Last week Sophie, along with 1000’s of other ELT professionals, congregated in Harrogate for IATEFL’s 2014 conference. Along with helping to run the Material Writing SIG’s first ever Pre Conference Event Writing for Digital and SIG Day Sophie was also asked to speak on the Future of ELT at’s IATEFL fringe event. Below is a version of what she said.

The future of ELT from a design perspective

As a design agency that specialises in working with the ELT industry we are in the privileged position of seeing a lot of ELT material go through our studio. Often we can be working on projects from different clients that will end up competing in the same market place. Which gives us an advantage in making sure design plays an important role in making each course stand out from the crowd.

What we think the future ELT landscape will look like:

  • There will be more learners
  • There will be more markets – some with a global reach, others more niche and local
  • Publishing is going to remain complicated
  • The pace of change and the speed at which new technologies become available isn’t go to slow down
  • Teaching and learning will continue to change
  • And there will be more competition from; institutions creating their own resources, authors self-publishing and publishers needing to offer more value for money.

And so consequently there will be more people producing more materials, with a wider range of quality, effectiveness and commercial success.

So where does design fit into all of this? And how can design help ELT publishing?

Well, the average Joe is more design aware than they have ever been, even if they don’t know it. Steve Jobs once said

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”

He’s talking about UX design here as much as he is about the form. So, if it doesn’t work, why would a user continue to invest in you and your product? If we apply this thinking to ELT materials users have expectations and demands!

So what is the role of design?

Well, it’s not just about making things look pretty! As designers we have to ask a lot of questions and take into account a lot of different considerations before we even start – it’s all about balancing form and function.

What do we consider before we start designing?

  • The learners needs.
  • How is the material going to be used? Is it teacher led and classroom based or is it self-study?
  • How is it meant to work? Either on the page or on the screen?
  • We have to consider readability and navigability, in print just as much as digital.
  • If it’s a blended course will design features have to work in both print and digital? For example the choice of fonts and colour is really important. What applies in print won’t necessarily apply to the screen.
  • And when designing multi-component courses, is there a brand you have to consistently apply?

It’s only once you’ve taken all of this into consideration that we can then start to make it visually appealing. So deciding on how to make key features stand out. Are there directional instructions that need to look distinct from the learning objectives? Are there going to be images and illustrations used?

These core design values are desirable in materials if you are a teacher producing your own resources. However, they are absolutely essential if you’re a publisher competing in a global marketplace.

We are all acutely aware that the nature of ELT publishing is changing but there is still a need to meet these requirements of function and form, whatever wrapping the content gets delivered in. But it can be a challenge to make these materials look distinct from everything that has gone before them, as well as considering their functionality.

So, the future of ELT from our perspective is to make good design the central focus.

How do you make good design a central focus?

  • Start by getting design involved earlier on in the process. Include designers in scoping out the project.
  • Get everyone who is involved in the project thinking about how it will look and work. Even down to getting your authors to think about this. You may get away with not thinking about the design until the end if you’re producing a print coursebook but if you’re writing for an app, if the content and the design don’t marry up you’ll end up with a product that doesn’t work and consequently won’t sell.
  • Getting the brief right from the start is also really crucial. And we would urge you to work with your designers in honing this down. We’ve seen so many projects go over budget because the design brief keeps changing.
  • If you don’t think your brief is good enough or meets what you’re trying to achieve ask your designers to advise you on getting it right.
  • And use your designers as experts, so ask them what is achievable and what’s not.

So we think that if you make design more central to the publishing process you will  ensure that materials function according to your users needs. And visually they will stand out which means they will be able to compete more successfully and make you more money!