Instructional design: writing for visual creatures and logical units.

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It’s no news to most of us that good Instructional / Learning Design work makes or breaks projects, but it’s important to remember that IDs are not just writing for the intended audience and client, they’re writing for production (aka logical units :-)) – and me… a visual creature.

As a senior designer across UI and UX, the line where I pick up from our Instructional / Learning Designers and hand over to our developers is getting increasingly blurred. With quasi Agile projects and the more collaborative/iterative rapid projects, at times, I find myself spending unnecessary time trying to decipher what an ID is imagining, because the visual and functional cues haven’t been communicated clearly.

To get the most out of us visual creatures and logical units, we want to be able to focus on what needs to be created for the best possible visual design and user experience in our digital training – with much less time deciphering an ID’s logic or visual ideas (or lack of).

More often than not, the best project outcomes are born of the better written and most clearly articulated storyboards. They literally determine whether a project is completed smoothly, on time, it makes a performance impact and our clients clearly understand what our production team will create – the alternative of course is projects can become the annoying problem-child, littered with ongoing issues that just won’t go away.

We designers are visual creatures; we like to visualise language in order for us to understand it, and as developers we like logic. Specific logic. Designers can make just about anything look good visually but if the logic is flawed then no design will be able to disguise it and any good developer will pick up on it like mission control. Houston, we have a problem.

We have some processes we use at The Learning Hook to avoid the bad and do more of the good J. They’re some straightforward tips which I hope are a help for anyone reading this far.


Some tips for IDs to consider when working with a production team

1. Consult production early

‘What? What do you mean the client signed off on a holographic bartender that serves you drinks!!!’

Meet with design and development early in the piece to make sure that what you’re writing actually fits into the scope of the project. IDs sometimes get carried away with activity design, getting the client to sign off without consulting with production first. This can cause issues for the project when the business is forced to either over extend in time and money to meet unrealistic expectations, or be seen to over-promise and under-deliver on them.


2. Take a user-centred approach

‘I have no idea, as the user, what I’m supposed to do here!!!’

Think about the user experience and write from a clear, user-centred perspective. If a designer and developer can’t understand the written content in the storyboard then there is a good chance the end user won’t either.


3. Mind the gaps

‘Gaps need not apply’

Leaving things open to interpretation is problematic; it’s like painting half a picture and then asking someone else to finish it without giving them clear instructions on what you had in mind.

Leaving a storyboard open to interpretation allows for a problematic workflow as designers and developers (if they’re pro-active enough) will go off on their own tangents, filling in the gaps to save time, but doing it in a way that may not be consistent with the ID’s (or the client’s) expectations. If it’s necessary to leave gaps and options, then these need to be left with ‘intent’ and covered off and closed at the production handover i.e. find the answers at the start of your production phase. Of course, if it’s an iterative process, you can test ideas out, but for every minor sprint, there still has to be a clear focus for production.


4. The power of the image

‘A picture really is worth a 1000 words’

Visually describe what the user will see on screen (this may change depending on the designer’s individual approach, but at least it gives them a starting point to work from). Adding reference images to the storyboard is a great way to ensure your visual ideas are understood by your designer and client.


5. Cause and effect

‘Tell us the whole story. action for action’

Describe the screen’s interactive features in a sequential manner, e.g.if the user selects option A then the result is action X. This helps design, and in turn, development, as it allows for clear, short, snappy instructions on the different states and actions for the screen objects.


6. Continuity is king

‘Production loves to recycle if it saves them time’

When writing storyboards for a suite of training remember that continuity between the modules is important as it not only creates a more cohesive experience for the end user, but allows for design and development to work more efficiently by reusing assets and activity functionality (rather than reinventing the wheel every time). Establish early on in the storyboard where certain objects or functions will be reused. Call these out.


The future

Currently, we often still work through Word or PowerPoint based storyboards. Even in more iterative projects these are often used to achieve milestones and communicate ideas. Storyboarding is a simple way to clearly communicate the nuts and bolts of a project across a production team, but with new prototyping tools allowing for quick prototyping, we are enjoying a change to this process for certain projects.

Imagine sending along interactive mock up prototypes to a client in support of the storyboard document for approval. Clients are able to open the project on their phone and see a functional prototype before it even goes to development. This style of workflow requires IDs and designers to work closer together during the storyboarding phase of a project.

There is nothing better than working from a well thought out, fully realised, instructional storyboard as it makes everyone’s job easier, most of all our client’s.

Kane is The Learning Hook’s Senior Designer / UI & UX. Kane has designed for, and led teams across the advertising, engineering and education sectors. He’s definitely a visual creature and eats learning experience for breakfast. He also doesn’t mind writing a blog or two.

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