How Design Principles Can Revolutionize Training

The average user leaves a web page in about 10-20 seconds (Nielsen/Norman Group). As I’m writing this, my browser history shows that I’ve visited 18 unique pages in the last five minutes, and that’s on the generous side. In the short period that a user first visits a page, she quickly determines whether the page will meet her needs. Suddenly, simplicity becomes the most important factor for attracting the user and keeping her interested. As an instructional designer, how can design principles help you revolutionize your designs and keep your audience intrigued?

Whether you’re developing a web page or designing a training course, simplicity (or the lack thereof) is one of the first things users notice as they acquaint themselves with a new interface. Any user experience designer often repeats the following: Even if your design is seemingly straightforward, strive to simplify an already-simple design. There’s nothing worse than confusing your customers and providing a mediocre experience. Simplicity becomes the product’s competitive edge.

In his book Don’t Make Me Think Steve Krug wrote how designers should use opportunities to simplify the user experience. Not only should instructional designers do the obvious, such as ensuring that important information is clear and visible, they should also do things like minimize the number of mindless clicks a user must make to achieve what she wants to do. Furthermore, instructional designers should understand the interface from the perspective of a user will fully understand all of your intentions as an designer, so help them get into your head as much as possible.

Every designer wants to be unique. However, sometimes conventions are your friend and straying too far can get you in trouble. For instance, users recognize a house as a universal icon for the home screen. What if you decided to make the home screen button a totally new icon that no one recognizes? You might be satisfied with your creativity, but your users might end up frustrated with your product. To guarantee great designs and an excellent user experience, designers can do many different things: 

  1. Iterate your Designs: Just because you finished designing your training course doesn’t mean you’re done. Think about the functionality of your design. What are the sources of your existing design elements? Are there replacements you can imagine that would change or enhance the experience?

  1. Analyze the Competition: Not only will this help you understand what your competitors have accomplished, you’ll also be able to keep up your conventions and affordances to improve the user experience.

  1. Today’s creativity is tomorrow’s convention: Sure, you’re supposed to stick to conventions so your users don’t get confused...but are there perhaps variations or slight changes that might give the convention a little flair or become even more usable? Challenge yourself to come up with affordances that aren’t common but instantly recognizable...who knows, this may be the new convention of the future.

As technology becomes more pervasive and responsive to users, a little design principle training will help you stick to the same standards. Even if you’re not a designer but you’re involved in creating or distributing training courses, you can still use design principles to understand your customers. What are their pain points? What would they like to see in a course? Ensuring that your product is  responsive to users will help you accomplish the goals your company intends for your product. Steve Krug’s bottom line: don’t make your users have to think.