Before we discuss what are some of the design principles that you can apply to on-line content, we should define what we mean by “Design”. This is one of those words that are ever-present in every industry that produces something, but it often means something different to every person invoking its meaning.
For this discussion, we are making the argument that to design something is to plan its inception, production and use, and that the application of consistent principles can improve the utility of that thing. In the case of on-line educational content, this means a plan of the purpose, presentation and evaluation of that content using accepted instructional design principles. Yet, we are working in a format that requires the consideration of other applications of design ideas from other fields. The use of media types such as typography, images, and audio are directly constrained by the on-line distribution method in both presentation and technical considerations.
In other words, if we are going to produce educational content on-line, we either need to be adept in the realms of education, project management, Internet technology, graphic design, audio design and web development and design, or we need a competent team to support our efforts. However, the development procedures of each team will vary to such an extent that we may be responsible for several areas within a project or be forced to change hats due to resource constraints. We may not be experts in every area, but we had better be certain that we are at least passingly knowledgeable, if for no other reason than to know how to assign and evaluate tasks for other members.
In a nutshell, we should look at design as applying certain general principles taken from various disciplines to the varied elements of our content in order to make that content more usable and effective. To do this, we need to draw from ideas as varied as graphic design, information architecture, instructional design, web design and development, typographic design, audio development and others.