Upgrading design evaluations

Today I'm embarking on a new series of blog posts about improved approaches to design evaluation. Recently, I've been designing facets of learning communities that disrupt the labor model relied on in classrooms. As I develop ways for learning to happen collaboratively, without instructors, and enriched by Web 2.0 tools, I've wondered how best to evaluate these designs. I'm on familiar ground to be designing schemes and the schemata for evaluating them at the same time.

As I've been designing learning community functionality, I've realized there are four kinds of designs that have lots in common:
  1. Community designs to get more members, commitments, interactions and contributions
  2. Enterprise designs to get more customers, loyalty, purchases, and word of mouth advertising
  3. Instructional designs to get more retention, motivation, implementation and follow through
  4. Game designs to get more engagement, exploration, persistence and experimentation
A design that seems like it will get a lot of self-directed learning to happen, can also be critiqued as a game, business model and ongoing social interaction. Besides those very current frames of reference, my thinking about design evaluation is based on my wide range of previous experiences as a designer.
  • When I've designed houses, group facilities or office buildings, I've been concerned with how the users would respond to the spaces and juxtaposition of functions.
  • When I've designed productions for the staging of live theater or videotaping, I've considered how the unfolding narrative is conveyed by the visual setting and environmental cues.
  • When I've designed activities for after-school programs, children's museum exhibits and arts center programs for elementary students, I've been concerned with how much fun the kids are having as well as how contagious my own enthusiasm is for them.
  • When I've designed publications, workbooks and flash-cards, I've considered how accessible the ideas appear to be and how the organization contributes to the users' comprehension.
  • When I've designed college courses, corporate training sessions and professional workshops, I've been concerned with avoiding useless activities that provide no take away value or impact beyond the session.
  • When I've designed performance appraisals, organization change models and interventions in troubled mergers, I've considered how to get others to think for themselves and rely on their inner sense of direction.
  • When I've designed executive planning retreats, strategy formulation sessions and processes for revitalizing businesses, I've been concerned with handing over the controls so momentum in not lost when the gathering ends.
With such a diversity of design experiences, I naturally see patterns in the varied contexts and outcomes of the design methods. The approaches to design evaluation I'm formulating can become more robust and reliable by including these patterns realized from my experiences.

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