Monday, May 17, 2010

A Manager's 5 commandments to e-Learning Visual Designers

Who takes design decisions in e-Learning project ? If you think it is project team or designers, then it is not quite close. The design decisions in projects are taken by customers by checking out options and personal preferences. And here is the source of issue.
  1. Has your designer ever sold the design or just presented design options ?
  2. Has the articulation of designs gone beyond brand guidelines and features?
  3. Are the designs submitted with enough proof that alternate options were considered and this is the best solution?
  4. Is there a promise from designer to describe the limits of reusability, scalability and durability ?
To become an indispensable visual designer in e-Learning projects, here are the five commandments from me, as a project manager.
1. Create Wireframes and Doodle sequences, period: No design or idea can come without a scribble. Skipping this step is foolish. Missing the step is to start ticking a bomb in the project. Blaming on time pressure is escapist tendency. You are bound to lose productivity, if you do not wire frame your work. Your work load is going to bomb on you that you will spend late nights in office.

Not sequencing the screens is a novice attempt at design.  Non understanding of the design complexity will persist throughout the project, if wireframing is not done.

Doodle every screen, every asset. All it takes is a pencil and a one-side used paper. Then start sourcing them.

2. Decide and configure design decisions consistently: Gone are days, when you want to document and keep a print copy or archive of the decisions. All design decisions can now be coded to become live samples that can be distributed freely. Learn JSFL, MXP if you are using Flash or their equivalents in other tools. They would allow you to maintain the consistency you need, implement the design decisions in every asset. They allow you to implement all decisions by clicking a button. Further, you should endevour to use one single file for every decision. Colors must be in CSS, buttons and assets must be in shared library, User Interface must be a single file in a single location, each flash template must be in single file, single location. This allows for easy changes to decision and localize the impact.

Manage your design is by making it configurable. Learn XML and its usage. Configure all parameters of your design to make it suitable to changing circumstances. Explain the XML structure to your clients. This would help appreciate the design better.

Remember, design is about consistency, extension of users adopted style for colors, navigation, understanding of web functionalities. So being creative to make every screen unique goes against the grain of good User Experience and design. All time surprises, tire the users completely.

Further note that having a same file with similar functionality in multiple folders is no longer required. The advancements in technology have ensured this. So start learning and become an impactful well articulative designer.

3. Feedback, Ask for Users: Can bet for sure, that no designer ever would have gone to solicit feedback from users out of the way. User feedback and experience are a lip service to the job at hand and is committed with great alacrity. Always, designers speak of user experience, but it is their experience, not that of users. So please go into field and move away from computer screens and AC cabins to solicit feedback.  I would alert customers to really seek proof and testimonials whenever an agency speaks about their role in soliciting user feedback out of their way.  Role playing a user is not deciding user experience. Users determining them selves is user experience.

Ask sample audience to test your design. Doing it at wireframe stage is desired. But a finished design needs user testing to pass them onto production.

4. Do you carry a checklist: Always, I get a grin and a sarcastic smile when I mention this point. Even interviewers are surprised when I answer them that Design is about adhering to a checklist. If you do not know the requirements, you cannot design. Your design in thin air is not a business need. Designer exist to make things better for users. Users should consume the design every time with a smile, with ease, with familiarity.

If you do not own a checklist, you are not a strong designer. Your checklist is what gives your design a strong footing. It is the checklist of requirements and heuristics that makes a design deliver a good impact and great first impression. If not, you are just a resource trying to impress with goofy colors and big mouth fads. Understand that your checklist is your style.

5. Move over Design, Understand Semantics: Semantics is real design. Semantics is meaning in context. Semantics is giving ideas to users on using the system better. It should be thought provoking. If you design for semantics, all your design elements get cohesive and are powerful enough to perform the tasks better. If you design loosely coupled elements, then semantics are not adhered to. Non-semantic design makes the design useless to the users.

So get to understand and design for semantics.

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