Visual Thinking and UX Design

Instructional Design, Storyboarding

Research inquiry on visual thinking and UX design. Two instructional design frameworks that interest me. 

Visual Thinking

I first heard of visual thinking during my first semester in my Instructional Design masters program. This framework for delivering complex information using visual media helps organize thoughts and improve our ability to think and communicate. It is especially a great method for instructional designers and educators when designing curriculum to externalize thought processes, making them more clear, explicit and actionable.

As a corporate trainer for a small healthcare call center in Colorado, I began to implement visual thinking strategies (VTS) when designing training and eLearning courses. Today, I continue to use pen and paper, dry-erase boards, and lots of sticky notes. I need tools that are tangible enough to quickly record my thoughts and ideas but also move or erase them during the design process. I tried using software tools for this process but I ended up spending too much time formatting and not really thinking creatively. Take a look at some of my design process examples (process in action / course structure). Using paper to draw out my ideas seemed more natural to me. 

To some people, the thought of having to draw is daunting; however, I don’t believe you have to be an artist to go through this process. Drawing is a natural process for thinking, exploring ideas and learning. Visual thinking, when used to externalize internal thinking processes, is not about drawing perfectly.

Visual thinking is not only used when designing courses or presentations. VTS can be used to strengthen learners’ communication and critical thinking skills, including creativity. By using visuals and asking the following questions, learners will feel encouraged to freely share their perspectives and thought process out loud:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

It is best to start with a question that prods viewers to consider the visual in an open-ended way. Then, follow with a question that challenges learners to support their views using evidence in the image. During this process, remember to give viewers time to study the image and formulate initial thoughts, then ask questions that will aid them in communicating their thoughts out loud. Finally, the third question implies that there is more in the image to be uncovered, contemplated, and discussed.

More on Visual Thinking

Inquiry Method

I had a general idea of the keywords I wanted to use when searching for information about visual thinking. I began by doing a Google search of “what is visual thinking?” which found 370,000,000 results so I decided to try something else. I knew I wanted to be more specific with my results so I searched “visual thinking for design” this providing me with 272,000 results. I was drawn to the second result, a PDF article with three book reviews by different authors. The book review of “Visual Thinking for Design by Colin Ware” mentions a chapter which focuses on the process of design which led me to my next inquiry “visual thinking in the creative process.”

By this point, I began thinking about how I practice visual thinking when I design courses and training material for my job. This thought triggered a current need, increasing critical thinking skills for our employees. I searched the university’s library for articles, books, or other resources regarding “visual thinking AND critical thinking” – the articles I found also mentioned problem solving so I added that keyword to my search.

I felt comfortable with what I had found so far but made note of a few articles to further my research. I’m particularly interested in implementing data driven critical thinking assessments to create measurable objectives.

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User Experience Design (UXD or UED)

This is a topic that always created more questions for me because it’s a concept that is applicable in various frameworks or modes of thinking when designing instruction. I always thought that I was always designing training for users; however, I learned that there is a process that can be followed to create effective instructional material that enhances the users’ satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product.

After all, as instructional designers and educators, we want learners to retain the knowledge we introduce. To do this, we must think like UX designers.

The UX design process (Minhas, 2018):

  1. Understand: The UXD process begins by first understanding the requirements, creating user personas, and define use cases. Get to know the users by meeting, talking, and observing them in their environment.
  2. Research: This process involves getting to know the competition and researching the latest UX trends. Knowing this information is key because it generates ideas.  
  3. Sketch: This is where you gather ideas and begin using creativity to draw and create wireframes. How do you want the product to look? Evaluate your ideas/sketches and re-draw.
  4. Design: Design images and create prototypes. This is also where UX guidelines are defined.
  5. Implement: Time to implement functionality and build experience. Technical functionality can be done during the early stages of the process, while design phase is in progress.
  6. Evaluate: After implementation, it is imperative the product is evaluated for its usability, ease of use, flexibility, purpose/intent, and user engagement.

