Whether you’re fresh out of school or a seasoned commander of an eLearning design team, you still need to practice good eLearning design habits. In fact, one of the worst traps you can fall into as a designer is allowing consistency to turn into complacency, which is more likely for an experienced professional.
To combat this, all of us have to practice looking for inspiration in new places and drawing from the other creative types, trends, and events around us. You also need to look back at your own projects. Do you hate what you did a year ago? Yes? Good! If you look at your past work and think it’s as good or better than your current stuff, that’s when you need to worry because the only way to stay at the top of your field is to be in constant competition with yourself.
To get in the habit of increasing your skills while keeping good design theory in practice, we have some tips for getting and staying inspired:
1) Learn Something New Every Day!
Design is a fluid pursuit, intended to change and flow. To keep up with it, you have to flow and change too. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself drowning as others pass you by. Learning is what keeps you floating and moving. You learn new design techniques to keep up with your field the same way you learn a swim stroke in order to take on a body of water.
If you fail to do this, you’ll find that your opportunities and your creativity will shrink. Learning not only helps you to keep up in general, but it helps to inspire you and keeps you interested in your work. It opens up more options for your work and makes you feel connected and inspired.
Make this a part of your regular habits and employ the use of all learning methods you can. While online courses are great, you should also take in a class or workshop once in a while. Joining forums and discussions with other designers can also be rewarding along with reading articles and books on design.
Asking questions are also a major part of learning. If you don’t ask, how will you ever know? No matter where you are in your career, there’s a good chance there’s someone above you who can answer those burning questions. Find a mentor and also become one to maximize your learning.
2) Get a Playroom!
While learning is a big part of success, sometimes you just really need to get your hands in it. Set up a website or have a personal project where you can create your own mad scientist designs. Use this site or project to try any and everything that comes to mind. It won’t all be great, and much will be downright horrible, but that’s the whole point! At the very least, you’ll be able to test something out without being embarrassed or having it fail on a project for someone else, and you’re likely to find something unusual that does work within the bad ideas.
If you’re a new eLearning designer, you can also use this area to create a portfolio!
3) Build Your Design Skills, Not Your Software Library
Fancy software and apps have plenty of uses, and they can help to polish and enhance your designs, but they can’t take the place of solid skills. Getting the best design software out there isn’t going to do anything for you if you don’t know the basics. It’s often easy to spot a poor designer with good software because they tend to use ALL the features all at once to hide their lack of knowledge. Don’t be that person!
Of course, if you have a seriously outdated computer and/or software, that can hinder even the best designers. In that case, you will need to upgrade.
4) Storyboards and Mockups are Important…Use Them!
With modern technology, planning phases are largely getting condensed, but that doesn’t mean they should be eliminated. Before putting together, a whole course or site, make a single page (or more) test project. You may even want to grab the old pencil and sketch pad to lay out basic elements to see how they would look on a page.
This will save you quite a bit of time and frustration because, with a storyboard, you’re able to work more quickly and get more ideas out in a shorter period before committing to one. It will help you add structure to raw ideas as well.
As animator and director, Conor Whelan puts it: "For me, developing the look and feel of a piece is the most exciting part, but I have to remind myself that without a solid structure, nice visuals can be a bit frivolous. My solution is to work with only pencil and paper until I have a well-planned storyboard."
5) Hone and Use Your Communication Skills
If you’re a great eLearning designer but struggle to communicate your ideas, you’re likely to have poor relationships with clients, team members and pretty much anyone with ears. To combat this, you need to practice good speaking and listening skills. Try these tips:
- Say What You Mean: When you have a criticism, find a way to say it to minimize the blow. If you’re nice just to be nice, you won’t sound sincere, and eventually, the truth will come out, and you’ll lose credibility.
- Question and Clarify: It can be embarrassing to ask a question that seems like you should already know the answer to, but it’s far better to ask in the beginning than to get it wrong. This is the only way you’ll be able to understand and meet others’ needs.
- Show Appreciation: Your clients will feel valued and be more receptive to your work when you appreciate them by showing your interest and caring for their needs and wants.
- Speak Clearly and Simply: While you shouldn’t dumb yourself down, you also shouldn’t use complicated words just to sound smart either. This is usually irritating to the listener and can put the focus more on the words than the meaning.
