: Really, from our perspective, one of the most important factors in making sure learning happens is learner motivation. In order to motivate a learner, you have to get their attention. Grab their attention, keep their attention. You really have to engage them. One way we do that is through visual design. The saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words," is absolutely relevant to learning as well. Melissa, anything to add?

Melissa: Sure. When looking at that art and science, I think a first step is to really take a look at your content and your level of learning touchpoints as well as interactions. A solid understanding of this content [00:02:00]will then get your team designer that leg up on how they can interpret that into an immersive design experience. To get a leg up on that, one of the first areas where we like to start is with brainstorming and concepting.

This can really jumpstart, not only the content of your course but then also creates an equal part of art and science than working together. Also, another useful element that you can utilize is a creative brief. The brief can provide a substantial amount of information to help guide the design in relation to a specific brand. We're looking at tone and overall look and feel, and we're also utilizing these elements to add those basic design principles. Those will help then define that art side of learning upfront.

Susan: Let's talk a little bit about the creative brief. Most of us are used to using a creative brief in a marketing agency. Let's explore a little bit how the learning solutions creative brief works and how it impacts the brainstorming and the concepting.

Jenny: [00:03:05] You mentioned a lot of agencies use a creative brief. Since we're born of a creative agency with JPL as our parent company, we've adopted the agency creative brief, as you said, to a learning solutions creative brief. Again, a brief is really that agreed-upon document that's created through all that upfront discovery, interviews, discussions with the client. It really informs and guides the work and the design throughout the entire project process.

Some critical questions that we ask when we're putting together the creative brief is really, what's the target message? How are we going to motivate the learner? What's the style and tone of the messaging? Obviously, who the target audience is. Another key factor is the diversity and inclusion considerations. That creative brief really becomes that justification for all the designs that are presented.

Melissa: Also, a good point to make and [00:04:00] leading into some brainstorming and concepting is after we have that creative brief, that's going to put us into a good position to start looking at that content creation, the design. We want to make sure that brainstorming and concepting is also included in this upfront process. We have creative brief, which leads us to brainstorming and concepting. Then from there, we can continue on.

When we're talking about brainstorming, brainstorming can take many forms. Overall, it's basically defined as a process for generating creative ideas or concepts with your team. When you're brainstorming, the idea should be generated freely by all individuals within the group. When you're brainstorming, keep in mind that every idea matters. If you need any guidance on how to run a brainstorm, there's actually a lot of free online tools and documents to really help get you started.

[00:04:55] As far as concepting goes, concepting is started after the brainstorming. Concepting is the intersection of the design and also the story at a high level. When you're concepting visually, it's always a good idea to start with that upfront visual research. Once you've completed your research and you created your visuals, this is the point when the design of the story can really start to come to life.

Susan: Once you've gone through all those steps, how do you then plan for the design? Because people are very focused on the training and the concepts and maybe they haven't let themselves start to think about, actually, how it's going to look. What advice would you give on how you actually execute the plan?

Jenny: At d'Vinci, we use really a five-step approach. It's discover, imagine, create, review, and deliver. It's in those first two phases, discover and imagine, that we really do that upfront planning that's going to inform the design. We meet with our clients to look at the content. We do discovery sessions. We do detailed [00:06:00] learner profiles. All of that information we gather informs that creative brief, which in turn informs that brainstorming and concepting phase that Melissa was talking about. That's how we plan for it upfront is through that discovery and imagine.

Susan: When you both start to think about designing for a learning project, what are some of the first things that you consider and what you encourage clients to consider?

Jenny: I jumped in on that one. I think, Melissa, you probably can be able to elaborate a little on this one, but I certainly think it's brand standards. I think those are one of probably the first things we ask a client. When we ask for brand standards and-- Those of you listening, when you hear brand standards, you might automatically think, "Okay, I'm going to use my company logo, the right colors, and the right font."

It's so much more than that. Again, if we did our homework and we did a creative brief correctly and we captured what we need to know. [00:06:56] We now know the audience. We know how they work. That's part of your company's brand too. The brand should evoke a feeling. That feeling is what you've got to convey in your learning because the feeling connects directly to how to engage and motivate that. Melissa, you probably have more to add on that one.

Melissa: Sure. We can discuss a recent client and how we use their brand standards to then create the visual design direction for a recent e-learning project. If you're not familiar with Constellation Brands, they are an American producer and marketer of various beer, wine, and spirits. Their portfolio of brands is well-established within the US marketplace and it contains some very well-known products such as Corona, Modelo, Robert Mondavi wines, and also Svedka vodka.