More on UX Design Process

Inquiry Method

Again, I chose to begin my research about user experience design by doing a Google search. My initial search provided me with 1,340,000,000 results! Although top results were helpful, I wanted to be a bit more specific so I added quotation marks to my search keywords. “What is user experience design?” provided me with 40,100. When reading through the first few results, I saw a post from UX Planet that described the user experience design process. This is what I wanted! I thought I should look through the university’s library to see if I could get peer-reviewed articles about UX design process. When searching for “(user experience design) AND (elearning)” I found 4,410 results. Through this search I found an eBook that focused on creating eLearning courses so I downloaded it. Quite honestly, I was impressed by the UX Planet post I had found through Google because it simplified the entire UX design process.

What frameworks or methods help you when creating instructional material or other media to deliver information? 

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Brumberger, E. (2009). Technical communication, 56(2), 188-189. Retrieved from

Gray, D. (n.d.). What is visual thinking? Retrieved from

Hubbard, R. (2013). The really useful elearning instruction manual : your toolkit for putting elearning into practice. Retrieved from

Minhas, S. (2018, April 23). User Experience Design Process – UX Planet. Retrieved from

Moeller, M., Cutler, K., Fiedler, D., & Weier, L. (2013). Visual thinking strategies = creative and critical thinking. Phi Delta Kappan, 95(3), 56-60. doi:10.1177/003172171309500312


PODCAST – Equity, Privilege, and Diversity in eLearning

Audio, eLearning, Multimedia, Podcast

This is my first attempt at a podcast. It’s a little rough but I plan on improving and continuing to share with you my thoughts on instructional design, adult learning, learning trends, and anything related to language (I love it!).

Listen in and contribute to the discussion. I’m open to your suggestions, thoughts, and overall feedback about the podcast.

For this podcast, I’m talking about the need of resources for Spanish-speaking Hispanics and how it affects their access to health benefits and healthcare services. Click play and read along if you would like. Thanks for listening!

Music credit: Autumn Leaves by Axian & Jsan.


What can you do to assist this community?

I’m interested to hear your thoughts about this topic and your ideas for diversifying our resources for Spanish-speakers. Does your workplace offer materials in other languages? Do you know someone who does that for a living?

Use the comment section below to continue this discussion. You can also connect with me via social media and follow my blog to stay up to date about new trends in instructional design and eLearning.

TEDx Talks: How Augmented Reality Will Change Education Completely

eLearning, Multimedia

Instructional Realities

Florian Radke talks about how Augmented reality is not a toy, it’s a powerful tool that will help solve some of the worlds biggest problems. If we do it right, it can be the next great platform for education, human connection and productivity. Like Iron man, we all will soon be surrounded by data and 3D models that we can interact with, as early as the year 2025.

Florian is currently leading communications at Meta, an augmented reality (AR) company that is one of the companies at the forefront of designing our AR future. Meta’s focus is not on creating experiences that distract or pull us out of the real world, but rather that enhance our natural environments and facilitate greater learning and communication than has been available before. The possible applications range from more immersive classroom learning to a collaborative creative tool that can be used in real time…

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Is Virtual Reality a Good Idea?

eLearning, Multimedia, Training

Have you seen the trailer for the movie Ready Player One? If you haven’t, watch it below.

I bring this up because it got me thinking about the future of Virtual Reality and its benefits and implications for continuing to advance this technology. I decided to continue exploring this topic and begin creating a Pecha Kucha presentation for one of my master’s classes this semester. I’m particularly interested in learning more about its current uses in gaming, technology, and education.

