Design block

Does anyone else get it?

I struggle with this from time to time (right now to be exact) when I start designing a new eLearning course, normally when it is a relatively boring subject, and I struggle to come up with really good ideas for designs.  I find myself spending a lot of time trawling through Google looking at other eLearning designs, website designs, etc to try and get into a design mindset but sometimes it just doesn't work.

Does anyone else have any techniques for getting over this?

26 Replies
Joshua Roberts

Hello David,

I know what you're saying here however I find it easiest to move away from the PC (although alcohol may be a tempting go-to) I like to spend time drawing or crafting out ideas on a whiteboard. I find that being able to mind map and open up my ideas allows my creativity to flow, it is also worthwhile asking someone in the office to sit with you (another creative mind) in order to bounce ideas off.

Sometimes having someone else to discuss your plans with causes you to overcome those bumps with no trouble. You will find yourself working things out in a more logical manner, but take some time away from the screen and open yourself up to drawing and speaking out loud.

Jeff Kortenbosch

Hmm, interesting... did I just bump into an 'e-Learning Designers Anonymous' meeting?

David, like the rest mentioned clearing your mind off-screen is great to get past that frustration point. Recently I've started checking out Pinterest for design inspiration. Just search your topic and you'll get some nice images and what not. Search with your 'topic' and 'infographic' and you just find the inspiration you need.

David Price

Hi Jeff, Pinterest is one of my favourite places to research design ideas but this time nothing seems to be sparking my interest.

Subject is all around Fibre Optic Broadband which I have done numerous eLearning modules on before however this time my primary audience is Sales agents, of which most of them are based in the UK.  In the past I have been delivering content to technical agents (which is my field) who are based in offshore call centre (India, Philippines, etc). 

My main struggle is finding a balance between the different cultures as from previous experience our offshore agents lap up fully interactive, gamified content, but our onshore (UK based) agents not so much.  It's a relatively boring subject, and quite a short one, so trying to make it engaging is my biggest struggle at the moment.

Jackie Van Nice

My go-to is always emotional engagement - connecting with what's going to get that learner personally interested and excited, then add humor.

Your plus is that you know the topic and learners so well - but that's probably why you're having a tough time finding a fresh perspective, too. Brainstorming-wise I'd start crazy simple. How would you explain why this matters to a little, little kid? If the logic of mind mapping isn't working (that never gives me great ideas, to be honest) - get away from it and look at it from a far more unexpected angle.

David Price

Thank you Jackie.  I was thinking about personal interest of the learner and trying to figure out what it could be.  As the main bulk of this training is aimed at sales people I suppose it may be financial as they will get bonuses on the more they sell.  Sales is a completely new area for me to work in (well for our entire department as it used to be handled by someone else) so getting into that mindset is a foreign concept for me, what with having a completely techy background.

Jackie Van Nice

Well, be warned, you might have a lot of fun with this. 

On my site I've got a sample of what I did for a course directed at salespeople selling pest control products. This page explains how I designed the course, but scroll down to get to the sample: http://www.jackievannice.com/?page_id=175059668

This whole intro didn't exist before - but I created it because I knew if I didn't get excited about creating/taking the course, learners wouldn't either. If you can get it down to "what happens if my customers DON'T have a great product like this?" - and then show the disastrous consequences (with humorous effect, if possible; though optional) you'll be spot-on.

I don't know the features and benefits of your product, but I'd assume if your prospects have crummy broadband (instead of your outstanding broadband), they'd have a lot of trouble doing a whole lot of things. SHOW the pain of that potential customer, then show what a hero your learner/salesperson is going to be when everyone loves him/her for A. Solving their problems (customers) B. Selling lots of product (managers), and C. Making a nice living off of it (the salesperson & their family).

You can see how simple I kept it in showing the pain of customers who DON'T have the product. Keep it simple and human and you'll be off to the races.

Bruce Graham

David Price said:

Thank you Jackie.  I was thinking about personal interest of the learner and trying to figure out what it could be.  As the main bulk of this training is aimed at sales people I suppose it may be financial as they will get bonuses on the more they sell.  Sales is a completely new area for me to work in (well for our entire department as it used to be handled by someone else) so getting into that mindset is a foreign concept for me, what with having a completely techy background.


Why is a sales-person interested in anything..........money/compensation.

Why is this broadband REALLY GREAT.

Why is it BETTER THAN THE COMPETITION.

What is the current market penetration?

