It doesn't remotely feel like it's been a year already, and yet here we are... it's DevLearn time again!
I'll be doing my usual keynote live tweeting at @eGeeking, but if you're on-site at the conference and want to say hi, here are the easiest places to find me this week.
I'll be scampering all over in my Guild blue for most of this day, but I'll definitely be in the Hyperdrive competition audience from 3:30-6:30PM. If you're looking for inspiration, this is a handy event to attend.
Orientation and Docent Morning Buzz
New to the conference or are here on your own? I highly recommend coming out to the conference orientation session. We're going to share a bunch of tips for how to get the most out of your DevLearn experience and answer whatever questions you have about the conference.
VR Learning Lab
Aside from some breaks, I'll be spending most of Wednesday helping to run the VR Learning Lab in the Expo Hall. If you'd like to get hands on with VR experiences and discuss how this technology can be effectively used for learning, be sure to drop by and check out all the games and simulations we'll be demoing.
It's hard to say no to hanging out with other DevLearn attendees with drinks and appetizers.
Morning Buzz: Boosting Visual Design Skills
I'll be facilitating this casual discussion about tips, resources, and approaches for helping to build the visual design skills you need for your work. Whether you're an experienced designer or are struggling with the design tasks in your work, we'll be sure to share ideas you can use.
VR Learning Lab
Yes... I'll be back at the VR Learning Lab on Thursday. If you didn't get to check it out on Wednesday, or you didn't get to try out all the experiences we were demoing, be sure to come by today.
DemoFest has always been one of my favourite parts of DevLearn. If you've never been, it's basically like a science fair for digital learning projects. You can check out (and often try out) different learning projects, which is fantastic for getting inspiration. Even better, though, is you can actually talk to the people who made them and find out more about what their design and development process was.
Morning Buzz: How to Write a Winning Session Proposal
Speaking at conferences can be a great way to share your experiences with the L&D community. It's also a useful way to make attending conferences a bit easier on the pocketbook. But if you've never had a speaking proposal accepted (or even written a speaking proposal in the first place) it can be a bit daunting to know how to choose a topic and write a proposal that will make a conference program. In this Morning Buzz, those of us who do the eLearning Guild conference proposal reviews and decisions will share our recommendations for how to craft a proposal that stands out and answer your questions about the process.
Session: Simple Strategies for Solving L&D Visual Design Challenges
In our field it's quite common for people to be asked to take on tasks that involve visual design... regardless of whether or not they having any kind of background in that skill. And that can lead to people feeling frustrated with trying to tackle design themselves and projects that don't leverage visuals as effectively as they could - which is a shame because smartly designed visuals can do a lot to make what your create easier for people to understand, remember, and use. If this describes you, then don't worry: there's a lot you can do to make visual design easier. In this session I'll be sharing easy to learn strategies that can help everyone - regardless of their current design skills - solve some of the most common design issues in our field.
When JD Dillon (@JD_Dillon) tweeted this photo last week, I'm not entirely sure he expected people to actually fully redesign the thing, but I just couldn't help myself. The sign was hard to read from far away, the text was in dire need of some visual organization to make things clearer, and that half-finished instruction to the next nearest ATM wasn't helping anybody. And so, in about 5 or so minutes I quickly put together the following redesign.
I first wanted to make it substantially easier to see from far away that the ATM was out of order. The red header and the large "Out of Order" at the top of the sign make it pretty clear something isn't okay with the machine. You might not even need to walk up close to it to decide to pass it by.
Next, I wanted to give some clarity about the situation and break the information up so it would be easier to ingest. I added a small amount of text to explain the ATM wasn't working and cheerfully suggest an alternative - an ATM just a short walk away. To make things even clearer, I added in the street address of that ATM (obviously made up in this case) and also included a map (hooray for reusing an asset I had made ages ago).
Finally, I'm Canadian, so the sign absolutely had to include a slightly reworded version of the apology from the original sign, now separated from the rest of the text so it could stand out more.
I may have cranked this out in about 5 or so minutes, but I think even this quick idea is a vast improvement. But what you design in that short a time and how you're able to refine it over time are two different things. After I posted my initial sign redesign, @signalitsm commented that they thought the first line of the body copy could be edited out - the big Out of Order header was enough to signal the ATM wasn't working - and suggested that stating "We're sorry for the inconvenience" would be more powerful than saying "Our apologies for the inconvenience".
