Book Review: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

I’ve read some really fantastic books and some not-so-wonderful books. When it comes to e-learning, Dr. Susan Weinschenk has put together a fantastic list of 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. She’s combined the industry research on how people learn with her personal experiences to create a book that’s easy to follow, and easy to pick up and put down as needed. Here are a few of the things that I found most useful to e-learning developers.

8. People can Miss Changes in Their Visual Fields.

This YouTube video is a perfect example of how people miss small changes in their visual field. Take a moment to watch it.

After watching this video, it becomes clear that people don’t notice everything happening on the screen. I haven’t met a single person who passed this test the first time. Did you?

According to Dr. Weinschenk, you should not “assume that people will see something on a computer screen just because it’s there.” If you pay close attention to one thing, and you’re not consciously looking for changes, you can very easily miss them. So as an e-learning developer, if you’re designing a course where it’s important that your students notice changes in their visual field, you need to add cues to help them. You can add subtle visual or auditory cues to your designs to help them notice those changes. Simple things like adding an entrance fade to a new object or starting the audio at the same time the object appears will work.

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

I’d be a millionaire by now if I had a dollar for every time I heard my dad say, “Use a word in a sentence three different ways, and it’s yours!” Turns out that this elementary school lesson is actually true (who knew dads knew what they were talking about, huh?).

To paraphrase the book, repetition actually changes the brain. Repeating information, and the use of that information, forms new connections in your brain where memories are stored. Repeat it enough times, and it sticks. To further build on that, if you tie newly presented information to already-formed memories or experiences, then it’s easier for them to remember that information.

27. People Process Information Better in Bite-Sized Chunks.

It really overwhelms the learner when online courses are built offering up too much information at one time. The human brain can only consciously process so many pieces of information. Dr. Weinschenk explains that when presenting information it is best to use progressive disclosure. By only giving the learner the information they need at that specific moment, you’ll better teach them that information.

You can do this by allowing them to click more in the course. Or, you can time new information to appear onscreen when it needs to. Applying progressive disclosure also means that you’ll need to thoroughly do your research to know when a learner needs a piece of information. If you don’t do that, you’ll frustrate them more than if you had just put all the information on one page.

50. People Are More Motivated as They Get Closer to a Goal.

Have you ever joined a rewards club at a restaurant, department store, or website? What about a frequent flyer miles program? Have you noticed that some of them use different methods than others? Some of these places use something called the “goal-gradient effect” to motivate you. The goal-gradient effect says that you’ll act faster the closer you get to the goal. So when you join your favorite coffee shop’s reward program, check to see if they’ve given you a card with 10 spots to punch or a card with 12 spots to punch–but with two already punched. According to 100 Things, there’s a difference. You’ll actually meet your goal faster with the latter of these two!

And you can use this in your course designs, too. By giving your audience a “light at the end of the tunnel,” it’ll serve to motivate them to work through the course more quickly and efficiently. Put page numbers or a progress bar in your course. Or get creative and come up with another way to show them how much they have left.

86. People Make Errors When They are Under Stress.

Have you noticed that when you’re under a lot of stress, whether it’s at home or at work, you tend to make more mistakes than usual? That’s not just you–that’s human nature. According to The Yerkes-Dodson Law, a certain amount of stress (in psychology, it’s called arousal) can help you to perform tasks better. There comes a point of diminishing marginal return, though, where too much stress can degrade your performance. In this chapter, Dr. Weinschenk tells a story of a time when her daughter was sick and when she needed to be at an out-of-town client meeting. Under the stress of a time crunch and a sick child, she had an extremely difficult time using a website to find her child a doctor in the area. A few days later, though, she returned to the same website and found that it wasn’t all that confusing.

Our job as e-learning developers is to help our audience perform at their best. That means that if people are performing a boring task, we need to raise the level of arousal by using a combination of sounds, colors, or movement. Likewise, if the task is very difficult, we can help raise performance by reducing the level of arousal. We do that by eliminating distractions on the page.

I’ve read a lot of really good books focusing on e-learning. Diane and Desiree have lent me quite a few. Heck, they have written quite a few! I’m always up for a good read! So please tell me, what’s on your bookshelf? We might even review it here!

Nick Elkins

2 Responses to “Book Review: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

  • Michael Loader
    9 years ago

    Great review. Thank you. For number 21 I remember going though electronics training in the Navy and completing “programmed instruction” booklets. That was the concept. Read a little, write a little, answer some questions. Introduce new topic that builds on first topic; read a little, write a litte, answer some questions on both topics, repeat. It really does work!

    • Thanks, Michael! I guess that’s where my dad must have gotten the concept – he’s a retired Navy senior chief.

      I appreciate your comment, it’s nice to know that the Navy also teaches a tip/information we’re writing about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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