What is the projected market penetration AND WHAT % ARE WE GOING TO TAKE?

What is the VALUE of that to us?

How are we going to be compensated against sales?

What are the sales accelerators built into our compensation plans that make it worthwhile?

What is the sales enablement strategy - i.e what we will be given to help use sell BEFORE product launch, and afterwards?

What sales collateral is available?

Where are the Case Studies, and how do they refer to the market(s) we will sell into?

What are the competitive offerings, and do we have a feature/functionality-matching table to show/tell why we are a better choice?

Is there anything available to help us re-frame counter-arguments in our favour during a sales call?

What is the Support from advertising and marketing?

What was the product genesis, (i.e. was it designed and developed to meet a specific need that the market generally recognises).

Does that help kick-start?

Phil Mayor

Often I start building and work about the design at a later stage, may sound strange but I find the content determines my design.

All of my courses start from the same functional design template that is then branded for fonts, colours etc.  I normally use on slide controls, as the course evolves these will be changed and modified.  I much prefer the iterative, evolutionary process, which more often than not results in a revolutionary design.

I keep a mental/physical inspiration list which feeds the above process.

Alexandros Anoyatis

As you can see Phil's not much of a drinker, that much is evident.

Anyhow, I too follow virtually the same process. Content and functionality is the focus in the beginning and I then proceed to dress up the module appropriately.

There are downsides sometimes to first-time clients who are not familiar with the process (i.e. they may not be too impressed in the beginning), but the pros outweigh the cons IMHO...

Phil Mayor

Alex love my drink but cannot hold my drink, o

Alexandros Anoyatis said:



There are downsides sometimes to first-time clients who are not familiar with the process (i.e. they may not be too impressed in the beginning), but the pros outweigh the cons IMHO...


I would agree completely , I try and explain this at the offset, but sometimes clients can find it worrying.  

David Price

Thank you for all the suggestions.

Jackie - your link doesn't appear to work but I am interested about what you have done.

Bruce - thank you for the suggestions.  Not all of them apply to what I am doing but some of them do so I will take those into account in my design.

Phil / Alex - thank you also for your suggestions.  I suppose I also work this way at times but I tend not to use standard designs/templates.  I prefer to bespoke design every course I do unless I need to develop something really quickly, in which case I may use a template from a previous course I have done.  As I am also a web developer design is key to my way of thinking, I sometimes struggle to see the content without it being wrapped inside a design.  I do storyboard a lot though where I can get an initial idea on paper and then evolve it once I start building it.

Well I have now broken through my initial design block, I have decided to create an intro video to describe a "unhappy path" customer and what happens when it goes wrong which will then lead into the main eLearn.  Video design I'm going to take from a previous video I created and adapt from there.  Still need to plan out the rest of it after the video though

Michael Jones

I'm actually just finally recovering from a major block -- I believe it was more in line with full-on burnout though. I definitely agree that time away from the computer is a good method of first-aid to give those creative juices a chance to recuperate, but what about those times when walking away for a little while isn't enough?

Anytime my ability to focus or be creative starts to wane, I immediately turn to music -- pardon the music teacher in me coming out for a moment. Instrumental and especially classical music has been shown to stimulate the brain in ways that few other devices can. I have two stations set up on Pandora Radio for this very purpose:

  • Solo Piano
  • Mozart

Those two stations have helped my brain to focus and recover on multiple occasions. Beethoven has helped me when I'm simply looking for inspiration. Hindu kirtan (devotional chanting) have helped me in times of immense stress and general frustration.

Now I'm not trying to suggest  that these specific styles/composers/genres are universally effective for everyone in similar situations, but I'm certain that you could find similar effects with music that you personally find pleasing and stimulating. If you're not sure where to start, feel free to try any of the ones that I have called out here, it'll give you a starting point to at least figure out what you do like and what works for you.

Hope it helps!

Phil Mayor

@David all of my clients get bespoke work, this just starts out life as my basic functional design template, the UI, and design are bolted on top of a functional course.  

Most of my work involves building very complex interactions, I need to know that the interactions work before adding the polish.  I prefer to design my courses so that things like design/UI can be stripped out easily this way if the client dislikes something it doesn't cost me or them too much time/money.

Sometimes however the design is a very important part of the interaction and this needs to be built in at the core level and is not easily removed, I try to avoid this where I can.

I recently built two courses for a client the first draft Vs the finished product are two completely different courses, this evolved through my design process and what the client liked and disliked.