While I'm still touch and go on whether or not the different apology wordings seem more or less powerful to me (this may be my Canadian-ness... not really sure), the point about the first line of copy was definitely something I spent some time pondering. I had originally felt the sign needed that line to make it seem less blunt... but did it really?
So I reworked the sign with both suggestions.
Turns out, I liked this a lot and the shorter copy didn't in the end feel as blunt as I was initially worried it would. This is a good reminder that it's always useful to get another set of eyes on your design (especially when it's something you speedily crafted in a just a few minutes for a Twitter conversation).
Now, this is where I expected this redesign story to end, except that when I reached out to JD to get his permission to use his original photo he told me an intriguing bit of additional information: he had found this sign on an ATM at Toronto Pearson Airport. And that made my brain go in a pretty different direction.
First, Pearson is my home airport, so I'm very aware of what their colour palette and graphic design tends to look like. That made me think about how to shift my original design to have it better align with the Pearson look and feel. Second, that gave me a better sense of what tone the copy should have so it would feel right for the location. It could be a bit conversational (but not too informal) and since it was in Toronto it definitely needed to emphasize the apology.
With that in mind, I worked on a rough idea for a new version of the sign.
I couldn't confirm what font the Toronto Pearson Airport uses for printed signs, but their website uses Trebuchet so I went with that to make this feel more on brand. Along those lines, I also swapped out my original map with one based on the terminal maps available on the Pearson website and adjusted my colour palette to better match it and the website colours .
In the original Twitter conversation, one thing I had noted was it might be handy to know how long the ATM was going to be down for. Would it be just a few hours, in which case you wouldn't need to plan around the problem in the future? Or would it potentially be broken for weeks as they waited for a repair appointment, in which case you'd perhaps want to skip this ATM entirely for the next while? Because of this, when I reworked the copy I added that information in. It added more text, but I thought the tradeoff was worth it.
While revisiting the copy I also took another look at the apology wording. Adding in the line about the maintenance date gave me some room to move the apology right up to the front without making it grammatically awkward. That move also allowed me to shift the wording to something more conversational, but still appropriate for the situation.
Once again, this is just a rough idea (I'm still on the fence on how effective I think the more washed out brand red works in this context), but I like where it's going. It feels like it belongs to the location it's in without having to include busy formal branding and logos, it quickly communicates the information a person needs to solve the problem, and it has a nice human touch.
Admittedly, pretty much anything was an improvement over where we started, but this was a fun exercise in thinking about how simple design choices can make information more clear.
The great thing about design is there's almost never just one right approach. Have some other ideas for how you might have redesigned this sign? Leave them in the comments below!
Wouldn't it be nice if there was some unified theory of design that could just give you a single approach that would work in every single situation? Do this with the fonts, that with the alignment, and another thing with the colours and done! If you're a newbie to visual design, this "one design formula to rule them all" is the kind of solution you might hope to find.
Unfortunately, the sheer number of variables at play means... well... that's never going to happen. And to be honest, it's actually one of the fun parts of design once you get more experienced with it - the challenge of looking at a design problem and considering what the best approaches for that unique request might be.
But if you're new to visual design, no worries. There are thankfully some stable concepts you can consider to help simplify your thought process as you narrow down what the best design options might be. And one good concept to start with is to think about the context for what you're about to create.
Lucky for all of us, I bumped into a fine example of how context impacts design a few months ago on the Toronto subway. We start our story with a sign about a temporary closure on the line.
At first glance, this sign probably strikes you as smartly designed. They've pared everything down to just the information you need and nothing more, so it's not overwhelming you with details. The text looks large. The colour choices are simple. There's a handy little graphic to help you better understand which stations exactly are going to be effected by the closure. There's also a ton of whitespace around everything, so the sign doesn't look cluttered. In theory this seems like a solid design and you have to believe it looked pretty smart on someone's computer screen.
But when you take into account the context of where and how people will be viewing it, that's where things start falling apart.
Up close, the sign is great. But because of where it's displayed, it's not something most people are going to see at that distance. Instead, they're going to see it from way down a hallway as they follow that orange arrow I added to show you the traffic patterns of how people scurry around this corner to get down to the subway platform. When it's in your sightline, it's VERY unclear what the sign says (let alone that it's communicating important information) and as soon as you get close enough to actually read the thing properly almost everyone's eyes have shifted to the right towards the stairs. What's an effective design up close just doesn't work so well in the situation it needs to be used in.
