One of the challenges of being proficient with a software tool is that you forget that many of the things you take for granted, others are not familiar with and it is totally a new way of thinking. Today, I had a situation occur that was just this topic.
A group of our classroom instructors have been working on a series of what I would term “base PowerPoint” files. Essentially, they lay out concepts, ideas, and content. Then, it is my role on this project to clean them up and put them into Adobe Captivate, where I would add audio and interaction.
We had several screens that were essentially screens that held a definition of a term. This was not primary content. It was supporting material for the primary content, if the learner did not already have some base knowledge about the concepts we were presenting.
Here is an example of what the screen might have looked like with primary content.
The screen they delivered was essentially a duplicate of the previous screen (which had some selection items on it) with a large box in the middle that held the definition. In all fairness, this is exactly what we asked them to deliver.
When I saw the screen, my immediate reaction was that it needed something more. It didn’t really need much, but something to lift the definition box from the primary content on the slide. So, my solution was to fade out the background and information on the slide behind the information box. To do this, I would use a TRANSPARENT BOX. I have found that using a white box with a transparency of 35%-50% was a very successful solution to this situation. This is one that is very easy to implement and looks really clean.
In my quest to have the instructors become more familiar with design concepts, I thought I would go back and show them the challenge I encountered and describe how I addressed this design challenge. My goal was for them to see it and therefore be able to recognize this situation the next time they saw it and have a quick tool in their toolbox to address it.
Then came the surprise… They were not even familiar with the fact that they could make something semi-transparent or how to do it if they knew they should use it.
So, I decided I needed to take up that challenge and create this blog post.
WHAT IS TRANSPARENCY?
Transparency is a property that allows an object to be see-through. Usually, it is adjusted in percentages – anywhere from 0% to 100%. An object that is 0% transparent is completely opaque and you cannot see through it. An object that is 100% transparent is the opposite. It is completely invisible. Typically, 35%-50% seems to be a very nice transparency setting.
You may see this property called “alpha”. Graphics software sometimes allow for an alpha channel property. It’s the same thing.
WHEN SHOULD I USE THIS TOOL?
I find that the best use for it is if you need to “push” screen elements to the back of a design, allowing for other content to take center stage. As a note, I don’t typically use this for text. I would change the text to a medium gray, instead.
EXAMPLE 1 – PROCESS DIAGRAMS: I need to create a workflow diagram. Over a series of screens, I need to walk through the diagram and talk through the different stages. I might show the whole diagram on the first screen and briefly explain the process at a high level. Then, on later screens, as I walk through the workflow, I would use white semi-transparent boxes to “push” workflow sections back in the design to remove them as a distraction for the learner, yet it allows them to see where we are in the process still. This focuses the learner on the section we are describing. This seems to be more effective than simply putting a box around the section I am discussing, because a box simply adds clutter to the screen, as you can see here.
These few images show a screen that allows you to discuss the high level workflow and then two samples that show how you can isolate a workflow process that allows you to orient the learner to better understand where they are in the process you are about to discuss.
As a bonus, I could animate the boxes onto the screen with a medium fade to draw the learner’s attention to the section that is not faded out.
EXAMPLE 2 – TITLE SCREENS: On title screens, sometimes a large picture is to bold, bright, or distracting for you to put text on top of it and have the learner successfully read the text. You can use a semi-transparent box over the whole image to make it less distracting or bold. This allows your contrasting text to be more readable. Another option with this is to simply create a semi-transparent box on the screen that only covers the area where your text will go, leaving the rest of the image to still be bold and interesting. There are several variations on this style of design that work well and serve the purpose.
Here’s a related bonus tip to try with this situation. Instead of a semi-transparent white box, you can make your image grayscale and use a colored box at 50% transparency to color-code your course. So, Module 1 might get a blue tint on the title screen, Module 2 might get a green tint on that screen, and Module 3 might get a red or yellow tint. The point is that you can use this tool to create a color coding scheme for your course that carries through from the navigation menu all the way through to icon coding.
EXAMPLE 3: This is the situation I was presented with in the scenario that prompted me to write this post. If you have supplemental information you need to present to a learner and you want it to seem like it was simply a box that appears on top of your primary content, you can use a semi-transparent white box to remove attention from the primary content and draw attention to the information in the new box. You can use this for “gate” types of screens as well – screens that move you from one section of content to the next, but require interaction from the learner in some way.
In this image, notice that the two buttons in the upper-right and the navigation arrow in the bottom right are still clickable in this state. Therefore, they are positioned on layers in front of the semi-transparent white background.
HOW TO MAKE A SEMI-TRANSPERANT SHAPE
This post has been about boxes, because they seem to be the most common item to which I add transparency. However, you can set this property for most any object you can put on the screen – mainly shapes and text boxes. In PowerPoint, you cannot set an image to semi-transparent. That’s where the semi-transparent white box comes in.
For our example, we will create a white semi-transparent box that removes distracting items from the learner’s view.
1. Add your shape (a box) to the screen.
2. Change the color to white.
3. With the item selected, right-click and select Format Shape.
4. Under the Fill properties, you will see a slider labeled transparency. Next to this slider, there will be a percentage.
5. Drag the slider to the 40% mark. This should give you a very nice transparency.
6. Resize the object to either cover the whole screen or just the elements from which you want to remove attention.
Using these steps I have outlined, you will push everything behind the semi-transparent box into the background and remove attention from it. If you have buttons or other elements that are still active in this mode, you will want to bring them “in front of” the white box.
HAVE YOU USED THIS IN SOME FORM?
There are obviously many ways to use transparency as you design the look and feel of your course. If you have used it in a cool or unique way, take the mic and do it out loud by sharing how you used it in the comments for this post.