Monday, October 28, 2013

Well, duh. Lessons from marketing & branding

As I was prepping my lesson for today, I realized that a PowerPoint presentation that I'd done a few years ago needed some work. Although my slides contained all of the necessary information, and didn't violate any major PowerPoint rules, there was no clear organizational structure that carried over from slide to slide.  Here's what I mean:

Slide 1

Slide 2
Both of these slides contained all of the information students needed in a reasonably organized format. But it occurred to me that it would be better if all of the slides had the same basic structure to help students organize the relevant information more easily. So I made a table for each sound, clearly identifying the relevant points about each sound in a way that was consistent across sounds. My slides contain all of the same information as the originals, but now it's much easier to quickly identify the relevant information about each sound.

Slide 1 with table
Slide 2 with table

Interestingly enough, today as I was circulating around the class helping students with homework, I noticed a lot of students had either pulled up this slide from my PowerPoint, or had printed it and had it out next to their computer. Partly this is because this is one of the newer concepts that we've studied, and they had to answer a question about when each sound was used.

/ɾ/ or /r/?
But then I realized that they also needed to answer a question about when each sound was used from the information on this slide, and I didn't see anyone with this slide pulled up or printed out. I would like to say that it's because this information is slightly older and they know it already, but I don't think that's the case (based on reviewing homework assignments).

/m/, /ɱ/, /n̪/, /n/, /ɳ/, /ɲ/ or /ŋ/?

Again, this slide is reasonably well-organized and easy to read. But which gives you a more efficient and accessible summary? The above slide, or the one below?

Same information, but in a table.
I mentioned branding & marketing in my title because over the last few years, my university has been proactively pursuing creating a unified brand. When I first heard about this, my reaction was less than favorable. I thought, 'We're a university, not a business! Why are we talking about branding and creating a cohesive, unified brand?' (Although I was excited about the resulting PowerPoint templates, to be sure. :) )

The short answer (and most likely dumbed down for academics who twitch and start to foam at the mouth when universities use corporate-speak) is that it makes it easy to identify something as pertaining to the university, and easier to find information. For example, prior to the development of a webpage template, all colleges and departments were free to develop their own webpages as they saw fit. That was a recipe for disaster, because there was no internal cohesion between pages on the university webpage, which made it incredibly difficult to navigate, and by extension, difficult for people to find information they were looking for. ('Here's your navigation bar over here! Oh, but on this page it's at the top of the page! And on that one it's in the right sidebar!') In addition, let's just say that some of the pages looked like a three-year-old designed them. In some cases, you wouldn't know that it was a university page unless you looked at the address, because there was no indication anywhere on the page itself that it was part of the university. Implementing a single template meant that the basic structure of each page is the same across colleges and departments, which makes it much easier to use (and also appears much more professional).

As I was thinking about my PowerPoint slides, I realized that branding principles can apply here, too. If there's consistency between slides in a single presentation, or better yet, between slides across presentations, it's much easier for students to find the information they're looking for, which reduces the amount of time they spending clicking through presentations trying to find the information they need. It seems blindingly obvious to me now that I think about it; hence the 'Well, duh' directed at myself in my post title. :)

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