In the world of painting, photography and design, the “rule of thirds” is a useful visual composition technique to align objects in such a way as to create different effects like tension, energy and interest. But, in my case, there is another rule that has proven to be more effective and that is my own “rule of three”. Let me explain why.

When I started to design eLearning courses three years ago, I didn´t have any graphic design background. However, I have been studying about Multisemiotics and Multimodality as well as Systemic Functional Linguistics and its application to visual language analysis. I learnt how these fields seek to understand the multiple forms of communication, identifying how multiple modes such as images, words, and actions all depend on each other to create meaning. In this way, each mode is considered as a semiotic resource which contributes to the message being expressed and there´s a close relationship between the text that ‘tells’ and the images that ‘show’.

By assigning each element a function and looking at it in the broader context of the overall purpose, I can be consistent and coherent. As Tom Kuhlmann states:

 “Many elearning courses look like a bunch of courses cobbled together …The main point is to be intentional about what you want and then to make sure that the design decisions you make are applied consistently throughout the course.”

So, in order to keep my design congruous and focused on the content, I came up with a practical rule:

“I don´t use more than three objects (images, graph and/or text) per screen, no more than three different font types (title, body text and captions) and no more than three colors (related to the brand or topic) throughout the course.”

Objects on the screen should be carefully selected and placed.
Colors can stimulate and arouse different feelings. Taking into account the target group´s main characteristics (adults, professionals, conservative), I decided to keep my design elegant (grey) and clean (white) for this course.
Typography is used to communicate tone of voice, personality, and mood, and it can be easily manipulated. Since the main learning objective of this course was to improve writing skills, I chose handwritten fonts and I kept the same style for the navigation icons.

This rule may sound kind of restrictive but it has helped me to achieve a balance between the visual aspects and the content of my courses. I carefully select each element by taking into account its role in getting the message across and I concentrate more on the design of the learning activities. And now,  conciseness and relevance seem to be even more important as I design mLearning solutions that can be viewed through multiple devices with different screen dimensions. For this reason, I completely agree with RJ Jacquez´s idea of embracing simplicity in our design:

“Thinking mobile-first is about embracing simplicity in our mLearning design and sitting down and asking yourself what’s really important to the learner (e.g. are all those flying animations really necessary, what about all that text and buttons?), and then removing all the other extra fluff from the design. I believe this is an important exercise, that will result in better learning experiences across all devices, including the traditional desktop.”

All elements should be drawn together to convey meaning and they all must work in perfect harmony. Do you have any other suggestion to avoid accidental or random selection of elements for your courses? Please share your thoughts.