Upon looking at that constellation RFP, they had two overarching main goals. The first goal was to educate, inform, inspire, and also deploy their brands as well as their sense of place. Also, they wanted to create modules that were interactive, creative, [00:08:00] immersive while also transferring that knowledge to not only their internal audience but also their external audience.

Our next step from a design standpoint was to review the client's brand standards as Jenny mentioned and to start fusing those brand elements into our designs. With our first round of designs, we were able to focus on a specific product in that product's brand. We started with a product that gave us a good idea of the brand standards, and then we moved forward with the development and design on that product. Many products came in after that in the future.

Susan: That's a great example, Melissa. Those are such beautiful learning solutions that you and the team created. When you're giving advice to clients before they're starting a project with you, what are some of the key elements that you always consider when you're designing a course?

Jenny: Key to the visual design approach is like you said that there's some critical design elements and, really, the building blocks of design. [00:9:00] And I think we would look at those as the typography, the color palette, illustrations, and iconography, and then you build on those elements for those custom interactions, video, and animation. Melissa, I think you had another example you were going to walk us through or talk through?

Melissa: Sure, I can share with you some of those key design elements. When we're looking at some of those design elements to really bring the course together visually, we want to look at typography first. The purpose of typography and also color working together, it's going to help arrange the design components into that cohesive whole. We're talking about content plus design.

Typography and color are really a key step when you're establishing that visual hierarchy of content. They're used to complement the brand. Also, they're extremely important for not only word emphasis but also visual design direction for the user. Another element that we like to consider as well [00:10:00] is illustration and icons. Illustrations and icons can serve many purposes within a design. They can help tell a visual story and can be a strong reinforcement for any important messages that you want to share with the audience.

Not only are they good for strong reinforcement of messaging, they also are very helpful in the absence of photography. If you do not have a lot of stock photos or you don't really have a lot of photography, some of these icons and illustrations can really help get the modules a nice visual design. There are some things to consider when working with icons and illustrations. You want to make sure that they do stay simple and clean and they also need to have that quick impact on the audience.

This is going to help them to connect the visual elements with also the content messaging. Looking at these and once you have some of these elements of design under your belt, you then can really start to expand these skills and to other design elements such as custom interactions, video, and animations, or even 3D. [00:11:02] Then this will help you down the line and start taking some of those out-of-the-box solutions and create a more immersive interaction.

Susan: A lot of people listening, thinking about their next learning solution, might be thinking this all sounds wonderful, but why do they need to focus so much on design? Talk a little bit, both of you, about the significance of the design and how it impacts the overall learning.

Jenny: I think, Susan, it all comes down to that phrase I said in the beginning is that a picture is worth a thousand words. The learnings got to grab the learner. It's got to engage them and keep their attention. Through visual design, we can do that. The content can only go so far. That's why we've got to have both together. The art and the science. That visual appeal, that visual look, is a way to connect and engage and motivate the learner as well.

Melissa: Going back to what we previously chatted about a little bit as far as the design elements, working with those design [00:12:00] elements, they're a good workhorse for, again, leading that audience or that user through the information in the most intuitive manner. As the user is reading through the content on the page or the module design that those elements are going to engage, they could be something that they interact with. Again, they provide that strong hierarchy of information as you're going through any type of e-learning content.

Susan: Yes, it definitely sounds like it's going to make for more meaningful and impactful learning, which is the whole point of it, right?

Melissa: Correct.

Jenny: Yes, you're exactly right.

Susan: Some people also might be wondering, "Well, this all sounds great, but how do I afford to do this kind of design?" Talk a little bit about the scalability of having those design elements in your learning solutions. It doesn't always have to be that top-notch, high-end custom illustrations. There are many ways that I know you've helped clients accomplish that marriage of art and science and it doesn't always have to be that high-end.

Melissa: [00:13:05]  I think you can take a look at it from a perspective of design at a small level, design at a medium level, and then design at a high level. When you're looking at small, medium, and a larger size, you could start breaking down, "Okay, how much can I achieve within the small? How much can I achieve with the medium and then with the large?" A small, we're talking pretty basic interface. You're really going to focus on that typography to lead you through any type of learning content. Maybe there's some little hints of imagery here and there.

