Cake Bitesize lessons: curated building blocks in user-centred design

Read Time:10 Minute, 47 Second

Quietly, in the background, over the last months I’ve been creating short, beginners’ lessons in user-centred design. These are online, fit together modularly, and can be studied at the learner’s own pace. 5 of them are ready, which seems enough for a proof of concept.

UPDATE 29 September: 15 are ready, with 10 available combined into a content design pathway.

My lessons are written in clear language. They explain approaches, techniques, principles and processes, and translate terminology. They focus on 1 topic at a time. Most lessons are 8 units and a test, taking on average 20 to 30 minutes to absorb and complete. The idea is they can be fitted into a spare half hour – a cancelled meeting, a lunch break, a bus journey. Oh, and they are highly affordable, at tiny prices like £4 each.

Why? In short, because people asked me to, plus I wanted to make high quality, reliable user-centred design learning affordable, easy to access and available in clear language.

“Can you give the team a quick summary?”

Knowledge around user-centred design is readily available online already. But there are some problems with it. Too much, too long, too expensive, too “Gov”.

Googling is overwhelming

Self-teach internet searches can be hazardous. How reliable is the source, is it so jargon-stuffed a learner can’t comprehend anything, where can you find just the basics? Google overwhelm is real. And user-centred design professionals are often as unaware of their depth of knowledge – and the learning barrier of our discipline’s own specialist terms – as they are passionate about their subject.

Too long, didn’t read

So I would send clients a curated list of links, including the excellent Readability Guidelines. I would recommend paid and free courses, like the essential, 16 hours over 4 weeks GDS FutureLearn Introduction to Content Design. I’d tell them about meet ups and talks.

But this was not the user need, or perhaps the user want in some cases. They wanted a 20 minute PowerPoint presentation, or a specific area explained, like pair writing, content patterns, information architecture or multi-disciplinary teams on a quick, Zoom chat. Or a manager would say their staff needed to learn how to do content design, and could I please run them through it in a 1 hour session? And can you give everyone else an overview in a 5 minute presentation at the end of the weekly Design team meeting?

What you don’t know you don’t know, you don’t know you need to know

How do you explain to someone who thinks information architecture skills can be taught through a short presentation that you should start with user needs? How do you illuminate an eager team, without discouraging them, on the fact that content design is vast and intricate, and learning about it will require quite a lot more than 1 hour of their time?

The problem was, the people want-it-yesterday level curious about content design and user-centred design, tended not to be in content or design roles themselves, and didn’t have any comprehension of how much goes into design work. They just wanted a quick download of 10 key points. Sometimes on the spot, as the concepts of needing to think and plan, never mind research unique needs, scope and sculpt, were alien to them: a live demo of the very workplace culture issues that Agile, user-centred design sets out to rectify.

Supporting staff to learn flexibly, in a way that suits them

User-centred design, its techniques, principles and processes, and terminology is a whole new world for beginners, with language of its own.

But as the large majority of organisations don’t have formal, user-centred design training for everyone built in, non-design professionals who are curious or need to learn about user-centred design understandably generally want, and need, something that can be fitted into spare time in their schedule, for example:

  • cancelled meeting
  • lunch break
  • early start
  • end of day before meeting someone for dinner
  • on parental leave while the baby is napping

My answer: a matrix of modules

So for my last charity client, a major national organisation with at the time only 1 content designer, I started compiling short, modular, informational Google docs, a process that catalysed me to go on to create my bitesize lessons, just as previous experience leading a team of editors on a commercial website redesign project inspired my writing for web tip cards.

Somewhat ironically, to avoid plagiarism I ended up having to re-express myself, again clearly, on clear language (I wrote of all the Content Design London Readability Guidelines, based on collaboratively sourced usability evidence).

These Google docs were interlinked, so that people could learn about the topic they were aware they needed to understand more on, for example writing for web, and through onward links uncover other areas, like language research for SEO, usability and inclusivity. They were destined for the client’s intranet or MS Teams site, where they would be served up under their own branding.

Further propellants

While this sub-heading has a slight whiff of the miscellaneous folder, these are the other, important reasons behind my drive to create these lessons.

Little or no user-centred design culture

Often content designers find themselves fresh in a new job or contract, ready to use their skills and “do content design” but find no-one knows what it involves – crucially no-one understands the infrastructure needed, like budget, and stakeholder time for: user research, pair writing, content crits, show and tells, retros and more.

It’s well known among design professionals that user-centred design is a team sport. But so few organisations know how to play it.

And it’s well documented that when CEOs, stakeholders, subject experts and managers understand and advocate for user-centred design and Agile, it’s much easier for user-centred designers to do their jobs, ideally working in multi-disciplinary teams with user and stakeholder involvement through the design process.

Unfortunately, the majority of organisation

These lessons aim to support people in all different roles at an organisations to learn about user-centred design, in a very non-intimidating, user-friendly way.

