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4621 N Ravenswood Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640
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NogginLabs was founded on the notion that custom e-learning design and development is the ultimate horizontal industry. Time and again, each new project, client, and industry proves it. The biggest advantage of the e-learning horizontal is cross-pollinating ideas from two wildly different domains. A restaurant service simulation for iPad may influence a high-fashion online retail challenge. E-learning for financial advisors in a bank could inspire a mobile outreach program for cancer survivors. This variety also keeps the creative folks at NogginLabs fresh. Fresh learning ideas and designs come from a set of constantly changing constraints.

Critiquing design for non-designers


Critiquing design for non-designers

Matt Trupia

In our shop, making custom e-learning requires a lot of collaboration. We rely on an open, ongoing dialogue from the whole team about how to build and improve each product. You may not be an expert on a skill-set, but your team still values your insight and needs your feedback. This can feel intimidating, particularly for graphic design and visual treatments where opinions can get super subjective and hard to express effectively.

But even if you don’t know the technical terms or have the exact background, there's no need to stay silent. You can still contribute meaningful suggestions for improvement. Here are some ways to do it.

Articulate the Vague

Good feedback comes from expressing a thought specifically. Problem is visual design often leaves you with a more nebulous feeling that can be tricky to explain to someone. But it’s worth getting creative and trying to nail your impression down as best you can.

Compare the feeling the design evokes to something else you're more familiar with - a movie genre, a comic book, or anything tangible. Pair that with descriptors of the feeling it’s evoking - grimy, harrowing, bubbly, optimistic, edgy, exciting. These adjectives come with their own built-in sets of meaning that span beyond just “cool” or “weird,” which aren’t super useful to a designer looking to create mockups on a deadline. Now add information as to whether that is a good direction, appropriate, or not quite right for the audience or industry.

Maybe the resulting feedback sounds a bit odd, but word by word you’re zeroing in on a way to communicate your specific feeling to your team. And you did it all without technical savvy - just by curating touchstones from your life that relate to the design at hand. Even without the perfect words, you’re still able to comment on the overall style or mood you’re getting from the design. Chances are someone will know what you mean. This approach of formulating your thoughts into actionable feedback is often just what designers count on to push their concepts further.

Get a Little Technical

Now that you’re emboldened to start giving high-level feedback to a designer, why not step further into their world and master some of the basic language? Targeted feedback can include comments about the color palette, contrast, or composition with simple suggestions about how they might be tweaked. Is the text not legible enough? Maybe suggest a higher contrast between the text color and the background. Is the font too fancy or elaborate for the content? Maybe the balance of a screen’s layout seems too top-heavy, or the leading or kerning of the font is too cramped feeling, creating a sense of claustrophobia. The way things are arranged on the screen will elicit a feeling from you, and that feeling might be the wrong one to unleash on your learners. Do the detective work of figuring out what on the screen is causing the feeling, and use your creativity and logic to envision how it can be improved.

Offer Some Inspiration

The great news is that there are billions of examples of beautiful, functional design in this sometimes awful world. So you don’t always have to express every feeling and thought you have in carefully chosen words. Find a website, image, paused movie frame, torn magazine page, or anything really that captures what you want to say, and offer it up to your team for discussion. Designers are fueled by inspiration. They devour it every day, so there’s a good chance the visual aid will spark a reaction that leads to fruitful feedback.

However you do it, find a way to get your voice heard on the things that count when you’re developing your training. Or anything really. Unless you really feel like it’s better to lay low, like things will get terribly messed up if you offer feedback. In those cases, you know, use your best judgment. But otherwise, have at it.