How to Design for Action: An instructional design ebook for anyone who needs to teach

How to Design for Action

Nancy Bacon ( and I are both passionate about instructional design, especially as it applies to the nonprofit and public sectors. We’re recently collaborated on a free ebook, How to Design for Action, that shares our unique iterative process and how you can develop your own action-focused curriculum.

You can download your copy of How to Design for Action on the Aim for Action website. It’s a hands-on tool, with clear explanations of the process, Nancy’s thoughtful worksheets and exercises, and my original illustrations and design.

Making nonprofit workplaces safe

I love it when a big project can be distilled into a simple message. A recent project funded by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries Safety & Health Investment Projects (“SHIP”) was one of those.

SHIP funds ideas to reduce workplace injuries. Nonprofits are workplaces, too, but sometimes, they get wrapped up in their mission and forget about safety. Working with Nancy Bacon of Washington Nonprofits, I designed a guide to Safety & Health in Nonprofits. It includes a booklet, sample documents, useful tools, videos, and an interactive graphic. It’s all available for free on a page on the Washington Nonprofit Institute.

All the materials were published, but there was one final task: How do you get busy members of the nonprofit sector to look at it?

My answer was: Humor.

Unlike some training materials that use macabre humor to highlight life-threatening issues (I have never recovered from watching the Klaus the Forklift Operator videos), I used characters from the design with simple speech balloons. It was just silly enough to post on my bulletin board, and I am certain others will do the same.

Special logos for special siblings

Over 20 years ago, an online community was launched to support adult siblings of people with disabilities. It began as a ListServ, moved to Yahoo!, then to Facebook. For those like myself who grew up with a special-needs sibling, SibNet is a source of support, understanding, and inspiration. It has inspired other groups, too, for teen siblings, 20-something siblings, and grandparents of special-needs individuals.

Don Meyer oversees all of these groups as part of his work directing the Sibling Support Project. He recently asked me to create logos for the four different online communities. The challenge was to make them distinctive from each other, but still clearly part of the same overall group.


I have always loved the “bouncing ball” in Don’s Sibshops logo, so I used that and the  color scheme from the Sibling Support Project to align the branding of the four communities. I used typography to give each one a different flavor that’s in keeping with the demographic it serves.


The Central Washington Conference for the Greater Good was great!

In 2018, I designed a logo for the Central Washington Conference for the Greater Good, which is held in Yakima, Washington every spring. I used images from the Yakima Canyon to inspire the design.

In 2019, I continued the Yakima Canyon theme in the conference program, shown below. The very recognizable mountains and river reflect local pride in this valuable event.

After the conference, I drove the 25-mile route of Highway 821 through the canyon, taking my own photos of the breathtaking scenery. I’m fairly certain those photos will inspire the look of next year’s conference program.

Yakima Canyon after the conference

Margaret Meps Schulte graduates from CO.STARTERS

Thanks to a partnership between the Tampa Bay Innovation Center and Creative Pinellas, Margaret Meps Schulte, founder of 3 Choices Creative Communications recently became a graduate of the CO.STARTERS program.

The course provided nine weeks of training and support, which I used to refine the business plan for 3 Choices Creative Communications in the Tampa Bay area. Facilitated by Chris Paradies, the cohort involved a lot of discussion and brainstorming about the wide variety of entrepreneurial ideas that participants brought to the class.

Here’s my graduation presentation, which gives a great overview of what 3 Choices Creative Communications offers.

3 Choices launches responsive conference websites

At the end of 2018, the staff of Washington Nonprofits asked 3 Choices to redesign their conference websites. Both sites needed a more dynamic, fully responsive WordPress theme, so users could read the information on all sizes of phones, tablets, and computers.

To create a conference website, you have to sort through through hundreds of images from past conferences to get a feel for the event. That allows you to find just the right visual messages and to write compelling copy. The result is a website that “takes you there,” so users can envision themselves attending.

What a redesign can do for your website traffic

A few years ago, 3 Choices was involved with the launch of the Washington Nonprofit Institute website. The site provides materials for 24/7 learning to members of the nonprofit sector across the state of Washington. At the time, we created icons, images, and content, and then a developer published it using a stock WordPress theme intended for nonprofit causes.

