Elevator Design Committee

Instructional designers often get to design lots of things beyond instruction. They are sometimes UI designers. They sometimes are business analysts specifying needs for new tools, and so on.

Instructional designers are drawn to lots of different kinds of design, I think, because they are good at envisioning and specifying detailed realities in pursuit of fulfilling the needs of learners, and work hard to make everything fair, smooth, and elegant. I sometimes wonder if these instincts can work against us when designing things that aren’t instruction, though.

For instance, I was riding in the elevator down to the first floor the other day. We stopped at several floors to let on people who then pressed buttons to get off before my floor, so I had to wait for them twice. At that moment I pictured myself as a member of the committee in charge of needs assessment for the very first elevator. I’m pretty sure I would have been the guy absolutely insisting (perhaps with lots of fist pounding and inappropriate language) that elevators have to have some kind of (probably complicated) system in place to ensure fairness.

Clearly, that’s ridiculous, and elevators work just fine. I now think of ideas like these as floor stoppers–requirements that perhaps uphold a worthy ideal in the abstract, but that introduce complexity that makes the inclusion of the feature an overall negative.

I helped design courseware once many years ago that had really complicated multiple choice questions. We wanted to let learners select multiple answers (but not TOO many answers) before committing and then to get individualized feedback for each answer chosen. The UI ended up way more complicated than a multiple choice question should be.

That was a floor stopper. My colleagues and I were enamored with certain functionality and usability was not going to stand in our way. (Fortunately, later in my career when we were revamping the product for web delivery, I had the opportunity to redesign the UI and simplify things considerably.)

We are now creating the needs assessment to go out to market to buy a next generation learning management system (LMS). We are talking to our stakeholders and have a list of requirements a mile long, plus our own conceptions of features a modern LMS “has to have.” We’ll see if I and my team have the wherewithal to recognize which features are truly essential, and which are floor stoppers.


One thought on “Elevator Design Committee

  1. Ellen

    You might find interesting books on design of “everyday things” by Henry Petroski. I learned from reading his books that sometimes the problem isn’t me, it’s the designer. I think especially of doors that have only a couple of hinge screws, not at eye level, to give a clue which side will open. Doors that are intuitive if you are entering, obscure when leaving.
    As to the overly-complex interactions at that company you alluded to, I recall trying to point out that both IKEA and LEGO manage to communicate rather complex instructions with no words at all, so why create an interface that requires five-step instructions? I don’t recall making any impact, however.
    And because I went to the library catalog to be sure I was spelling Petroski’s name correctly, I learned that he had a new book out in 2014; one more entry on my Request list. Thanks, I think!


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