What is quiet design?

The term “quiet design” isn’t new. Quiet design has been a way to describe functional designs that keep out of the user’s way since physical product design was a thing – before modern terms like UX design were coined.

A quiet design blends into the background. It doesn’t yell “look at me”. It’s aware that it is a tool to facilitate a greater requirement and not something that needs to draw attention to itself.


“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A torch should have a grippy handle, a familiar button and a powerful bulb to allow someone to see in the dark. They shouldn’t draw attention with brand-new button technology that requires you to learn how to turn it on, a snazzy design, or a bulb that cycles through every colour of the rainbow while projecting a cute message on the wall. 

The torch industry has nailed quiet design. Mostly.

But quiet design seems lost in the world of LMS interface design, much to the detriment of the people using the systems. And that’s a missed opportunity for the businesses who are offering the training. 

Reserving brain-power

It’s been well documented that in marketing, the inclusion of unnecessary steps or “friction” to completing a task or purchase results in a much higher drop in sales. For UX designer, Paul Boag, these barriers trigger what’s called Lizard Brain (the primitive state of mind where we’re more reluctant to give away our hard-earned cash or make an impulse purchase).

It’s why user-experience and web copy jobs are on the rise – good words on the page make it easier to understand the product and why we need it, and the UX makes it physically easier to navigate through website’s checkout.

The same is true in education. The more brainpower needed to navigate a learning environment, the less we’re allocating to learning the content.

Quiet LMS design helps users to learn and retain the learning more effectively.


I think loud LMS designs are so prevalent because there was no design consideration in the first place. I’ve heard so many horror-stories of development work being farmed out to Asia, where they either skipped the design phase altogether or were handed a design drawn up by someone who has never designed an interface before, let alone a learning interface.

Thorough research into user and business needs should act as the foundation of a considered LMS design. And a considered LMS design should act at the foundation of the development phase. 

Another reason quiet LMS designs are so rare is that they just don’t look that interesting. A quiet LMS won’t stand out in a portfolio of designs – when really these are the most effective for online learning environments.

Quieting your LMS

So, what does a quiet LMS design look like?

Navigation that’s collapsable

Most users will complete a course in a linear fashion. Complete lesson one, move onto lesson two. Permanently visible course navigation shouldn’t be necessary because there’s no need to be constantly reminded of the entire course structure. When they’re done with this lesson, they can click “next lesson”. So why wouldn’t you have a collapsible navigation that expands the view of the actual content?

Sparing use of bright colours in the interface

Colour is essential to a learning environment. A green for success, a red for warnings and one additional colour to indicate that an element is interactive (such as a button or a link). You rarely need more than these three colours in order to convey key elements of a learning interface.

Sack off the brand guidelines

Some brand typefaces are difficult to read particularly when used for walls of text, and brand colours are often too distracting to be prevalent throughout a learning environment. As designers, we need to consider being more selective about which guidelines we follow and which we don’t, and in some cases work with the client to devise a set of guidelines to be used in a learning environment. 

This may mean introducing a more legible font, creating a muted set of colours and reimagining some digital assets they may already have asked us to use (such as button styling from their website). 

No unnecessary elements 

Every element of an LMS design or piece of functionality must serve a user or business need, decided upon in the research phase. 

It can be tempting to add something to a design because it looks cool or different. But as Antoine de Saint-Exupery said to me the other day at Wetherspoons, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Don’t make me think 

This can be boiled down to “great UX”; anyone who’s read Steve Krug’s book ‘Don’t Make Me Think’ will be familiar with the principle. 

Case and point

I was once asked to help build an on-boarding course for learners, helping them to understand how to use the learning management system. Let that sink in – a course to teach people how to use the learning management system. If your system needs instructions, you’ve failed your learners – miserably.

“Don’t make me think” can be translated into “don’t reinvent the wheel”. Stick to familiar design principles and interactions, taking the learner’s previous experiences and familiarity with technology into account. 

Look towards the apps these types of use every day, and take inspiration from those – this gives users the sense of familiarity needed to navigate your system without friction. Don’t create an interface that requires users to learn how to use it.

Signing off

Quiet design isn’t sexy. That’s why we don’t see much of it. But a quiet LMS design is absolutely fundamental to the user experience of your learning environment – users are there for the learning – not your system.