Within the first few minutes, I determined my classmates didn’t know how to read. I clearly meant for this line to be said with anger, another one with relief. The discussion after the reading (me still silent) showed me they had all misread my theme and empathized with the wrong characters.
Seeing me become increasingly frustrated, the professor brought the discussion to a close: “How well can the Work live without you, Mandy? As a playwright, you create the blueprint. But you can’t follow your work everywhere, making sure everyone interprets it correctly. The Work must live the way you intended without you. If you’re upset by the results of today, you have more work to do.”
I imagine what Professor Hood put me through that day, and many days after, is similar to what UX/UI research might be, watching a customer not using the product the way it was designed. (“Why aren’t they clicking the button? That’s clearly the button they should use.”)
But truly, “How well can the Work live without you?” has been the most impactful lesson in my life. It’s informed everything from how I interact with people online to my craft as an instructional designer.
vILTs/ILTs - When I started my first training/instruction role at a restorative justice program, I was in over my head. 90+ learners, all of them in trauma, all of them marginalized by the system, and somehow I was meant to help them learn soft skills like communicating effectively, self-regulation, and writing and reading effectively. And to top things off, I was a department of one, and my predecessor took all the curriculum with him when he left.
I reached out to instructors in similar situations, and they sent me slide decks—text-heavy slide decks, slide decks without talk tracks, no facilitator guides to speak of... it was clear to me they knew what they meant when they created these support materials. (I don’t mean to criticize. They were as swamped and unsupported as I, if not more so.) But because their work didn’t live outside of themselves, I couldn’t use any of it and floundered for quite a while.
Now I build vILTs and TTTs for Gartner, and I’m making an intentional effort to ensure the slide deck has talk tracks and explanations that support a trainer from day one.
Storyboards - My husband has started an EdTech Music business with two of his former mentors. They want me to take over should anything happen to him and continue building out the products and services. The other day I asked to see a storyboard of one of his products, so I could show mentees how to read a storyboard and build something out. He handed me a script without any explanations of what’s supposed to happen in each section.
I took a deep breath. “If something happens to you, this business ends because your product design only exists in your head. Without a map, no one will be able to pick up where you left off.”
“Oh, I never thought of it that way.” Because my husband has ADHD, it’s difficult for him to visualize something without building it. “I figured once it’s built there isn’t a need to storyboard, but now I can see you’re right.”
Prototyping - one of the first projects in my first remote ID role was virtual reality. Using the week long-trial, I built a prototype of an experience in which English language learners explored a neighborhood and practiced vocabulary in a semi-real way. I was excited about it. My team was excited about it. But getting time to present the experience to the executives and getting their green light meant my VR trial would run out. Before that could happen, I storyboarded the entire product. I ended up leaving before the team started pursuing the project fully. But hopefully, the Work will live without me. 🤞
Accessibility - Some designers might say that it isn’t reasonable to see everything through the lens of “How well can the Work live without you?” The ID world can be chaotic and considering everything through the “will it live without me?” lens may slow things down. But all the more reason to prioritize accessibility. If someone’s everyday experience can’t access what’s been created, that creation doesn’t live well outside its designer(s).
“How well can the Work live without you?” is key in creating accessible designs. And the more one can close the gap between what’s ideal and what’s feasible, the more one’s Work can live outside themselves. It may not be feasible for my global company to translate all its learning materials, but it is feasible to make sure everyone knows they can leverage the Google Translate Chrome extension for support.
IDOL courses Academy begins with #DoItMessy, an approach that helps mentees short-circuit imposter syndrome and start. But as my career has deepened, my do it messy has transitioned to a do it intentionally as I’ve considered Professor Hood’s words. “How well can the Work live without you?” is the lens through which I consider my designs at work but also my mentorship, my online presence, my writing. I hope this piece lives well.
Written by: Mandy Brown
💜Mandy Brown (she/her) is a fiercely neurodivergent, all-boats-rise kind of person who is writing a book to help people in toxic workplaces grow bandwidth and make safety plans. She posts about that and other topics on LinkedIn. And yes, she loves emojis and would be happy to connect. 😉