Thankfully, our subway system figured out a simple, yet effective, solution: they added a second sign.
Sign number 2 is even simpler. It's goal isn't to communicate all the information you need - it's to get your attention from far away.
n.And this pairing works rather well. The sign on the right grabs your attention from far away and tells you something important: there's going to be a subway closure this weekend on part of the line. Subway closures are a complete pain, so this is likely to make people want to know more. You get closer and then you have the sign on the left with the additional details you'll need to plan your life around this (still, thankfully, presented in a simple manner)
Is it perfect? Probably not. Personally, I think the black background on the right sign doesn't help it stand out enough and I do wonder why the two signs weren't swapped given that English reads left to right, but generally speaking it's a good solution that takes into account the context of where the design will live and how people will move around it in order to accomplish its goals.
No matter what you're designing, you always want to consider context to ensure what you've made actually functions the way you want it to in the real world.
It's the new year, and with that comes people making resolutions to learn new things and build new habits. And all this talk about boosting skills and making changes for the better has gotten me thinking about a project I worked on last year that I have been meaning to reflect on: Inktober.
The short version of Inktober is that it's a one month challenge where artists commit to making one ink drawing a day every day in October (if you're curious, here's the official website for it). Inktober is a chance for newbie artists to push themselves to work deliberately on their basic skills, experienced artists to refine their craft, and everyone to get in the habit of drawing more.
For me, the interest in Inktober came from two angles.
First, I'm a former art teacher who fell out of the habit of creating analogue art. I'd committed to working on this in 2017, and the Inktober challenge felt like a good way to help me continue to brush off my rusty skills and build some competency with the new art supplies I had picked up, but not fully gotten used to.
Then there was the professional angle. I was curious about how much impact a challenge like this could have on building skills. Timed challenges like this are easy to find for all sorts of skills or interests, covering everything from writing challenges to running goals. But the two learning-related questions I had were could a short challenge like this make a noticeable difference in a person's skills and would it lead to better long-term habits.
And so last year I finally broke down and actually tried out Inktober for myself. Here's what I learned.
No surprise: Defined goals can boost motivation
Just committing to the Inktober challenge gave me more motivation to actually put pen to paper, something I had struggled with doing regularly in the past. Rather than having the admittedly wishy washy goal of "drawing more", I instead had a defined thing to strive for - one drawing a day for 31 days. I restrained this goal more and made myself a sketchbook for all my drawings, so I even knew just how big a drawing I'd be doing each day. This made a real difference in my behaviour, and is definitely one of the huge reasons these types of timed, structured challenges are so popular.
Lesson for L&D: Giving people a bit of structure around how to work on a skill can help them actually get moving on building it, particularly if it's something they're having trouble getting started on. Also, in some cases a time frame can also be a motivating factor as it's another form of structure.
Doing a challenge at the same time as other people helps you keep on track
Inktober is a HUGE thing with artists now, and everywhere I went on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook I found posts from fellow artists sharing their successes and frustrations. Even though I knew very few of these people personally, you had better believe this helped me feel connected to a community of people all going through the same thing as me. That connection definitely made a difference on days when I was feeling tapped out creatively - if they could keep on top of the challenge, so could I. Plus, it was energizing to see so many people tackle this challenge so differently.
Lesson for L&D: Some people may benefit from not feeling alone in building a skill. Consider opportunities to build communities and cohorts, particularly for difficult challenges where people may lose motivation if they're on their own.
Sharing your progress can help you stay committed AND provide important reflection in the moment
I was worried about not staying on top of Inktober, so I committed very publicly to the challenge and shared every drawing (even the ones I hated) on Instagram. I knew people were expecting to see a drawing each day, which was yet another factor that helped me when I had difficulty cranking a drawing out (hooray for positive social pressure!). The people I shared my work with were incredibly supportive, which made me feel more comfortable sharing my work. The Instagram posts also gave me a chance to write out what I had learned from that drawing, be it how NOT to use a particular pen or what technique I'd figured out that time around.
Lesson for L&D: Encouraging people to work out loud can help them feel more stay committed to, and supported on, building their new skill (well, as long as they're sharing with a group of people they trust). It also encourages them to openly reflect on their work regularly, which is good for their own skill progress and also creates resources that other people can learn from too.
