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Teaching Using Canvas: Usability & Visual Design

Usability & Visual Design

Generally speaking, "Usability is part of the broader term 'user experience' and refers to the ease of access and/or use of a product or website" (Interaction Design Foundation). It is important to consider each page of your course in Canvas as an individual website that should follow the standards and practices of good user design and, therefore, usability.

Visual Design

A closely related concept to usability, visual design aims to shape and improve the user experience through considering the effects of illustrations, photography, typography, space, layouts, and color on usability. Visual design considers a variety of principles, including unity, Gestalt principles, space, hierarchy, balance, contrast, scale, dominance, and similarity (Interaction Design Foundation).

Of course, we are not all designers by training. However, the general principles of usability and visual design can help enhance that all-encompassing goal of enhancing accessibility in your course. Seeing your course and materials from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with your content, such as your peers in our summer cohort, will help you revise elements of your course to suit usability and visual design. For usability, we are most concerned with organizational structure to clarify important instructions and emphasize important concepts. For visual design, we are mostly concerned with visual accessibility. Here are a list of questions created by our UW-Superior Canvas Team that help to identify any potential issues with usability.

General Questions

  • Are learning outcomes easy to find and clearly tied to modules and assessments?
  • Does the "Start Here" course page include an introduction to the course and explicit instructions on what to do first?
  • Do students have a single main path to follow to move through the course?
  • Are there clear and easy to locate instructions for contacting both you and Tech Support?

Text Questions

  • Do page titles accurately describe page content?
  • Are content pages, assignment instructions, etc. written in an active, second-person voice?
  • Have content pages, assignment instructions, etc. been proofread?
  • Do pages, syllabus, assignments, etc. use headings and indenting to help readers follow your organizational structure?
  • Are instructions clear to people with a student-level understanding of the concepts?
  • Are there rubrics, models, and/or examples to help students understand what they are supposed to do?
  • Are all links in your content and instructions working and have some description of what the link is to and what the student is to do once they follow the link?

Visuals and Multimedia Questions

  • Are images crisp and clear (not skewed or blurry)?
  • If you use color, is the color contrast strong enough for everyone to see? 
  • If you have images with text in them, is the text clear and large enough to read?
  • Do longer videos (>15 minutes) have a table of contents with time marks for each section above or below the video?
  • Is the audio on videos clear and understandable?

Visual Design Questions

  • Do you have relevant images (charts, graphs, diagrams, pictures) to break up longer sections of text?
  • Do images have a similar look and feel to them (photos with photos, line drawings with line drawings, etc.)? 
  • Are your images illustrating concepts or providing examples (not only decorative)?
  • Do different sections of your page have enough white space around them to be clear about what belongs with each one?
  • Is text almost all left aligned (unless you're teaching a language that reads right to left)?
  • Is text almost all in the default font size?