Currently, VR is making a comeback and trending in delivering immersive experiences to learning with many benefits in information retention and learner engagement; however, there are some questions about VR that we can’t possibly know the answer to just yet, so we’re forced to speculate and imagine. After watching the trailer for Ready Player One, I began asking myself the following questions:

  • As VR’s technology improves and develops, could the level of stimulation experienced in VR lead to confusion in the real world?
  • Since VR is physically risk-free, might we get too used to being able to survive large falls and end up having more accidents? Or,
  • Could virtual reality prove to be so compelling in the future that we end up choosing it over the real world?

Although these questions do scare me a bit, my stance is definitely pro-VR. Do I think VR will be the doom of our society? No, I think our leaders should be concerned with other issues.

With this project, I hope to address current and future benefits of VR as well as potential implications. Since VR is an emerging trend in the learning community, I believe educators and workplace trainers will find this insightful.

Learning Objectives:

With this project, I hope viewers will…

  1. Identify differences between Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).
  2. Recognize VR benefits in immersive learning.
  3. Seek VR devices to implement as potential learning solutions in workplace and classroom settings.

Tools and Technologies

Here is where I need your help. If you haven’t looked it up by now, a Pecha Kucha is a presentation style in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each (6 minutes and 40 seconds in total). To do this, I need an easy-to-use video editing tool. I plan on using a program called Filmora, but I’m curious to know any opinions about this program from anyone that has used it.

So what do you think about VR? Sound scary or exciting? Let me know below. 

Are you stifling your creativity?

Learn about 5 bad habits that stifle creativity and how to prevent them.

1. Creating and Evaluating at the Same Time

Guilty! I am the type of person that is often observing and evaluating EVERYTHING. And when it comes to creating, generating new ideas, visualizing, looking ahead, and considering the possibilities, I get into a blocked mental state because my brain is also trying to evaluate, analyze, or pick apart ideas into those that are possible and impossible, thus stifling the creative process.

Rather than evaluating too soon or too often, separate creation from evaluation. Start by throwing out ideas first then judging their worth later.

2. Fear of Ambiguity

I like things to make sense. If you were to ask any person that knows me well to tell you something about me, I can guarantee they will say I am a neat and tidy person; however, life is not neat and tidy. There are things I don’t understand and problems I can’t solve which really bother me, but I have realize that some things won’t make sense and I need to be ok with that.

Most great creative ideas emerge from a swirl of chaos. It’s important to develop a part of yourself that is comfortable with mess and confusion, and become comfortable with things that work even when you don’t understand why.

3. Lack of Confidence

For years I have been expecting perfection with every creative act. Let’s be honest, I know I’m not the only one that expects every attempt at Pinterest recipes or crafts to come out perfectly.

You must have confidence in your abilities in order to create and carry out effective solutions to problems. It’s healthy to have self-doubt and fail. This experience builds confidence and increases understanding of how creativity works.

When you understand that ideas often seem crazy at first, that failure is just a learning experience, and that nothing is impossible, you are on your way to becoming more confident and more creative.

4. Being Overwhelmed by Information 

Have you been stuck thinking about a problem and the information you gathered but end up with a mental block that you lose the ability to act? “Analysis paralysis” is caused by overthinking.

Successful people know when to when to stop collecting information and start taking action. Many subscribe to the “ready – fire – aim” philosophy of business success, knowing that acting on a good plan today is better than waiting for a perfect plan tomorrow.

5. Discouragement from Other People

Although it’s easy to take the easy route and conform, be sensible, and not rock the boat, you must ignore the naysayers and carry out with your creative endeavors.

The path to every victory is paved with predictions of failure. Embrace a “growth mindset.” You’ll begin seeing failure as a way to grow and therefore embrace challenges, persevere against setbacks, learn from criticism, and reach higher levels of achievement.

Once you have a big win under your belt, all the naysayers will shut their noise and see you for what you are — a creative force to be reckoned with.

If you recognize some of these problems in yourself, give yourself a pat on the back! Knowing what’s holding you back is the first step toward breaking down the barriers of creativity.

How about you? What mental habit has been hardest on your creativity? Comment below. 

Leadership, People Development, Storyboarding