When does good design fail?

The Oxford Dictionary describes design as “a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other objects before it is made.” That means that design speaks directly to function and purpose.

People – especially designers, myself included – sometimes forget that design is measurable against its purpose. In digital learning solutions, the purpose of design is about accessibility and learning enhancement, and there are three areas that you need to keep your design-eye fixed on to ensure that your designs don’t fail.


Design needs to be friends with its environment. In e-learning you need to know exactly where the learners are going to be physically situated when they will be engaging with the work. What distractions do their environments contain? Make sure you understand where the learners will be situated.

Some learners will engage with the solution while in the field: working in a mine or on a building site, or in a foreign country with different beliefs or value systems or while trying to feed a baby. Their environments will inform your design.


No designer is an island. You need feedback from your intended users, other designers and other people, even if they are unrelated to your project. Ask for feedback. This information from others will help you spot anything from potential colour interferences in colour-blind learners to avoiding cultural faux pas. This will assist in making your design as objective as possible.


Lastly, does your design grab the attention of the intended learner? This isn’t only about colour theory and information hierarchy, but about who your learners are. Get inside your learner’s headspace, and try and imagine where they see value. That’s how you will enhance their learning experience.

Exceptional design is sometimes so very simple. It’s usually because it’s taken these three things into consideration while aiming to fulfil its purpose. Keeping this in mind will make you a better designer – and the optimist in me thinks – a better human being.

Author: Simon Pienaar

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