That’s for Gov

Unfortunately the GDS user-centred design resources, their FutureLearn content design course and the GOV.UK A to Z of style are too often seen as “too government-y” and sadly, and fairly irritatingly, felt not relevant or appropriate by many commercial, charity or higher ed clients. Despite my highly recommending them, with strong reference to their proven usability-based approach to style.

Explaining that Government Digital Service outputs are a publicly funded digital resource for everyone to make use of made no difference either. And it’s not just me, other content strategists have reported the same experience.

Do you do training on X?

At the same time, I had a steady trickle of LinkedIn messages, emails and Twitter DMs asking if I could give a training session on different, very specific areas of content design or user-centred design.

About the Cake Bitesize lessons

So, all this led me to think, what if I create some lessons in the basics, that are short enough and affordable enough not to put anyone off? In clear language and focused on 1 topic at at a time. Essentially, I reviewed all the blockers to learning about user-centred design and attempted to clear them.

Modular

Each to-the-point, concisely written lesson stands on its own, but is also part of a series. They are curated, clear language building blocks, enabling learners to upskill, refresh or fill in any gaps in their user-centred design knowledge.

For example, you might start with an introduction to user-centred design, and go on to the introduction to content design. Or you may buy and bookmark the glossary of user-centred design terms (by the way, it’s only £1). Or you might go straight to a lesson on user journey mapping or content findability.

When more lessons are live I will publish suggested routes through the topics depending on area of interest, and will look to make them available as bundles or a complete collection – someone has already expressed an interest in buying them all at once.

Affordable

It is very important to me to make these lessons as affordable as possible. We don’t all have the privilege of disposable income, and even though professional development is an investment, it’s one that not everyone can afford. Not everyone will have an employer paying for their training either: many of us are freelance, self-employed, on zero hour contracts, or unemployed.

The other major reason for the low prices are to encourage people to try them out. And if they like it, to try out some more! I was thinking in terms of literally snackable content: learn in your lunch hour, for the price of a meal deal.

While the prices are tiny – the first 5 are at £0, £1 and £4 – the quality is high.

Format

Usually, lessons have 6 to 8 units plus a short end of lesson comprehension test. Glossaries of terms, and techniques and processes lessons, have different numbers of units. Learners work through at their own pace, which of course differs for everyone but I estimate an average of 20 to 30 minutes is needed for each lesson.

Lessons focus on 1 topic at a time, starting with an overview and drilling down into further need-to-know detail.

The lesson content is text-based, with examples. Occasionally informational images are included, when this happens the meaning is explained in the main lesson text. So far there has not been a need for video but this may change! If so it will be captioned and a transcript provided.

DuoLingo is a big inspiration for the lesson series, and the lessons, created with WordPress Courses software, are easy to access and use on mobile, as well as desktop and tablet.

Audience

A broad audience of potential learners is catered for, in an effort to increase broader understanding of user-centred design within organisations.

  • career changers and progressors
  • students
  • design roles without specialist content design and readability knowledge
  • non-design roles
  • team leaders, managers, delivery managers, product owners
  • stakeholders, CEOs and other budgeting decision makers
  • anyone curious about user-centred design or content design

About the creator

Teaching background

I’m no stranger to creating lessons, courses and educational resources. As well as giving content design and writing for web training through Cake Consultancy to government, charity and commercial clients, I’ve helped Content Design London develop accessible content training, written the Readability Guidelines, written a practical how-to book on user-centred design for intranets, sold many sets of writing for web tip cards, have a post-grad teaching qualification and taught English abroad.

User-centred design career

My 17 years in user-centred design started at a digitally advanced local council in 2003. From the very beginning of my career, I was training subject experts in writing for web.

Since then, among others, I’ve worked for GDS, 8 government departments, Content Design London, John Lewis, Great Western Railway, Post Office, Cambridge University, RNIB and Scope.

Clear language expertise

My experience as a content designer and strategist – explaining and presenting dense information and complex concepts in concise, clear content – equips me to create very user-friendly beginner, refresher and improver lesson content.

Lessons available now

The full list of planned lessons is slowly but surely getting populated with hyperlinks for lessons that are ready. With a number now live, it feels a good time to test out their usefulness and popularity as a proof of content.

So far, 5 lessons are available, including a free one:

Introduction to user-centred design £4
User needs: meaning, and design purpose £4
Defining shared project vocabulary £4
Glossary of user-centred design terms £1
20+ user research techniques FREE

Please try them out, and if you think they have value do share them. You can keep up to date with Cake Bitesize lessons on Twitter at @CakeBitesize, and I regularly post about them from @CakeContent too.

If you find the lessons useful, I’d be really grateful for a review, tweet or LinkedIn post about them. Endorsements from learners are extremely helpful.

Support the user-centred design bitesize lessons cause with a coffee, to go with all the cake! ☕

I imagine that many of you will not need these lessons yourself, but you may well see how your work culture could benefit from other roles using these lessons. If that’s you, please consider supporting me with a coffee to keep things going.

And if you know of any tech for good grants I could apply to for continuing to create these affordable, inclusive, easily-accessible lessons, do please let me know!

sliced of strawberry cake