What a designer needs to be able to do…

I enjoyed browsing AECT’s newest publication The Journal of Applied Instructional Design, especially the article In Search of the Secret Handshakes of ID by Ellen Wagner. It starts off with a quote from Cammy Bean’s blog post Describing What You Do: Instructional Design:

You’re at a playground and you start talking to the mom sitting on the bench next to you. Eventually, she asks you what you do for work.  What do you say?  Are you met with comprehension or blank stares? This was me yesterday:

Playground Mom:  So, what do you do?
Me:  I’m an instructional designer.  I create eLearning.
Playground Mom:  [blank stare]
Me: …corporate training…
Playground Mom:  [weak smile]
Me:  I create training for companies that’s delivered on the computer….
Playground Me: weak nod…”Oh, I see.”

I see that she really doesn’t see and I just don’t have the energy to go further.

Often I am involved with conversation among family and friends who are just looking for something casual and time filling i.e. what’s new, how’s the weather, and what do you do, etc. I usually just tell them that build online classes. If they are interested, I may go on and elaborate. Although, I often get the notorious clarifying response of:

Friend: “Oh, so you do stuff with computers?” [which I usually just say…]

Me: “Yea” [try to move the conversation elsewhere…]

The overarching purpose of the article wasn’t just to describe how difficult it is to describe the job description of an instructional designer. This is a difficult task because we are many things. For example, I feel at times like I am more of an: effective communicator to faculty, brainstorm-er, developer of graphics, LMS builder of content, researcher of best practices, evaluator of student engagement with online content, etc. I say all of this and where was the design? Oh, its in there. But it is probably only about 10% of my week where I have raw content that I am able to design for online instruction.

Here is how Ellen Wagner describes what a designer needs to be able to do:

  • Express oneself effectively in writing, using a variety of forms and styles to achieve different effects.
  • Present ideas to others in such a way as to inform, engage, persuade and to get a response to a call for action.
  • Develop a moderate level of technological proficiency, and will need to be able to demonstrate those proficiencies using a variety of software.
  • Have an appreciation for design.

I like her last point because it enforces what I said above: [insert my diverse litany job tasks] … I say all of this and where was the design? Oh, its in there.


About DaveHallmon

With experience in web, graphic, and instructional design, Dave maintains a balance between what is efficient and effective in every message. He always focuses on the why and how rather than "just doing it" to get the job done. By day he works at a leading university designing online courses that support 9,000 students in 64 countries. He works directly with faculty to brainstorm, design, and develop their online instruction utilizing the Adobe suite. He also teaches for the university as an adjunct faculty member in the area of web design. By night he is a devoted husband, father, freelancer, and adventurer of the outdoors. His other interests include LifeHacker, Science Fiction and Hayao Miyazaki movies, Settlers of Catan, and coffee with friends. He currently lives in St. Louis and has an M.S. in Instructional Design and aspires to pursue a professional degree in content marketing and strategy. Visit the links below for more information about his interests and design work.
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