- Be People Focused: Designing may appeal to your introvert tendencies (if you have them) but to effectively satisfy your clients you need to make a concentrated effort to be a people person. This means taking courses, completing workshops and reading up on how to engage people and be a better communicator/listener. Smiling and making an effort to be friendly is a great place to start!
Being able to communicate is even more important than many of your design skills because, no matter how good of a designer you are, it won’t matter if you can’t understand and deliver on your clients’/teams’ requests. This is also an important part of letting a customer/team member know when something they want won’t be a good idea. Being able to tell them this in a kind, but the authoritative way is key to helping them see your reasoning while not being offended.
Communication will also improve your understanding of everyone you work with as well and benefit your work since you’ll be able to gain inspiration from communicating with other creatives. You will have more success in telling others your ideas as well.
6) Don’t Be Afraid to Try a New Style
While eLearning design involves a great deal of creativity, it’s not the same as what a painter or musician might do. Your favorite band can get away with having 14 songs that sound sort of the same, but your work will be lessened if all your courses look the same.
This is because, along with being creative, your job is to change and adapt to new projects and topics. The focus shouldn’t be on you or your own personal taste; it needs to be on the subject matter. To make sure you keep that focus, you have to do what’s right for the project, not your own preferences.
By switching the fonts, colors, and other design elements you use more often, you’re less likely to fall into a rut and get stuck on one style.
7) Be Inspired by Other Creatives
A way to change up your style and beat a creative block is to check in on what other eLearning designers are doing. These are people experiencing many of the same frustrations and roadblocks as you, so it makes sense to see what techniques, imagery and other steps they’re taking in their work. Choose designers you admire and aspire to be like. Check in on their work periodically and keep reminders of the things you like best by them or others.
Incorporating Inspiration: One of the best and easiest ways to keep inspiration close is to start each day by looking at other designers’ websites. Read articles and keep on top of what’s trending in your field. Again, doing this at the start of your day is best. Your mind is clear and ready to absorb new info before taking that inspiration into your work.
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8) Focus on One Task at a Time
Multi-tasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and can often lead to more mistakes and a less fulfilling experience, especially when it comes to instructional design. Instead of running around trying to do everything at once, give each task the attention it deserves. This cuts down on mistakes and saves you time because you’re more likely to get it right the first time.
Time Management: If you find that you need to multitask to get everything done, it might be time to reassess your workload. Overloading yourself increases the likelihood of mistakes and damages your creative thinking abilities.
9) Build Your Resources and References
Along with the few designers and sites that you follow regularly, you should also have other inspirational images, resources for design concepts and other similar materials. These can be in the form of actual books, but should also include things like saved photos, websites, Pinterest boards, social media formats and photo clippings.
Having these resources compiled and accessible will give you a place to go when your own creativity simply isn’t flowing. Keep up with your favorites and constantly add to your collection.
10) Watch for Trends and Learn to Spot Them
Keeping on top of what your learners are consuming through social media and other sites, is an important way of keeping up with and ahead of trending design concepts and ideas. For example, younger learners in their teens are likely to use Instagram while older groups in their 30s to 40s will use Facebook. Seniors might require an email campaign or advertising on specific sites or blogs. Consider how you can incorporate your courses with the social media your learners are most likely to use. Can you sponsor ads there? Have your learners access courses through it?
Learn from what others are doing with their sites, courses, and blogs and be open to trying new things. Look at what’s being done and what isn’t being tried already with their marketing and design. Remember that your competitors, fellow designers, team members, friends, and clients are all potential resources as well.
To make this step most effective, you’ll need to know your target market and industry standards. This is true for much of what you’ll do as a designer, so it’s worth doing from the beginning. Look to magazines, sites, blogs and other resources which cater to design professionals as well. You can track many trends through sites like Feedly, Mashable and Google Trends.
Keep in mind that trends often have a relatively short shelf life and will change quickly. Make an effort to keep on top or ahead of them or else you’ll be under them.
In summation, remember to look for inspiration from a wide range of sources and other designers. Don’t be afraid to change or try something new and, always keep good communication at the heart of your designs and interactions with others.