Professor Don Norman, Director of the Design Lab at the University of California, has a fascinating Ted Talk in which he argues that “pleasant things work better”. Being positively affected by the design of an object triggers your creative thinking, which in turn helps the object’s usability; you are in a better position to make connections outside the box, to approach novelty, and to figure out directions, when you are experiencing emotions with a “positive valence”. This means, he says, that we need to take seriously the visceral level of processing – in which we are subconsciously attracted or repelled by an object’s design – because this will have repercussions on the behavioural level of processing, through which we understand, feel in control, and assess our capacity to use the object.
This is an important point. Good, beautiful design enhances a user’s experience in a very powerful way, making engagement with the design not just more enjoyable, but more effective. These insights reveal that our associations should think carefully about their design, and about the way they are presenting information to their members and staff, from marketing material, to learning resources, to sharing company data.
GOOD DESIGN GETS PEOPLE INVESTED
ACTFL published an innovative, online annual report last year, that gave the yearly breakdown in an engaging, fun format. Not only did members, as well as the board, love the easily-digestible, aesthetically charming presentation, but they actively shared it online, according to Lisa Campo, Marketing Manager at ACTFL. Given that the majority of us are more likely to skim, scan, and glance through large pieces of text (as Steve Krug says about reading activity online, “We’re thinking ‘great literature’…while the user’s reality is much closer to ‘billboard going by at 60 miles an hour.”), not only does this strategy help members to pick out data quickly, but the power of the design makes them more actively proud of their association and its achievements.
Lisa also points out that this online report was incredibly cost-effective, since you avoid printing and shipping costs: not to mention the waste-reduction in doing away with unused extra print copies. The feedback they received was full of praise, “like ‘beautiful’, ‘awesome’, and…‘dope’.”
A WELL-DESIGNED SPACE ENHANCES THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE
“Our fantastic learning center enhances the learning during our volunteer training and workshops. By immersing them in our brand and surrounding them with state-of-the-art technology that fosters collaboration, they have a completely new experience.” (Danielle Baron, Chief Marketing Officer, ABET)
The design of your environment is equally important in engaging people. As the above quote suggests, there are several levels at which a good design will impact users. Not only is meaningful communication directed by the layout of the space, but integrating the right branding message into the design makes clear to the volunteers the culture and mindset of the organisation.
ENGAGING PEOPLE THROUGH DESIGN MAKES MORE EFFECTIVE TRAINING STRATEGIES
“We have redesigned the page layouts and the use of a paper-based self study leadership training manual to make it more interactive, says Carolyn B. Thompson, President of Training Systems Inc.
“Managers weren’t completing the learning, and it was because each page was too text heavy”. Carolyn explains that customising the training design to fit the culture of an organization means that each organization can have a specific design from which it is easy to learn. Making sure that the design of training pages or screens reflects the topic being learned, as well as embodying the culture of the organization, “absolutely helps the learnability and retention” of a topic. For example, if you are running a training on concise and direct communication, “all the sentences you read or hear in the training better be concise and direct”.
It should go without saying that the impact of good design can be seen across all levels of an association. It can communicate the vision and values of an organisation on a visceral level, it works to engage and inspire members, and it can contribute to the slick and streamlined training of a team. Ultimately, design has the potential to elevate aspects of an organization that might not seem the most interesting, or the most open to innovation, and to turn them into an exciting and rewarding experience.