Boutique Design

A few years ago I worked as a part of a large corporate training organization. Learning objects and trainings were developed in a systematic process that was the instructional design equivalent of an automobile factory. Technicians completed one step each in a long chain of production. They didn’t know the subject matter experts who provided the information. They didn’t know the audience that was going to get the training. They did their piece of the work, signed off on it, and passed it on to the next person in the chain.

That method was efficient.  It made a lot of sense in the environment in which we were using it. In a silicon valley company’s training organization, staff turnover is a constant issue as designers and trainers hop frog from one position to another. The training’s subject matter experts and audience will also change frequently.

Continuity is rare, and a good process in that environment does everything it can to take the individual out of that process.

In an academic instructional design shop, though, that model is disappointing at best. Commercial credit mills and other ambitious schools can create design engines that produce well-engineered course design and hand them off to a revolving door of adjunct instructions to deliver the training, but that model cheapens the experience of a class for the student and the instructional staff.

We’re doing something different. We build no silos, no conveyor belts, not industrial machinery for our design. We pair a designer with a faculty member and let them do the work.

We call this “Boutique Design” — and we sacrifice some major advantages of a more industrial process. We may not have the department’s very best video editor edit every single video, for example.

What we gain is more valuable. We build classes for individual instructors, classes that reflect the teaching style and personality of the person who is teaching the class.  This improves the social presence of the instructor in the class, makes sure the instructor is invested and cares about every stitch of content we develop, and ensures the best possible experience for the students.

We train our designers well. We set clear standards for what we expect in the classes we design. But in the end, that small team of designer and expert collaborate through the whole evolution of the course. And with that investment in the whole process comes beauty.

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