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Tim Cliffe - Blog

Improving Graphical Media Specification

01 Target Audience

(01.1) Anyone involved in the creation and/or specification of graphical media.

02 Executive Summary

(02.1) When specifying graphical media, it is not uncommon for the returned finished product to be not exactly what was expected. The time, and extra cost, of returning media for correction can be significant. The following describes my experiences and method for increasing the creation of right-first-time media.


03 Structure of This Article

  • (04) Introduction
  • (05) Common Practice
  • (06) Antecedents to the Solution
  • (07) The Solution
  • (08) The Benefits
Image showing the DAM Cycle: Create, Manage, Distribute, Retrieve, Archive.

04 Introduction

(04.1) I will be making a few assumptions, to simplify matters.


(04.2) I will assume the Media Team uses a standardised method of making media requests and for requesting amendments to media. I will also assume a searchable media repository and media resource library exists to support the requesting of visual media assets. In other words, a Digital Asset Management (DAM) software is in place.

05 Common Practice

(05.1) My first role, in the field of multi-media learning, was as an Instructional Designer. The practice, at my place of work, was to describe new media requests, and media amendments, using only words.


(05.2) It is probably no surprise that, even after becoming skilled at describing what is required, media received from the Media Team was not always exactly as expected. It became clear to me, a more effective way to describe media was to use images. After all, Graphic Artists are 'visual people', so what better way to describe what is required than to use visual means. Unfortunately, such a change was not an option at that time.


(05.3) In my next position, again as an Instructional Designer, the same circumstance prevailed. However, after a short time all media work was out-sourced to a Media Team in India. The practice of 'off-shore out-sourcing' was becoming increasingly common, at the time.

06 Antecedents to the Solution

(06.1) After a few media requests were submitted, to the Media Team in India, and having received completed media in return, I realised an extra dimension was at play, namely, despite the Indian Graphic Artists having a very good command of English, there is a difference between a native's use of a language and how none-native speakers use the same language. The difference is essentially explained by the fact none-native speakers learn a formal version of a foreign language, and, in cultural isolation, that is, not in the native land of the second language.


(06.2) Fortunately, the obstacles that existed earlier, with regard to how media requests were submitted, no longer existed. Consequently, I began submitting media requests that included my own 'rough' graphics, to illustrate my requirements, visually.

07 The Solution

Image of the GNU Image Manipulation Programme logo.


(07.1) In my first role as an Instructional Designer, I had been told of a very competent Open Source graphics software called The GNU Image Manipulation Programme (GIMP).


(07.2) The GIMP is a very capable graphics software, and is more than good enough to allow the manipulation of graphics by an Instructional Designer, who is likely not a professional graphic artist. There are also lots of on-line tutorials and support groups.


(07.3) Fortunately, I had been using The GIMP for a while, in my own time, and was reasonably proficient at using it to convey my ideas.


(07.4) I soon realised what a useful approach this was, as the number of 'Please explain what you mean' e-mails, from the Media Team in India, rapidly diminished and the media I was receiving was, increasingly, as expected.


(07.5) Naturally, I soon made the Instructional Design Team aware of my results, and after a short time the approach was adopted, as standard, by the organisation.

08 The Benefits

(08.1) I am aware many Instructional Designers, these days, use graphics software to convey their ideas to the Media Team. I am also surprised there are some organisations that still rely, mainly, on written descriptions to specify media requests.


(08.2) I have found the benefits of including graphics in media requests to be significant. However, there are additional benefits, to those already described:
  • During courseware design and development, including draft graphics makes for a more effective review process for the Subject Matter Expert (SME). The relative positions of graphical elements, labels, etc. gives the SME a much better indication of the finished media, and helps them make any adjustments before the originating media request is submitted. This reduces re-work effort for the Media Team, and lesson development time;
  • Graphical software, including The GIMP, allows the use of layers. This means an Instructional Designer can create a master, layered, graphic making editing draft graphics much easier, and faster, should the SME, or the customer, require any amendments;
  • A master graphic can be shared with other Instructional Designers (and vice versa) and adapted to meet specific requirements. This can save a good deal of work, and supports consistency across media.
(08.3) The availability of a free, Open Source, graphics software, that can help anyone manipulate or create graphics to help them in their work (or play), means there is no software cost involved, to present a barrier. The GIMP is available for:
  • Linux;
  • MacOS;
  • Windows.
(08.4) For more, freely available, Open Source software, use the Curation List and select eLearning > Multi-media Software.

Use of this Article

Any part, or all, of this article may be linked-to or copied for non-commercial purposes. Any linked or copied content to include the following...


Improving Graphical Media Specification by Tim Cliffe © 1997-2020.


Where use will be for commercial purposes, seek authorisation, including details of proposed use, via the Contact page.


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