Basic design principles for medical teaching videos

In this lesson from our Teaching Masterclass, you'll cover the four most important design principles to consider when creating a video, how to make the text more attractive, and the things to avoid to keep your students engaged.

Franz Wiesbauer, MD MPH
Franz Wiesbauer, MD MPH
9th Jun 2021 • 4m read

Telling a visual story is key to creating a compelling teaching video. In this lesson from our Teaching Masterclass, you'll cover the four most important design principles to consider when creating a video, how to make the text more attractive, and the things to avoid to keep your students engaged.

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Video transcript

In this Medmastery lesson, you'll learn about four principles that the designer Robin Williams has defined as the basic design principles in her book, The Non-Designer's Design Book. Those principles are proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast. Proximity implies a relationship. When we see two items that are physically close to each other, we assume that they belong together.

You can make use of this in your designs. Group items that relate to each other to create a visual unit, and move unrelated items apart to create white space. White space is a meaningful element of each design that you can use to organize information on display for your learners. Alignment is about organizing design items along an invisible line, nothing should be placed arbitrarily on screen.

If you're not consciously aligning your visual items, the slide will look random and chaotic, like this one. To align items, draw an invisible line and connect the items edges along it. Sometimes you need more than one line. And sometimes instead of connecting the items edges, you want to connect their centers, like the center of the heading and the two images here.

Alignment will need to be consistent throughout your whole slide deck to create a cohesive piece of design. It helps to apply an invisible grid to your whole presentation, before aligning the items on screen. You learn how to work with grids and PowerPoint in one of the next lessons. For longer lines of text, there are three basic types of alignment. It can be left aligned, center aligned or right aligned.

It can also be justified, which means the text lines up on both sides. This alignment can create some unattractive gaps, especially in short lines, which should be avoided. And since you'll work with little text and your courses, justified alignment will likely not be a fuse. Let's turn to the next design principle, repetition. Repetition of visual elements creates consistency.

Much like alignment, repetition serves to unify the pieces of your design for a homogeneous look. You can repeat all kinds of things to improve a messy slide like this. Here it seems odd that the words dog and cat are differently styled, even though they carry the same type of information. You can improve clarity by repeating a typeface, font size and color of text with similar informational value.

Repeating colors in general is a great way of making your designs calmer. Don't just pick colors at random, but deliberately create a color palette for your design elements and use it consistently. PowerPoint has a built in color palette that you can adjust. I'll show you how that's done in one of the next lessons.

Another way of improving consistency is to repeat image types, as well as alignments and the way items relate to each other. Repetition is important within these slides, but even more so in slide decks, because the repetition will unify the deck and will make your course appear to be one cohesive piece of work, or even more accurately, a piece of art.

Next up, the principle of contrast. Visual differences attract our attention. It's contrast that draws our eyes to the screen. If two items are not the same, you can add interest and visual hierarchy by making them appear different. One way of adding contrast is to introduce different colors. Be aware though that if you change things just a little, you're not creating contrast, but conflict.

The subtle contrast between the gray and the blackcats here makes it look like the design is lacking consistency, rather than adding clarity or making the slide more visually interesting. That's why for contrast to work, the difference needs to be really obvious. If done right, colors in particular are a powerful design tool to create contrast.

Make sure though that you are not using too many colors in your designs. The more colors you use, the more visual information will need to be processed by your audience, and your design will lose clarity. Remember, less is more. Limit the number of colors so they can be processed in one glance. Another way of adding contrast is to change the size of items.

And of course, this all goes for text as well. You can work with color, font sizes, or bold fonts to create contrast. Or you could combine different typefaces. If you do so, make sure to choose typefaces that are clearly different from each other, like these two. If you combine typefaces that are similar in style, size and weight, but not the same, you create a visual conflict for the learner, and frankly, it will look like a mistake.

Adding contrast can be a way of highlighting things. If most of your visuals and text are equally styled, but one item stands out because you have added contrast, that item is highlighted. Your learners will perceive it as particularly important. Proximity alignment, repetition and contrast will enhance the clarity of your visual communication and turn your courses into cohesive designs.

The four principles go hand in hand. If you use just one or two of them and ignore the others, you won't end up with good results. But if you apply them interdependently, you're on the best way to creating a masterpiece.