As often happens in daily life, I am regularly asked what it is I do. However, due to my random mix of skills, I rarely have an answer that I think will explain it and when I give my self-designated, combined title – Learning, Content and Graphic Designer – I still get blank looks.
Lately, I passed the question back to others – what is it they think I do? And what do they think the term ‘instructional (or learning) design’ means – without Googling it? The response was mixed – from designing instructional manuals for IKEA and the like, writing ‘how to’ guides, to creating dot-to-dot images (I wish! I now feel I need to add this to my repertoire), to ‘telling people how to do something’. The latter being the closest guess – if we exclude the dude that clearly just googled the term and used good old copy and paste.
So depending on the audience I often give different answers, which can now range anywhere from these starting points:
- “I work for myself” – a vague enough response if I am hoping that satisfies them enough to move on
- “I’m a designer” – again, keep it vague (used recently for the Tesco delivery man who seemed to think all designers are architects, and that all architects design new build houses as that’s what his friend does – I let him run with it)
- “I write and develop e-learning” (to people I think may have a vague understanding of what that is), though it appears that it is actually a very unfamiliar term to most
- My fall back “I’m a graphic designer” – when either I can’t be bothered to explain further or when I think that is the only bit of my title that may be understood. But most often prompts the auto-response of ‘So you design websites?’ – the one thing I don’t do.
- “I develop content for websites, services and promotional materials, including both the writing and the visual design”. If I throw this one at you, my brain must be working well that day and you are most likely to be in a designey/marketingish area yourself.
Really, the message here is that I must come up with a better auto-response myself.
I originally started in graphic design and do still work in that area, but I have since evolved from that being my sole purpose to now include writing and content development. So with all this confusion, I figure now is time to explain what on earth it is I do.
(Also known as Instructional Design, Learning Experience Designer, LX Design, or sometimes Content Designer though this last one can refer to other roles too, usually within marketing or social media).
To add further complication – within learning design I also carry out 3 roles:
- the instructional design (writing the courses)
- building the elearning in the industry software
- producing the graphic design assets to be used in them.
For example, I write, build and design courses like those fire safety/health and safety courses that you love doing annually. In reality, I have done some of those, but I create courses for a much wider range of topics and clients which are (often) much more interesting and engaging.
I can also create materials for blended or face-to-face learning.
My random mixture of design, teaching and writing experience has given me quite a niche to be able to do the whole process.
This is the area in which I was originally trained, however, it is almost more of a compliment to the learning and content design now. I still do it, and though my specialism is generally branding, I work in any print media — t-shirt design, brochures, leaflets, posters, stationery, and any other promotional materials.
It is actually through working as a graphic designer in an e-learning company that I was introduced to learning design and also took on the role of an instructional designer.
The graphics is now starting to take on a bit of a life of its own again, and I have found myself becoming a bit of an infographics queen. After creating a couple of infographics for myself I was asked to make some for a client, and then also won a contract to produce 16 for the NHS Flow Coaching Academy.
Now it seems I am in demand for these. Which is great, as I really enjoy combining the writing and design skills, and thinking about content in a more visual way.
Infographics also compliment content design well as they are all about flow, hierarchy, breaking information down into digestible chunks and providing them in the right place.
Content design, though a term people often think they know what it is instinctively, is not actually about creating content from scratch, such as blog posts, social media imagery, etc. It is about creating a useable service or content for the end-user.
It is about ensuring that information is written into plain language, has a logical flow and consistent tone of voice, is tested properly and is accessible so it is as effective as it can be. In other words – the content provides the right information, at the right time, via the right media, to the right audience.
I can review websites and services to check how your information and message are coming across, including checking for jargon, improving flow and ensuring the most usable order of information, removing repetition, advising placement of CTAs, improving link text, testing accessibility, use feedback to develop further, and much more.
A lot of people confuse Content Design with copywriting. But content designers are not usually providing the words from scratch, we are taking content and tweaking it, providing direction and usability. Ideally, you will have a copywriter, an SME and a content designer both working together to provide your content – as early on in the process as possible.
Content designers are the queens (or kings) of Post-It use. Using them to plaster all over user flow diagrams, user personas, entry/exit diagrams, end-to-end sequencing, service diagrams, and more.
So that’s me
I am hoping that makes more sense now as to the types of work I can do, but feel free to prod me and throw questions my way if it is still as clear as mud. I appreciate any feedback as I am also currently redesigning my website, so the clearer I can get this information across the better.
One of the hardest tasks is definitely to write about yourself!
Theme: A few of my favourite things
Write 52 is an accountability initiative started by Ed Callow, to encourage the team to create original content every week, and to commit to it. You can find more information here.
Come join us and get writing!