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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.

More than screen-deep: how we bake beauty into our custom e-learning


More than screen-deep: how we bake beauty into our custom e-learning

Jonathan Baude

The beginning of a project is one of the most exciting times in the e-learning development cycle. It's like mapping out that epic road trip you've always talked about. It's drawing up the blueprints of your new house. It's staring at a totally stocked fridge and thinking up an incredible dinner. You know that everything's going to be constantly evolving throughout the entire process, and the decisions along the way -- large and small -- will play a huge role in shaping the impressive, one-of-a-kind end result. But for right now, you're setting sail for uncharted territory. And it's time to bust out your sextant.

This week, I took a break from my overwrought nautical metaphors to talk to one of our talented designers, Emily Sanford. She's one of the many passionate people here at NogginLabs that contribute their skills to the jaw-dropping custom e-learning we pride ourselves on building. I wanted to know more about how her talents inform her work. I picked her brain about where she gets her inspiration, how the collaborative process shapes her work, and just how much "Lorem ipsum" text she sees in a day.

You're starting on a new project right now, aren't you?

Emily Sanford: Yeah, I had the design meeting this morning.

So where do you start?

ES: It's a complete clean slate. It's a lot of going out there and looking at what current trends are, plus a lot of research into what other people are doing in the company, and on different websites. Because there are a lot of great ideas out there.

When you're looking for inspiration, what are you looking at?

ES: I'm trying to find ways to implement new things. "Oh, maybe if I tried something like that..." Or, "I like that these boxes are rounded." Or, "I like the fact that the colors are muted. Maybe I want more muted colors." You can kind of play around with different color patterns or choosing color palettes. You can look at triads or various things and move them around, try different hues, and lights and darks and whatnot. So that can be fun and help establish a color scheme.

Walk me through your process. You sit down at your desk and...

ES: I just press the "Create Design" button and it's done.

I knew it!

ES: It's mostly trying a billion different things. Right now I probably have close to nothing. Because I've gone through cycles of, "I'm going to try this," and "Oh, I don't like this." So it seems initially that I've done nothing, but I have a better idea in my head. It's a lot of trial and error until you come up with an idea that you like.

Sometimes the best designs are accidents, and sometimes they're ones that you're just refining continuously. Right now, I have mostly a clean slate, but I'm playing around with how buttons will look. I was initally working on the menu. So if that doesn't work, I'll move to a different thing, deciding colors and buttons and fonts, because that might help with menu design. If that doesn't work, I'll move to background images. So I'm cycling through different things.


So you'll get this initial design to a place where you feel pretty good about it... then what?

ES: Then I'll show everyone on the team, and a lot of times, they'll have little tweaks. So I'll take that and maybe change the bigger picture. Like, maybe they'll say, "Oh, well, can you just make this wider so we can have a little more text on it?" And maybe the design for that just wouldn't look as good, so I'll rework it for that. Obviously, you need to fit to the content of the page. And then, it's also good just to have more eyes to look at it. Especially when you've been looking at it for a few days, where every little thing, you might just be like, "Oh, I don't know about that..." Because designers will just continually redesign things forever.

And when you're designing, I know you're also thinking about user experience. Tell me about that.

ES: It's something that is, I feel, overlooked a lot of times. Because some designers may just want to make things look nice, but you really need to focus on how the user experiences the whole course. It's especially important with e-learning, because it's about creating an atmosphere for users to be able to learn.

Totally. Okay, you've shared it with your team, and then it goes to the client?

ES: And then they give feedback on it, and by that point, since I would have refined it, and my team would have seen and given suggestions, and the client would have, I take all that information and start designing screens. So then you have something to work off of. This is the general idea. You get feedback from the client, then you actually have real content to work with, and you kind of continually make it evolve. You may adjust things during screen creation, but you can go back to here if you get lost.

You have a central inspiration that you can come back to.

ES: Yeah. You might initially want to just go and start creating screens. But a lot of times, things would end up feeling pretty inconsistent, because it doesn't have that central design throughout the screens. One screen type might look a little bit different or something. This helps hone it back to that central idea.

Starting with this one central design that's representative of the whole seems smart. If it's too literal, it can be hard for people to respond to.

ES: Yeah, especially without any content, so you're using lorem ipsum for everything.

How much "Lorem ipsum" text do you think you've used in your career?

ES: I've used a lot...

How much do you have memorized?

ES: Well, lorem ipsum dolor, sit amet--

I'll stop you there.

Emily is just one of the many hard-working, talented individuals on the team at NogginLabs. She puts her skills and her passion to work every day, making beautiful, intuitive designs that drive user engagement and effect real change. Her creativity and can-do attitude fit right in at NogginLabs, where every e-learning project is custom-built with care.