CARP- Psychology of Perception is Everywhere and I am Stoked!

Taken from Wikipedia page for Common Carp.

I am so very excited to talk about CARP. Not carp, as in the fish that we put in ponds, but CARP as in the visual design principle we can all use to make our learning materials wonderfully understandable.

What is CARP?

CARP is a quick and dirty mnemonic to use when designing anything visual. The letters stand for Contrast, Alignment, Repetition, and Proximity.

Taken from Mr. Rehmann’s wiki page.
  • Contrast outlines the obvious difference between objects. Helps audience identify what to pay most attention to and what could use less attention. This can be in colors, text size, font styles, and graphic elements.
  • Alignment is the sensible arrangement of visual elements, both vertically and horizontally. Alignment is closely related to contrast. This also applies to text alignment that is most common to the target audience.
  • Repetition adds visual consistency to learning materials. Visual anchors are provided in repetition through same size and placement of fonts and visual anchors throughout learning materials, like a presentation that has a symbol for the topic on each slide.
  • Proximity is the placement of like or related elements close to each other. This creates groupings of logical information and directs learners to create relationships between ideas.

Bad Visual Design is Bad for Learning

So, here is the big question, do you think about the visual design of learning materials? Whether you are learning or teaching, it is something that grabs attention. Unfortunately for learners, bad visual design is often more memorable than the learning content; Thus, why it is highly important for educators and instructional designers to give attention to visual design.

But why does this happen? Do we have any way of scientifically understanding the effect of visual design on learning?

Answer: YES!

Visual Design and Psychology of Perception

Visual design principles are highly intertwined with the psychology of perception. There were great perception researchers in the 1950’s and 1960’s that explored memory related to visual design and arrangement of information. Their theories are the reasons we know how to manipulate learning through good visual design.

Without boring you with the theories that make me dance, here are quick tips to keep in mind about perception when creating cohesive visual design:

Taken from Wikipedia page for Common Carp.
  1. Working memory (or short-term memory) holds about 7 units of information for about 20-30 seconds. In other words, design learning to have 7 item lists, 7 section graphics, 7 step procedures, etc.
  2. Memory is made up of different networks. There is a network for visual information and one for verbal information. By providing verbal and visual information, learners can create multiple memory pathways to the same ideas, which can increase the likelihood of accurate recall.
  3. Attention is drawn to elements that stand out. Make the central ideas stand out visually to direct the learner attention.
  4. Humans remember information in hierarchical arrangements. Use text size and styles to create hierarchies of information to guide learners to read information in an understandable order. This also guides learners in organizing ideas into categories that are easy to remember.
  5. Humans draw understanding from an understanding of complete ideas, as opposed to all the separate parts. Help learners see the big picture by using a simple message and poignant

By using these ideas to direct CARP visual principles, there is no excuse for bad design besides limited time. It doesn’t take a large project budget to achieve CARP or arrange information into chunks that promote learning.


I owe a big credit to this report titled “A Review of Learning Theories from Visual Literacy.”