Medium would be more, again, typography, really infusing the color palette, bringing in the images, following the brand. Then large would probably be something like we spoke about with constellation, so you're really diving in, looking at that brand guideline, and pulling all those elements from it. When I say all those elements, its typography, color palette, illustrations, icons, [00:14:00] textures, any type of photographic imagery. Constellation was able to provide us with a lot of really beautiful full-screen photos that we could leverage and, again, really engaging the user into a visually lush experience.

Susan: Jenny, something you said at the beginning I wanted to come back to and that was the importance on using design to help accomplish some diversity goals. Of course, the learner wants to see himself or herself in the training program. How can you use design to help accomplish that so people can actually identify with the course?

Jenny: Again, in that upfront discovery and analysis, it's all about focusing on the learner. Who is your target learner? I know a lot of times, people think, "Okay, well, I've identified their role and they're sales reps." That's a title. That's not a target learner. [00:14:56] So it’s so many more characteristics. It's really the overt and the covert characteristics of not only the person but the environment and where they work. What is their entire ecosystem of learning look like? How's it feel? Let's really immerse the learner. If you do that correctly, you're going to get a complete picture and then properly recognize and include that diversity within your course.

Melissa: Again, when we're looking at design, we also want to consider any disabilities the user may have. That can also be something as hearing impairment or visual impairment, so we want to make sure that we're very clear with typography and text design as far as color contrast. We also want to make sure if somebody has a hearing impairment, we want to make sure we have those closed captioning and elements such as that.

Another thing that we really like to look at as well when we're designing is to make sure that we're providing the user with a very open and very diverse set of photography. That's another thing that definitely needs to be considered. [00:16:00] We have a lot of people who they're part of a different culture or have other, again, disabilities or impairments. We want to make sure that we do represent everybody so nobody feels left out.

Susan: Then one thing you had talked about previously with design and keeping diversity in mind is that you can accomplish that in a lot of different ways. Talk a little bit about that, Melissa. It could be photos. It could be illustrations. What are some things that you've seen that have been successful?

Melissa: When we're talking about design, photos and illustrations, I think, we did speak about. Another thing that I want to mention too is also tone. How you're speaking to that user or how you're speaking to that audience. There could be a different tone that you need to consider when speaking to different-- Maybe it's K-12. How do you speak to them or if it's something that's more like a corporate e-learning? Again, what's your tone for that? You want to make sure that you're also diverse in that tone when you're speaking, and then that will also help really bring the design to another level as well if you're reinforcing those points that are considering different tones for different audiences.

Susan: [00:17:08] Thinking about the topic for this podcast, say "I do" to the art of learning, probably a lot of people are a little nervous about saying, "I do," because it couldn't be overwhelming. What advice would you both give as we wrap up today to help people feel more confident as they step forward and creating that learning solutions creative brief and really stepping into that world of marrying design with the science of learning?

Jenny: With anything, it's that upfront planning. Make sure you do your research, you know what elements you want to include. Like Melissa had mentioned, those building blocks. How are you going to use typography, color palette, illustrations, and iconography to connect the learner to the content? Really having those discussions upfront, really doing that analysis [00:18:00] to make sure you have the right information to inform the design.

Susan: Melissa, anything to add to that?

Melissa: Sure, so looking from a design perspective for upfront planning, Jenny did mention we have those upfront steps that we shared with you. From a design perspective, it's also very important to start researching visually what could be inspiring to you or inspiring to your audience. That's going out to Google or any website and start looking at maybe another inspirational website or even inspirational photos or anything like that to really start getting you into the mind frame of what your user, your audience might visually become tied to. There's also if you're struggling and you may think, "I can't do this. I can't say I do." There's a lot of resources online again that you can go to, articles, to give you a little bit of education on how to start something, a visual design process of some sort.

Susan: [00:19:00] This was great information. I know learners everywhere will be thanking you because the people creating the training programs are going to benefit from this great advice. Thank you both for joining us today.

Melissa: Sure.

Jenny: You're welcome, Susan. And thanks, Melissa. It was fun.

Melissa: Thank you, Jenny.

Susan: You'll also find a learning solutions creative brief template on the d'Vinci website that you're welcome to download and use. The link to that is in our show notes. If you have any questions about what we talked about today, you can reach out to us on d'Vinci social channels through our website or by emailing us at

Advertisement 3: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at d' [00:20:00]

Jenny Fedullo

By Jenny Fedullo, Director, Learning Experience

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