Why My Great Design Isn’t So Great

Ice cream cone melts where someone accidentally dropped it
Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

What’s the first thing anyone tells you about writing, designing, persuading… pretty much anything meant to influence?

Know your audience.

There, that’s all. No need to continue reading.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. There are a few reasons why you might not be focusing on your intended audience at all. In the field of instructional design and e-learning, where I operate, I see this mistake happening four ways.

Designing to a standard expectation. It’s e-learning, so it must use slides where the learner goes next-next-next. Or it’s a college class, so it must need a MOOC. Maybe it’s a talking-head video because “this is how training is always done here.”

Meeting a standard expectation doesn’t always mean a solution is using poor design for the audience. It does mean there’s a high likelihood that the question of what is really best for the audience wasn’t pursued diligently.

Competing with others. We all want to impress others and maybe even win an award in our chosen field. For someone like me, it goes: Wouldn’t it be cool to do a branching scenario here? How about a game? These days gamification is essential for engagement. What about something really cutting edge like virtual reality?

It’s very tempting to design something trendy and cool so your colleagues sit up and take notice. Meanwhile, the intended audience sees it as excessive and time consuming.

Designing for your own preferences. I happen to prefer reading concise, well-written text to sitting through a video lecture or a narrated slide. By a LOT. Surely everyone else feels the same way.

In fact, even people who like to read don’t always want to read. Designing for a particular audience often means making the information consumable in multiple ways. One of those may be my preferred way, but it’s important to think about the many other preferences and abilities that exist.

Designing for the tool you have. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. For e-learning designers, there are several popular applications for quickly developing an e-learning course. The options are extensive, but that doesn’t mean those options are right for every situation. What if [gasp] an entire e-learning course could be replaced with a written page of instructions?

Good design for learning means finding the point where the content and learner needs meet. A tool’s capabilities are useful only after those pieces are defined.

The Takeaway

Keep your audience in mind throughout the project. If it isn’t the best solution for your intended audience, you may find yourself back at the drawing board.




Hermit. Instructional designer. Caretaker for my animal family. And writer.

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Sara Pehrsson

Sara Pehrsson

Hermit. Instructional designer. Caretaker for my animal family. And writer.

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