Elise Gravel offers visual walkthroughs of her books on Instagram to engage her community.

28 Design Lessons to Learn From

Steal these ideas for engaged users and creative communities.

Smarter users = engaged users

We all want healthy communities and engaged users. That means creating opportunities for users to connect, share and become experts in their domain.

These are examples of real-life tactics (from financial products to art exhibits) that you can use for your community or product.

I’ve called them “Design-O-Grams” because they are a whole lesson in one example — kind of like a singing telegram, but for design best practices.

Steal these ideas

Design-O-Gram 1: Gumroad’s educational onboarding course to help you grow an audience.

Takeaway: give new users a cushion, set expectations at the beginning of developing their own community. Would love to know if @Gumroad considers the campaign “successful.”

Find out about Gumroad’s educational onboarding.

Design-O-Gram 2: What #consent and ToS should look like:

International Center of Photography’s Terms of Service: plain language, clear, projected as a barrier you literally have to cross.

More about what #consent and ToS should look like.

Design-O-Gram 3: Diagram of a Memory by Johnny Damm.

Note: the concurrent exhaust into the ether and torque of the undercurrent. Memories cut both ways. If you made a diagram of today’s memory, what machine would it look like?

Read “Diagram of a Memory” at Poetry Magazine.

Design-O-Gram 4: Make clear paths to entry. Checklists and Reflection guides for organizers of @IDEOorg Diva Sexual Health Program.

IDEO’s lab manual for community organizers provides step-by-step instructions to design, test and iterate on their local nail salon approach to contraceptive dissemination. And it works:

For girls who visit one of the three Diva Centres, 82% got contraceptive services and 36% returned for another visit.

More about @IDEOorg Diva Sexual Health Program.

Design-O-Gram 5: Empower the user to engage. City of Boston’s CitizenConnect mobile application from New Urban Mechanics to report 311 issues + upload photos.

More on CitizenConnect’s mobile application.

Design-O-Gram 6: Create opportunities for people to connect and share. For a community of support professionals, the weekly challenge was to share a picture of your workspace.

Steal this idea: Support Driven Community’s weekly challenge.

Design-O-Gram 7: OG Ben Franklin’s guide to productivity. Note it’s about consistently doing the work, not magic.

Get your Ben Franklin on.

Design-O-Gram 8: Make complex concepts friendly + accessible. 1Password’s visual explanation of secret keys. Simple, non-threatening, kinda adorable.

Design-O-Gram 9: This exercise from @adamjk’s Pick Me Up makes big things granular. Frame it, tame it, mount em up.

If you were to divide your day into any kind of unit, what would it be? Buckets? Satchels? Glasses of water?

Get @adamjk’s Pick Me Up

Design-O-Gram 10: Subcommunities help your community scale. Smaller groups →stronger connections →engaged community. Take it from @xoxo’s smaller Slack meetups *before* the event to help a big crowd still feel intimate, even at a large conference.

Design-O-Gram 11: Visibility and value. Design work is often unseen, and the same is true with teaching. In this Ignite talk, Larissa Pahomov dropkicks the mental models we have about professionalism and value.

Watch Larissa Pahomov’s baller Ignite talk.

Design-O-Gram 12: The Perfect Assignment = make an artifact in your own style, share it with others. “Draw how the internet works” created by my colleague John Britton. The prompt has all the right fixins’ of a learning experience.

More about Universal Design for Learning.

Design-O-Gram 13: How to Do Referral Marketing Sweetly. At the end of the tour of Harpa Reykjavik (designed by Olafur Eliasson) the tour guide gives you a picture postcard to can send to anyone for free. You get bonus points by writing home (Hey Ma!) and Harpa gets imprinted in Ma’s mind as a cool vacation destination. Win-win and twee AF.

Design-O-Gram 14: Kathy Sierra’s dead simple lesson: don’t make a better camera, make a better photographer. Don’t sell the features (lens, settings), sell the kind of person your product will help the user become (a badass artist). Rinse, repeat.

Get this book now, read it once a year.

Design-O-Gram 15: Make your rewards examples of meaningful exclusivity. 
99% Invisible’s Insider Coins, a reference to Coin Check plays on a designed object (a membership coin) that represents a relationship (gratitude).

More about Insider Coins.

Design-O-Gram 16: Build it in increments. Elemental architecture group in Chile prevents slum growth with thoughtful “half-finished” housing units. They asked public housing recipients: would you prefer a hot water heater or a bathtub? There isn’t enough $$ for both. 100% said bath tub, “I can heat water on the stove, or add a heater later.” Owners can build upon with their own finishes, in their own time.

Find out about participatory design + architecture: Elemental.

Design-O-Gram 17: Message to your guests expectations of respect + consent. These sweet but stern photos posted to Facebook before a party to make the norms clear.

Design-O-Gram 18: Frame it as an invitation. “Share a reflection.” Krista Tippett + OnBeing’s website invites community members to “reflect” as opposed to “comment.”

What a difference one word makes. OnBeing’s website.

Design-O-Gram 19: Move people for free. We grind through a lot of overhead in public transit (tokens, cards, RFID tags) — what if that piece of the experience disappeared?

Slovakia is tinkering with a program that gives 46% of their population free transit.

Design-O- Gram 20: Tie an action directly to a goal. Altruism plays upon impact — we want our acts to go further. Gofundme tells you exactly what your impact will be.

Design-O-Gram 21: Be the Vanna White of your wares. Elise Gravel’s visual walkthroughs of her children’s books make you want them in your hands.

See Elise Gravel’s visual walkthroughs.

Design-O-Gram 22: Offer creative constraints. Grow a Game offers you a few prompts to creatively brainstorm *other* games to solve social justice issues.

Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies uses a similar mechanic.

Design-O-Gram 23: Take technical concepts offline. These community card scripts (I believe from Mozilla Foundation’s #mozfest) use technical statements to create recipes for community activities. The result: users get a blueprint for their communities, newbies understand computational thinking.

Design-O-Gram 24: Offer a menu of possibilities. This activity comes from an Education Design Lab activity at the White House in November 2014 for edtech folks to plan a pathway to impact. As product owner, you’re asked to select and audience, ingredients for impact and path to sustainability.

Design-O-Gram 25: Surprise and delight. I found this sneaky card in my jacket pocket last winter. While it was a little creepy that someone got that close to me without me noticing, I was totally delighted someone wanted to “Play it Forward.”

Design-O-Gram 26: Be consistent. Your message can be pretty “out there” but totally identifiable & meaningful as long as it’s clearly “you.”

More about the Toyenbee Tiles.

Design-O-Gram 27: What would someone looking at the page want to know? The Brooklyn Museum does everything right. When you’re looking at pieces in the museum, you can “Ask a Curator” questions about the piece.

More about the Brooklyn Museum’s genius.


Design-O-Gram 28: A spoonful of sugar

Present technical information sweetly. Bitsy the Bitcoin teaches the basics of blockchain for kids and curious adults. Available for Kindle (as ePub) or PDF.

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