Simple, Good Design

Simple, Good Design

There’s tons of folks who think education should be run like a business from the financial end.  I disagree with this, mainly because education is essentially long term research and development of new citizens, and doesn’t have an easily qualifiable Return on Investment in the short term.  This makes the time between “program” and “meaningful long term results” untenable for the short patience of our political system.

But this post isn’t about education finance. It’s about the things education can learn from the way businesses run to improve what they do.

What eCommerce and web-based businesses have figured out is that in order to be successful, you need to have a clear call to action- what you want a consumer to do on your site- and have a simple, easy to use interface, making it as quick and easy as possible for people to get the job done.  Simple, straightforward and unambiguous icons and directions, like that for starting your new iPad (left) make it easy and simple to do the right thing.  The more straight forward the end-user interface and experience, the happier and more satisfied your customers will be.    The fewer clicks and pages between the customer and purchase, the more purchases you’ll get.  The more clicks you put between user and gratification, the more potential customers and abandoned shopping carts you’ll find.  Simple = sales.

But often when I see education websites, there is sometimes little attention to design and layout.  Pages are nested within each other like chinese dolls, making navigation of the sites difficult if not impossible.  As a result, teachers and students alike will abandon the new technology available to them to the easier to use pencil and paper available on their desk.  No passwords, no wires, just getting things done- a simple user interface.  In order to get teachers to try the new things- even if there’s a clear advantage to them in the long run, will inhibit many people from giving the new thing a try- the learning curve is just too steep or too confusing and staying with the current low-tech, inefficient system is just plain easier.

You see educators glomming onto Macs and ipads because of the straightforward user interface.  The low rate of crashing, instant on, instant gratification and more.  Never underestimate the power of instant gratification and simplicity of use.  Simple works every time.  Just ask eCommerce- they’ll tell you.

Education and education technology will start to really thrive once the end-user interface is as simple as an iphone.  Big buttons that let teachers push one, upload content to the website, create a blog post, download lesson plans, etc. will help teachers become more accustomed to technology and web-based applications.  Great user interfaces will let teachers accomplish tasks easier than the old fashioned way, and finally take advantage of the web and the ability to replicate efforts with the push of a few buttons.  But until education figures out that the number of clicks matters, and that a friendly, simple interface is the difference between great success and luke warm reception, there will be resistance to integrating tech into our classrooms.  And the people who will suffer will be our kids.