“Web design is dead,” declareth Sergio Nouvel of UX Magazine. I’ll admit that this clickbait headline drew me in—if web design is dead, what about instructional design? But, as expected, the “big reveal” of the article wasn’t anything earth shattering: web design may have met its demise, but from its dead cocoon husk emerges a new field, experience design. And in my view, experience design = instructional design for non-teachers, so this is good news to me.
While the grand finale of this article may not seem like much more than a semantic differentiation, I appreciated Nouvel’s thoughtful description of the trajectory web design has taken in the past few years, especially now that we carry computers in our pockets and wear them on our wrists. Users still access websites through their full computer-based browsers, but that’s rapidly shifting, so much so that the venerable New York Times forced its staff to use only their mobile site for a week to emphasize the importance of mobile.
More importantly, Nouvel’s description of the transition from a focus on “the design of individual web pages” to the “design of an ecosystem with a focus on user experience” mirrors what I’ve seen in my job as an instructional designer. Establishing a quality template for content—one that is readable, easy to edit, and designed to look like a high-quality website—takes time. I’ve worked in my college for a few years now, and it’s only in the past 6-8 months that I’ve had a consistent starting point that has worked for most faculty and that’s flexible enough for customization.
Now that the template is working, I can spend much more of my time (and, conversely, can encourage faculty to spend more time) thinking about how the students will access that content. Which course tools will they use? Which elements should flow directly together, and which elements should ask students to stop, to move elsewhere, or to engage with the content differently? Thus, instructional design = experience design.
One of Nouvel’s other salient points is about the value of experience design in thinking about push-based ecosystems. Web design is important when users go to a webpage to find something, but in an increasingly content-overloaded environment, having information delivered to us, at the moment we need it, is going to grow in value.
Case in point: I didn’t really “get” the Amazon Echo when I first read about it. Isn’t asking a big tube speaker questions about the same as asking your phone? But, the speakers are really the key here, because as you’re moving through your morning, you can set up alerts and reminders about weather, traffic, your first meeting, your family’s schedule—and rather than scrambling to seek out all of this, flipping through your phone, it’s delivered to you as you brew your coffee and just miss burning the toast. If this glorified speaker can offer this type of just-in-time information to me and save me 15 minutes of traffic, that’s a huge value.
At the end of his article, Nouvel says something that could be particularly applicable to instructional designers, “Now more than ever, in a world [educational space] flooded with cognitive noise, the world [teachers and students] needs simple, intelligent, integrated ecosystems of information [of learning].” That sounds like a fantastic aim for instructional design to me.