As the staff of Washington Nonprofits added content, they quickly outgrew the nonprofit theme. It was intended to look pretty and raise funds, not deliver hundreds of pieces of multimedia content. Without a strong taxonomy and multi-level menus, users couldn’t find what they needed.

I proposed that we redesign the site with a different WordPress theme, one that would use the dynamic power of the database to deliver content. The theme I suggested was MH Magazine, the same news magazine theme we used for the Washington Nonprofits website.

Without having to write any custom code, we were able to reorganize all the content using tags and categories. Combined with a more robust search engine and a lot more menu options, it allows users to find what they’re looking for, fast, and then see what else is available that’s related to it.

The results have been striking. The number of pages per visit has literally doubled in two months! The content was always there, but users were not able to find it. Now they go from one piece of content to the next…to the next…to the next…an average of six times.

Liquor, Cannabis, Gambling…and your fundraising event

Your event planning committee is sitting around, trying to come up with  ideas. There’s a long discussion about where to get donated wine. Then you talk about who will tend the bar. Someone suggests adding a raffle.

It sounds like a lot of good ideas, but some of them might not be legal! “Liquor, Cannabis, Gambling… and Your Fundraising Event” is a course that I helped Washington Nonprofits produce. It helps nonprofits understand the complex laws around liquor, cannabis, and gambling to stay legal at their fundraising events.

My favorite part of the project was the high-energy video we collaborated on, complete with bloopers at the end.

You can download the PDF guide from the Washington Nonprofit Institute.

10 tips for creating professional videos with your smartphone

Watch lots of videos and make notes of the things you like.

Is your organization using video to get attention? Does you have a video strategy in place? If not, it’s time to integrate video into your communications plan.

Most of you already have the most important piece of equipment to do so: The video camera on your smartphone. Following are a few tips for using the device you already have to create quality videos to impress clients, donors, and your community.

  1. Watch other people’s videos and take notes about what you like and don’t like about them. How long are they? How do they capture your attention? How do they keep your attention? What kind of soundtrack do they have? Do they include graphics or animation?
  2. Working from your notes, sit down and write a script for your video. That way, you’ll be sure to cover all your points without forgetting something crucial.
  3. Whether you or someone else is doing the talking on-camera, the speaker needs to practice and memorize the script. Don’t read from a piece of paper in the video.
  4. Hand-held video can be wobbly, which is distracting and looks amateurish. Get an inexpensive tripod or, at the very least, prop your phone on something that doesn’t move.
  5. Make sure the subject is well-lit, preferably with natural lighting, because office fluorescents can make them look green. The easiest way is to position the subject with a window in front or to the side, and just out of the frame. Beware of backlighting — don’t seat your subject in front of a window or desk lamp.
  6. Think about what you want in the background. It doesn’t have to be a blank wall, but be aware that viewers are paying attention to the background, so use it carefully and effectively.

    Cartoon of woman standing in front of bathroom
    Be careful of unwanted items in your video background.
  7. Use an off-camera microphone. There are lots of choices on the market, ranging from simple ones that clip to the phone, lavaliers that clip to the person, or studio mics that sit on the desk. Like tripods, they’re extremely useful and not too expensive.
  8. Be sure your microphone is not picking up a lot of background noise. Even if the setting is fairly quiet, you can be surprised by a leaf blower or sudden fire truck outside. If that happens, take a deep breath and try again — see #9.
  9. Re-record until you get it right. Think of Hollywood, where directors make dozens of “takes” to get a few seconds of the movie the way they want it. You don’t have to use the first take, either. Enjoy the process, and think of the humorous bloopers you could create!
  10. Hire a video producer like 3 Choices Creative Communications to add professional touches, like an animated intro and outro with your logo and tagline, titles, and background music. For examples of our work, take a look at the Aim for Action video.  Mention this blog post for a 15% discount on your first project.

    cartoon of video title
    Hire a video producer to create professional titles and intros.