How to lose customers with your design

Two design flaws make customers angry enough to leave you:

  1.  Your design assumes how customers will behave
  2. Your customer service model does not empower employees to fix misunderstandings

Mistakes don’t make people angry. Misunderstandings don’t make people angry. People get angry if they think your dealings with them has been unfair.What makes people angry enough to leave you is your assumption about how they should behave.

"Mistakes don’t make people angry. Misunderstandings don’t make people angry. What makes people angry enough to leave you is your assumption about how they should behave.

Last February I used Air Miles to book a flight. We were going for five days and it was critical that we get back early on July 31 because there was an important event that started on August 1. I set the departure date for July 26. For the return portion, I focused on the date “31” and finding a time that would have us home by early evening. Great! Direct flights. Perfect times. The confirmation email arrived. Yep. We would be back by early evening on the 31st.

In April, I needed the itinerary to coordinate with others. That’s when I noticed that the return date was August 31st. Air Miles had assumed that every customer would stay a minimum of seven days. Seven days from July 26 set the default month to August.

I spoke to several people at Air Miles. They were helpful, cheerful and understanding, but they could do nothing. Making a change would cost almost as much as regular tickets.

I was angry. Still am. Yes, the mistake was mine. Yes, I should have reviewed the confirmation email more carefully. Yes I understand that a callback in April for a mistake made in February looks suspicious. Yes I understood that the tickets were non-refundable and non-transferable. And yes I knew that I could have bought flight cancellation insurance, which cost almost as much as the price of the tickets.

I am angry because whoever designed the Air Miles database assumed that I would be gone a minimum of seven days. I practically never take week-long trips. Some business trips are one-day. Others may be three or four days. But seven days is definitely not the norm. So it never occurred to me to look at the month.

Designers know that people focus on what they need and ignore what they think is irrelevant. To me the month

"People focus on what they need and ignore what they think is irrelevant."

was not relevant. Of course we were returning in July.

Air Miles’ database design flaw was followed by another design flaw. This time in its customer service protocol. Air Miles does not give its employees the authority to rectify any misunderstandings that occur due to its design assumptions. The Air Miles employees were amazingly courteous. They agreed that the reservations algorithm assumes every trip is a minimum of seven days. But they were powerless. I’m not surprised that the employee I spoke to in April was not with the company in July.

 It’s amazing how visceral it feels to be treated unfairly. Should I blame myself for not noticing the change in date? What else must I notice that I don’t think is relevant? It isn’t possible to notice what you do not think is

" A person who objects is a person who wants to buy."

David Burgoyne


Companies aren’t perfect and we will all have design flaws. Discovering these flaws can be an opportunity to reward the customer for bringing a problem to our attention. Holding the customer responsible for a design flaw is bad business.

Source:  ...   Date:  7/23/2015  
What MIT learned from 69 million clicks on MOOC videos

Researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) studied how students interacted with thousands of MOOC (Massive Open Onlline Course) Here are the seven major findings of the researchers and their recommendations for educators and trainers who present on-line videos.

  1. Shorter videos are much more engaging. Recommendation:  Invest heavily in pre-production lesson planning to segment videos into chunks shorter than 6 minutes.
  2. Videos that intersperse an instructor’s talking head with slides are more engaging than slides alone. Recommendation:  Invest in post-production editing to display the. instructor’s head at opportune times in the video.
  3. Videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings.Recommendation Try filming in an informal setting; it might not be  necessary to invest in big-budget studio productions.
  4. Khan-style tablet drawing tutorials are more engaging than PowerPoint slides or code screencasts. Recommendation:Introduce motion and continuous visual flow into  tutorials, along with extemporaneous speaking.
  5. Even high quality pre-recorded classroom lectures are not as engaging when chopped up for a MOOC.Recommendation: If instructors insist on recording classroom lectures,  they should still plan with the MOOC format in mind.
  6. Videos where instructors speak fairly fast and and with high enthusiasm are more engaging. Recommendation: Coach instructors to bring out their enthusiasm reassure that they do not need to purposely slow down.
  7. Students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos. Recommendation: For lectures, focus more on the first-watch experience; for tutorials, add support for rewatching and skimming.
Source:    Date:  12/18/2014  
Things to remember when designing a course or communication for online delivery

In response to requests, here are hints gained from decades of designing communication and training for classrooms, textbooks and on-line. This posting focusses on on-line communication. Whenever you design a course or any communication to be published on the web, here a few things to remember:

  • We read more slowly on-line than with paper-based text - who knew! I had assumed that we read faster on-line. The average person reads 180 words per minute online and between 210 and 250 words per minute in a book.
  • A person's eyes tire if they have to move side to side to read every line. Ideally, you should not use columns wider than 300 pixels wide so the reader's eyes don't have to move side to side and only have to move down from line to line. Newspapers figured this tidbit our decades ago. Notice that newspaper columns are narrow.
  • The decision to read further or click for further information is made in less than one second
  • French text takes about 30% more space than English text, so if you plan to translate a screen that has a fixed height, make sure to leave empty space in the English version so the French translation does not run off the screen.
  • It takes between 2.2 and 3 minutes to complete a multiple choice question that examines the student's ability to apply the knowledge in a course, so you should allow 30 minutes for every 10 questions.
  • People love pictures but don't like stock-image, cartoon figures, you know, the ones that come with Word and PowerPoint. In one of our focus groups on the impact of images, a particpant said the pictures of real people made him feel that he was being treated like a professional, and the stock cartoon figures made him feel that he wasn't being treated as seriously. I was surprised to see the nods of agreement around the table. People wamt to know that you made an effort for them.
Source:  Mollie's tidbits   Date:  7/21/2014  
How to Build a Team to develop an online course

Online course delivery differs from in-class delivery in one major way – there is no face-to-face interaction. Consequently, online courses must be designed to anticipate the questions, comments and needs of the student participant.

While the absence of face-to-face delivery is a constraint, there are many positive features of online learning. Online delivery offers the student participant the option to proceed through the material at their own pace, at any time of the day and in any location where there is an internet connection. Online courses can also provide interactive exercises, videos and audio recording.

To maximize the benefits of online learning for your organization, the following areas of expertise are needed:

  • Subject Matter Expert(s) (SME)
  • Technical Writer
  • Instructional designer
  • Graphic Designer
  • Software engineer/developer
  • Project Manager

These specialists will not be needed at the same time. You will probably want to outsource some of these services unless you are developing many courses at once.

Subject Matter Expert(s)

The subject matter experts are the people who know the material that should be included in the course. They may be on your staff or members of your association. Ideally, your subject matter experts are also good writers. If writing is not their strength, you will need to hire a technical writer.

Technical Writer

A technical writer has a superior grasp of grammar, sentence structure and communication. There are many excellent technical writers in Canada. The Society for Technical Communication has a branch in Toronto that invites posting for jobs and contract opportunities. There are three circumstances when you should consider hiring a technical writer:

  1. Writing is not your subject matter expert’s strength
  2. The material is written by more than one subject matter expert. The technical writer will bring one voice to the course.
  3. The online course’s design requires a specific structure to the presentation of the material

Technical writers charge between $30 and $150 an hour with $55 an hour being quite common. Others charge by the project. Some technical writers have expertise in specialized software, such as document management software (Flare). These technical writers usually charge on the higher end of the scale. Other technical writers charge a premium if they have specialized knowledge of the material and they can be considered a subject matter expert. For example, a lawyer who has chosen technical writing as a profession would probably charge a premium to write a course for the law profession.

Instructional Designer

An instructional designer has two responsibilities: first, to apply learning principles to organize the material into learning chunks; and second, to design the layout on the screen so the student can easily move around the course (remember, the student of an online course does not have a peer or instructor at hand to help out).

The instructional designer works with the subject experts to outline the course and chunk the material into learning units. The relationship between the instructional designer (the ID) and the subject matter expert (the SME, pronounced ‘smee’) is usually quite dynamic. The ID is focused on ensuring that each part of the material is clearly explained and logically flows to the next chunk. SMEs, who know the material thoroughly, are prone to skip some explanations ‘because everyone should know that already’. An experienced ID knows that skipping explanations of what ‘everyone knows’ is a sure indicator that students will feel confused and overwhelmed. Think of an ID as the three-year-old who always asks ‘why’. The ID is the person who must take on the role of the student who knows nothing about the subject matter in the course and may have no resources at hand beyond the course content to provide an explanation.

It is critical to the success of the project that the instructional designer and subject matter expert respect each other and have a good relationship. The ID must respect the knowledge of the SME and should not override the SME’s set of learning priorities. I have seen IDs reinterpret content supplied by a SME without getting the SME’s approval. In my view, such behaviour is unacceptable. All content should be approved by the subject matter expert.

A note of caution about the title ‘ instructional designer’: a good instructional designer for online courses should have education in both the psychology of learning and technical knowledge of the software used to develop the courses. Some IDs have no background in the psychology of learning and others have no knowledge of the technology used to develop the course. A good instructional designer should be familiar with learning principles, the software that is used to build the course and have teaching experience.

Some instructional designers are trained to organize the material in a format that is meaningful for the learner. Other instructional designers are trained specifically on how to use the software that is used to build the course.

Instructional designers who know either the learning design principles or the technology charge between $70 and $100 an hour. Experienced instructional designers who have designed large learning programs and who are familiar with learning principles and technology, and who can also be project managers, charge between $1200 and $2,000 per day.

Graphic Designer

A graphic designer is an artist who works with digital media to prepare the images needed for the on-line course. The screenshot below illustrates the result of the collaboration between the instructional designer and the graphic designer. The instructional designer listed the elements needed and where they should be placed on the screen. The graphic designer then created the banners, backgrounds, place-holders for images and fonts for each heading level. Once images, such as the picture of the woman, were selected, the graphic designer resized them to fit on the screen.

