Books I'm reading and blogging about.

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

If you have an wish list, make sure you put things you really want in it. This Christmas, I had about a dozen books on my wish list and I got them all. One of them was 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weischenk. Sure it’s almost the end of February and I’ve just started on the pile.

The book is pretty simple. It’s set up with a statement, a longer explanation and then takeaways to apply design – mostly website design. It’s how our brains work and how we as designers (UX, web designers, instructional designers, etc.) can apply the science to be more effective. The book has a lot of things I’ve read before and it was a good reminder of them.

A few takeaways for me for designing eLearning:

21. People Have to Use Information to Make it Stick p. 51

You can’t just tell people information in an eLearning module, you have to let people use it and practice. I’ve seen way too much eLearning lately that just provides a lot of information for the learner without the chance to practice or even help with how to apply that information. How do learners get to practice in a safe environment if we don’t build it for them?

27. People Process Information Better in Bite-Sized Chunks p. 62 & 44. Sustained Attention Lasts About Ten Minutes p. 103

I wonder if you could combine the two items together in eLearning. Chunking is one of those “golden rules” of instructional design that you always follow. I wonder if this 10 minute concept has fueled the recent microlearning trend? is a great example of this. I took quite a few classes on lynda and although sometimes a 3 or 5 hour course seems like a lot at first, being able to take it in 10 to 15 minute blocks makes it easier to chip away at learning the topic.

29. Minds Wander 30 Percent of the Time p.68

Not only do we need to compete with email and the other distractions at a learner’s desk, but we have the learner to compete with. Weischenk makes a point to make it easy for the user to come back to where they left off when they wander off. I think this could be a challenge, because you never know when that will happen. She also recommends giving users the opportunity to wander on their own by clicking on hyperlinks. I think this can be accomplished in eLearning by letting the learner choose how to navigate through the module, and of course links to allow the learner to do some wandering.

33. People Process Information Best in Story Form p. 76

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read/heard this over the course of my instructional design career. It’s true that users/learners remember stories. On page 77, Weinschenk lists 7 types of stories, that I listed below. I’ve used a couple in my eLearning. I attempted a mystery around helium and that’s in my portfolio.

  • The great journey
  • Coming of age
  • The sacrifice
  • The epic battle
  • The fall from grace
  • Love
  • Fate
  • Revenge
  • The trick
  • Mystery

Storytelling is compelling and I think it will add value in my current role in risk and compliance training. Telling stories of people violating or following policies will resonate more with learners than a wall of text. I really like this takeaway on page 78, “Stories aren’t just for fun. No matter how dry you think your information is, using stories will make it understandable, interesting, and memorable.”

34. People Learn Best From Examples p. 79

Step-by-step instructions, screen shots, photos or better yet video. Captivate software demos are perfect for this. Video for soft skills maybe?


51. People Are More Motivated As They Get Closer to a Goal p. 116

I’m not a big fan of the status bar when I design eLearning. I don’t know if this chapter will change that but it’s probably not a bad idea to give people an idea as to where they are in the module. Weinschenk, writes, “People focus on what’s left more than what’s completed.” Given this, the status bar or making the table of contents would help learners with this focus. Although I’m not a fan of eLearning that last an hour, I’ve built it and maybe a progress bar will provide that goal for learners. I have an eLearning developer friend who showed me something he designed with characters who tell the learner how far along they are in the module. That’s a great idea too.

52. Dopamine Makes People Addicted To Seeking Information p. 121

I’ve been reading in other resources that playing games releases dopamine. Dopamine makes people addicted to seeking information. Does that mean that gamficiation makes people super addicted to seeking information?

72. Seven Basic Emotions Are Universal p. 164 

The seven basic universal emotions are (p. 165):

  • Joy
  • Sadness
  • Contempt
  • Fear
  • Disgust
  • Surprise
  • Anger

I was recently challenged to design eLearning that appeals the Learner’s emotions so this portion of the book was helpful for me. I’m still figuring it out how to do that but Weinschenk points out that these emotions are demonstrated by facial expression and physical gestures. I think this could be difficult to do in eLearning though. However, Weinschenk does write that people can read the emotions well from photos and as the designer you must determine what emotions drive the learner.

74. Anecdotes Persuade More Than Data p. 168

Once again, stories are important especially those that “invoke emotions and empathy.”

79. People Use Look and Feel as Their First Indicator of Trust p. 177

“When participants in the study rejected a health Web site as not being trustworthy, 83 percent of their comments were related to design factors, such as an unfavorable first impression of the look and feel, poor navigation, color, text size or the name of the web site.” – p. 177

I think this quote applies to eLearning and it’s even more essential in the eLearning environment. We provide learners with information that can help them to be better at their jobs. The eLearning we design can contain all of the proper information but not be taken seriously by the learner because of our bad design choices. It’s extremely important to earn the trust of the learner and that starts on the first screen of any eLearning module.

This book is full of great tips and reminders about how people act, think and interact with objects and the science behind it. Although, it’s written for web designer, it’s a good resource for all types of designers.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.