Blog Design Study

Smashing Magazine present their findings of their study of top blogs.

  • Part 1 discusses layout design and typographic settings.
  • Part 2 discusses navigation design, information architecture, advertisements and functionality (RSS-feeds, tag clouds, pagination, etc).

What Smashing Magazine has to say about their study:

We have identified 30 design problems and considered solutions for each of the problems separately. We have posed 30 questions which we would like to answer with our blog survey. Below we present findings of our survey of popular blog designs — the results of an analysis of 50 popular blogs according to Technorati’s Top 100.

Also from Smashing Magazine is their helpful post on 15 Desktop Blogging Tools Reviewed. I actually wrote this post using BlogDesk. Not too bad, just took some getting used to. I will try ScribeFire (a Firefox plugin) for my next post.

References:

Putting the Learner in the Driver’s Seat

Ever notice that a long trip is seems shorter when you’re the one driving? When I’m a passenger and I don’t have anything to distract me, I feel like a trip can go on forever. But when I’m behind the wheel, my mind is constantly engaged, thinking, processing and deciding. I actually prefer driving a manual transmission because I feel like I have more control over the car. (Sidebar: Earlier today, Karyn Romeis posted a very another interesting analogy about learning and driving and I discovered it after writing mine. Ah! I love mini-zeitgeists!)

In a post entitled Here’s Why Unlocking Your Course Navigation Will Create Better Learning, Tom Kuhlmann discusses the number one reason (I’ve heard) for why certain people are adverse to eLearning courseware:

Courses need to be designed to accommodate the uniqueness of each learner. And that doesn’t happen by trying to control them.

Yes! Exactly!

As a consultant, I find myself trying to get clients to understand this constantly. They argue that they want to make sure that the learners don’t skip something very important and that they need to ensure that everyone understand everything the same way – this seems to be very important in the case of certification programs. Maybe they’d be better served consulting with the spirit of Asimov…

Tom then goes on to make a case for problem-based learning:

Locking the navigation is a solution to stopping learners from clicking through the course. However, it doesn’t address why they’re clicking through it in the first place and not focusing on the content. Instead of locking the navigation, create a course that removes the reason to just click the next button.

This is something every good face-to-face to trainer knows well. In order to avoid having a bunch of blank faces staring back at you, you need to interact with your learners by asking a question or by soliciting their opinion, anything to get that little hamster running. The advantage of face-to-face training is the visual feedback that learners are disengaged. In an online setting, you won’t get that feedback and disengaged learners won’t be paying attention to the content, as Janet Clarey and her commenters demonstrate in a post entitled: What to do while attending a boring online learning event: stealth learning.

The premise of problem-based learning is to stimulate the learner to think. You first present a problem, get the learner thinking about it, get them interacting with the content, give them feedback. The idea is rather then spoon feeding the content to the learner, you get learners to arrive to the ideas and concepts you are trying to convey.

It is no wonder that Serious Gaming is getting more and more press and is being considered by organizations as a effective way to deliver training. I’m actually quite excited as I’m designing my first serious game for a project I’m working on – and this is allowing me to design a whole other level of problem-based learning.

I’d love to hear other creative ways people are designing problem-based learning!

References:

When Did We Forget How to Draw?

In a recent blog post on Visual Thinking, George Siemens wrote:

I’m not a visual person. Ok, not totally true. I’m a visual person, but I lack skills to express myself visually.

He then provided a great link to Joan Vinall-Cox’s article on Visual Literacy and Visual Thinking. I wanted to thank him on his blog but it seems I do not have the right permissions to leave a comment – so if you surf past this little bit of cyberspace, thanks George, and perhaps you’ll find more resources below!

I personally understand things better when they are put in a visual form. When I was a child, I first learned to draw. In fact, I learned to talk first (and, according to my dad, haven’t ever stopped since) and then I learned how to draw, and then I learned how to read and write.

Universal Recycling Symbol
Universal Recycling Symbol

History shows us that early civilizations drew pictograph’s on the cave walls, then came proto-writing and eventually came the modern alphabets as we know them today. But we still commonly use symbols and images to communicate. An strong example is the Universal Recycling Symbol which is an internationally-recognized symbol.

I recently picked up Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin in which he explains that we are essentially visual people and that drawing is an inherent talent to all. With the most basic of drawing skills—a square, a circle, an arrow, a stick figure and a smiley face—one can communicate effectively, leveraging hand drawn sketches on a napkin (or by extension on a whiteboard). You can watch an hour long video presenting the key concepts by the author made available by Authors@Google.

Back of the Napkin - The 66 Rule
Dan Roam's Back of the Napkin

I’d love to hear about other resources you might recommend!

References:

If an Image is Worth a Thousand Words, How Much is an Animation Worth?

Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., and James H. Fowler, Ph.D. recently published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled The Collective Dynamics of Smoking in a Large Social Network.

What is fantastic with this article published online is that there is a page with supplementary material containing an animation entitled: Dynamic Graphic Representation of a Portion of the Framingham Heart Study Social Network (pump up the volume).

I’ll admit – I didn’t read the article. My eyes are too exhausted from editing my thesis (and yet somehow I find the will to blog). However, the animation was clear enough, and though I may not have as much information as I would have had by reading the article, I believe I got the essential information that I needed, and because I’m a very visual person, was able to comprehend the message quite quickly.

If only I could have done a giant Tag Cloud of my jumbled thoughts for my thesis!

Reference:

Visual Display of Information

A few years ago, I discovered Edward Tufte, who has been writing about how to efficiently display information. Here are 2 exerpts from The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983) – click the images to enlarge.

Fuel Economy Standards for Autos - New York Times, August 9, 1978, p.D-2.
The Shrinking Family Doctor - Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1979, p.3.

I was thoroughly impressed with the multiple examples of clever mix of text and images. It made me reflect quite a bit on the use of images in my own presentations. Now I’ve been known to use a lot of charts, diagrams and other methods to visually display information when I make presentations or posters. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual person, but I find it really helps me understand, process… well visualize the information.

In his November 2007 blog post entitled Warning: Using the Wrong Images Can Confuse Your Learners, Tom Kuhlmann discusses the importance of using images appropriately. He starts his post off with:

To lessen the cognitive load and make your content more memorable, it’s important to use images that contribute to the learning experience rather than detract from it.

Images are powerful, as are words. There seems to be a trend about adding some kind of a visual display to words on the Web 2.0. The Tag Cloud is gaining popularity. Wordle seems to be on many web aficionados’ radar lately. Below is my wordle of The Gashlycrumb Tinies.

Wordle: Gashlycrumb Tinies

And my personal new favorite discovery is Many Eyes. Click on the vignette below to see my Dr Seuss word tree!

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