L&D Design Rules: Want your audience to have clarity? Show them contrast

Late nights. Strong booze. An iconic American brand. This is what we should be striving to emulate in our L&D design. Don’t believe me? Read on…

Standing at the platform at Tower Hill station recently I was struck by an advert for Jack Daniel’s that, for me, is a great example of using contrast in your use of images and text to draw in your audience – see below:

Jack Daniels JPEG

On the one hand you have this rusty, old safe that would seem to be at odds with the young, vibrant branding that many drinks companies (alcoholic or otherwise) try to push on to us. In fact when you contrast it with some other rival offerings, the contrast could not be more stark in terms of chic youthfulness and – dare I say it – ‘being cool’ (kind of hate myself for typing that but it seemed the best way to put it!).

But observe a little closer and you realise that there is more to this advert than first meets the eyes. So you have this old, rusty image, but then the following slogan to go along with it:

“Mr Jack passed away due to an injury he sustained when kicking his safe early one morning at work.

Moral of the story: Never go to work early.”

Well, well – turns out the brand is quite hip after all. More importantly a great deal of self-awareness is show in this advert: a rich, long history as a product with a strong sense of its own values – e.g. a dry sense of humour which it uses in a very self-deprecating way. Not only that but that original image has actually achieved it aims of acting as a hook to reel you in to the tag line of the advert. In doing so, perhaps it also makes you more curious about the product, the story of Jack Daniel’s safe, or possibly how you might go about avoiding having to come in to the office early next time your manager wants you too.

So how is this relevant to instructional designers or L&D professionals in general? It is a subtle reminder of the value of contrast in our content in order to draw our audience in – a Trojan horse approach to designing and delivering content.

“Contrast? Surely that is 1) A button on a TV remote control, or 2) Confusing for our audience?” – Well, 1) Yes, and 2) No. Not when it is done well. Effective use in contrast in terms of images, text or general juxtaposition between the two will act as a means to revitalise your audience and, if nothing else, make them want to pay attention so they stay on top of what is coming next. It can also act as an energiser for your session, getting attendees who might be tired or exhausted after a long stretch of delivery think ‘Oh hang on – where did that come from? Does that make sense? How does that fit in to the scheme of what we have discussed so far? Exactly how hard did he kick that safe?!’

Although the context is different (one setting is about helping an individual grow on a professional or personal level, the other is about promoting a product) the underlying principle is the same: you need to find ways to attract, engage and sustain interest from your audience and make the value of the message you are delivering to them resonate on a personal level, whether through your history, humour, values or otherwise.

However you do it contrast can aid your cause – and if you have experience of this in the past, I would love to hear about how you used this effectively, when it worked better, when it did not and so on. In the meantime I have a strange urge to have a drink – and not turn up to work early tomorrow….

UPDATE: Not sure if it is a Tower Hill station advert pre-requisite, but if you are interested to see a previous example of this in the same station from Tescos then check out my blog post here. If nothing else it might make think differently about the next design project you have to work on – and when it comes to that, every little helps…



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