A timed challenge can help you work through the suck
Lesson for L&D: Challenges with a lot of smaller goals give people the opportunity to stumble and learn from their mistakes. Prepare them ahead of time for this (and for the fact it can be a good thing) so the first failure doesn't make them quit. Also encourage them to reflect on things that didn't go as planned as see what they can still learn from the experience.
Burnout is real
As much as there's lots to be gained from a short, but intense challenge, if you're not careful it's VERY easy not to make it to the finish line. For Inktober, there seemed to be two common places when people stopped the challenge. There were the people at the beginning who got a few drawings in but fizzled out - presumably because they hadn't yet built the daily drawing habit. Then there were the people closer to the end who were just creatively tapped out.
Did I consider stopping the challenge? Sure, there were a few moments I thought about it. I traveled to two conferences in the later half of October, one of which I was helping run, and I was exhausted as a result. On the plus side, I think the fact those days hit later in the month saved me, because at that point I was already so set in the habit of drawing every day that it felt weird not to.
Lesson for L&D: There are two key points in a difficult timed challenge where you can lose people: in the beginning before they've built a habit of participating and nearer to the end when they're hitting their exhaustion point. You'll want to build in ways to support people at these points so they're able to complete the challenge.
Did I finish? What did I learn?
I'm proud to say I actually managed to get to the end of Inktober in 2017. Here are a few of the pieces I drew during it that I'm still happy with to this day.
So what about the two big questions I had about how timed challenges could help build skills?
Well, I can definitely confirm it made a big difference in my skills. Pushing myself to draw every day gave me way more concentrated practice than I'd had earlier in the year, and even two months later I can see the improvement in my work. Also, through all the experimenting I did I got a stronger sense of what I wanted my art style to be, which was a much appreciated Inktober side bonus. Based on this experience and what I've heard from other people who have undertaken similar challenges, my perspective is that a well designed timed challenge can help someone's skills improve, potentially in leaps and bounds.
The hope that it could also help build better long-term habits, though, was a bit less of a success. I was so burned out by the end that I didn't draw again for a few weeks (did the big conference I had at the end of October also contribute to this? Absolutely). However, it's two months later and I do still find myself drawing more often than I did before I took on Inktober. It's definitely not at the "one drawing a day" level, and admittedly I'd still like to be drawing more regularly than I am now, but it did lead to a small change in my habits as drawing started to feel like a more regular part of my routine instead of just a once and awhile pastime. So it didn't make a massive change in my behaviour, but it did move the needle in a measurable way, so that's at least a partial win.
So how can we use similar approaches to this in L&D? Well, there are definitely times where I think using this exact approach of intense practice over a short period of time can work for our audiences - particularly when they need a fast skill boost and are also already committed to working on it. But that intensity isn't a good fit for every situation, especially where there's a higher potential for burnout or people find the skill overwhelming. That said, there are ways to use this approach in less time-intensive ways (and stress-inducing) ways. For instance, I've seen people have great success with using regular newsletters or other short burst learning experiences to teach information. Our industry should look at options for things like "learn _____ in 30 days through 30 newsletters" that use short content, chunked and spaced learning, and a regular schedule for receiving information. Plus, with automated services like Mailchimp, it's now incredibly easy and cost-effective to set these challenges up to pretty much run themselves once you've designed them.
Do I think this approach works for everything? No. But nothing does. It it something I'd encourage people in L&D to consider using more? Absolutely.
Have you tried out a timed challenge like Inktober? If so, how did it work out for you? What did you learn from it that could translate to what we do in L&D? Let me know in the comments.
I'd been blogging using Blogger since 2012 (DevLearn 2012, to be exact). And while it was a good platform for me then, I've been finding the visual design of it a bit stagnant for awhile now. Since I wanted to make a new website for myself and my business, I figured this was a great time to migrate my blog as well.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to find a way to cleanly port my old blog posts here (although I'll keep investigating options). Until a better solution presents itself, you can always find all my old posts at https://e-geeking.blogspot.ca/
Future posts, though... they'll all be here from now on, so be sure to follow my RSS feed, connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn, or check in here often to catch up on what I'm writing.
What's This Blog about?
This blog, like Clever Raptor, is all about the intersection of learning and design - and there's a LOT in that intersection. You'll find everything from practical design tips, technology reviews, presentation ideas, conference posts, thoughts about how learning connects to other fields, my own working out loud, and more.