I don’t normally write about my career for two reasons: 1) It’s easier to entertain you with stories about my husband and kids since they provide me with so much more material and 2) I’m worried if I grant you access to the frightening world of corporate training, you’ll never come back again.  So, although a risky move on my part, today I couldn’t resist the urge to write about my job because I feel passionate about it lately – even if the particulars of my work are mundane to anyone but a true Training/Teaching Geek.

As an Instructional Designer (ID) I’m very passionate about the quality of the materials I produce.  I’m particularly obsessed with ease of use when it comes to designing for adults.   Why is usefulness so important, you ask?  Indulge me for a moment, please…

(Cue dreamy, wavy lines and flashback music)

You’ve just attended a great training class for your job.  During the class you received a snazzy binder or workbook and at the end, your instructor passed out more goodies - ”tools” to remind you of the lessons learned in training, as they support your newly enhanced performance back on the job.  These tools were in the form of a mouse pad outlining the steps of a crucial process, a wallet-sized quick reference card with important phone numbers on it, a 15-page stapled quick reference document, and a glossy tri-fold brochure which you know must’ve cost a fortune to print. 

Sound familiar?   So, tell me, which of these items did you actually end up using on the job? 

The harsh truth is, inspiration dries up quickly, changed outlooks don’t always equal changed behaviors and all of those tools I mentioned above, probably either ended up in a trash can, a recycle bin, or a desk drawer.  That’s because grown ups are super picky.  We have to be.  Our lives are too complicated to agonize over everything we need to do.  We really only have the time and energy to embrace whatever tool gives us the quickest, easiest way to get from A to B.  As IDs, it’s our job to know this about human nature, and allow this knowledge to inform our design process. 

But too often we don’t and this brings me to my point.  I’m always surprised at what other IDs consider to be a “job aid”.  My colleagues, knowing my penchant for every detail of my designs, have taken to previewing their work to me to get my opinion and make changes before the boss catches these flaws.  Inevitably, I’ve found my biggest critique of other people’s work is that they’re bombarding the learner with too much information.  

“Shouldn’t my the learner have all of the information from the program at their finger tips?”, they ask expectantly.

“No. They should have only the most critical information at their finger tips.  If they want the rest of it, that’s what the workbook/participant manual is for.”

As if this response isn’t obnoxious enough, then I really pursue full-on a**hole status by sharing with them my definition of an effective job aid: 

“A job aid is any quick reference tool which succinctly captures essential information needed for a specific system, process, policy or procedure in an easy to read format.” 

Just when they’re reluctantly nodding in agreement, I continue with my description of a what typical job aid should look like:

“A quick-reference job aid should be no larger than a double-sided 8.5 x 11″ sheet of paper, and no smaller than a 4″ x 6″ sheet of paper, color-printed on card stock and laminated for durability.  If multiple job aids are required for a training program, each one should be printed on a different colored card stock (i.e., color-coded) for ease of use.”

Then I throw in:

“For the record, a job aid is NOT any of these things: 

  • A multi-page stapled document that requires the user to read extensively

(People don’t want to play “Where’s Waldo” to find important information when a customer or colleague is screaming at them on the other end of the phone)

  • A double-sided 11 x 14″ anything

(In a cubicle that’s 3′ x 5′, an 11″ x 14″ sheet of paper looks like floor to ceiling wallpaper)

  • A mouse pad

(Do people still use mouse pads in the age of optical mice?  I don’t think so.)

  • A single-sided document of any size with text so tiny an ant would have to squint to read it

(Just because you can make it all fit on one page doesn’t mean you should)

Then I summarize with:

“If the take-away tools for your learners can’t fit it into a standard desk drawer, if they require more than one thumb tack to hang on a cubicle wall, or if they require longer than 60 seconds of scanning to locate vital information, then it’s not a job aid – it’s a job impediment.”


Usually people are surprised to see so much passion expressed for something so mundane.  As much as I joke about the monotony of work or slogging through my day, the truth is that I enjoy the challenges and I really appreciate the opportunity to make someones life a little easier – as corny as that sounds.  

Besides, life is short.  I think we should all be passionate about something other than our real jobs as moms & dads.  Staying engaged – passionately engaged – is just a good way to ensure some balance in a life that tends to swing in rhythm to our children’s ever-changing needs, as our own needs get tossed aside.   There’s no shame in admitting that it feels good to rise to the challenge of nurturing your creative interests while you nurture a family.  The shame lies in denying your inner designer the chance to break free – even if it is just a job aid.

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