Screen shot of online course design

SME – Lynne Mackay, ID – Mollie O’Neill, Graphic design – Carey Alvez, Developer – Jonathan Hart

  • ‘Previous’ and ‘Next’ allows the user to proceed though the course in a linear fashion
  • The Menu provides links to the each section of the course.
  • The instructional material is placed in the center
  • Images that illustrate a concept are displayed on the right of the content
  • ‘Table of Contents’ – When the user mouses over this menu, there is a list of every screen in the course. The user can click on that screen and go directly to the page. A detailed Table of Contents is useful when there are too many pages to include in the menu in the left column.
  • Internal navigation control of audio. In this case, the user will hear the text read if they click on the start triangle. The audio navigation allows the user to begin, pause, move forward and backward and stop the audio.
  • Page numbers help the student know where they are in the course

What you see on the screen above is a collaborative effort among the subject matter expert, instructional designer, graphic designer and the software developer. It is the software developer who assembled all the components to create the online course.

I have worked with many graphic designers and am always amazed by their creativity. Never underestimate the value a graphic designer brings to a project.

Graphic designers charge between $35 and $75 an hour. Very customized work, such as original illustrations, are usually priced individually.

Software engineer/developer

A software engineer or developer is a person who is an expert in the software used to create the course.

In the screenshot above, the instructional designer would provide instructions to the developer about where each graphic and piece of content should be placed, what parts should be interactive and what the result of that interaction should be. The content of the course, plus all the instructions for the developer would be provided in a document called a storyboard.

In my experience, a developer who has programming education is ideal. Many authoring tools (that's the software you use to create the course) claim to be useable by people with no programming knowledge, but almost every project I have worked on has required the developer to add customized code that the software does not provide.

Software engineers charge between $30 and $100. Others charge by the project. For example, one company charges $3,000 to develop a 15 minute course within Lectora, an authoring software program, while others charge $7,000 to build a basic one-hour course. Superb software engineers who are creative, good trouble-shooters, and knowledgeable about computer programming and the authoring software used for online learning are very hard to find.

Project Manager

There are two kinds of project managers. One type sets a schedule of task deliverables and ensures that established deadlines are met. This type of project manager is not concerned with the content of project and may not have any expertise in the subject matter. The second, and more typical, type of project manager in the online learning sector is a team leader who communicates and coordinates all aspects of the project. Often, the instructional designer is also the project manager, since this role requires coordination between the subject matter experts, the graphic designer, the technical writer and the software developer.


Every online course requires subject matter expertise, technical writing, instructional design, graphic design, software engineering and project management. Each is a separate area of expertise, though some professionals have expertise in several areas. It is advisable to recognize the scope of expertise within your team and budget for outsourcing components where needed. Few organizations have all the expertise in-house that is needed to create an online course.

Source:  Mollie O'Neill   Date:  5/7/2014  
Adult Canadians continue to learn
According to the 2008 Access and Support to Education and Training Survey (ASETS), nearly 8 million adults between the ages of 25 and 64 (7,750,000) took part in formal training activities or education between July 2007 and June 2008, and most of them (85%) did so for career- or job-related reasons. This article examines the participation of adult workers in formal, job-related training activities or education. The participation rates of adult workers are analyzed in relation to their demographic characteristics, occupation, employer characteristics, training objectives and learning obstacles.

Between July 2007 and June 2008, just over four out of 10 adult workers (41.2%) participated in formal career- or job-related training activities or education. One-fifth of those who participated (20.6%) undertook studies leading to a formal credential such as a degree, diploma or certificate (that is, a program of study), and 86.8% took courses, workshops or seminars that did not lead to a formal credential (that is, training activities).
Source:  Statistics Canada   Date:  12/8/2011  
The Canadian Council on Learning’s Work and Learning Knowledge Centre (WLKC)
The Canadian Council on Learning’s Work and Learning Knowledge Centre (WLKC), anives from government, business, labour, colleges, universities and the community sector. This high-level group assessed major skills and training challenges facing the GTA, and discussed some of the “best bets” for moving forward to address these challenges. A copy of the report is available at the WLKC’s website
Source:   Date:  12/1/2010  
What Immigration Means for the Canadian Economy
Immigrants are disproportionately represented in several highly skilled populations. For example, in 2001, 12 per cent of recent immigrants worked in information technology
Source:  Brigus   Date:  12/1/2008  
Distance is a factor in gaining access to university
Statistics Canada reported that the creation of a local degree granting institution is associated with a 28.1% increase in university attendance among youth who grew up in that area. Large increases were registered in each affected city. Students from lower income families saw the largest increase in university participation. The increase in university participation that was registered among the broad population of youth came at the expense of college participation
Source:  Statistics Canada    Date:  2/25/2008