Stop taking yourself so seriously and build things differently
Plan Your Next #116
👋 Good morning from Los Angeles! I'm Nate Kadlac, and this is #116 of Plan Your Next. A Sunday newsletter that connects design, creativity, and how you prepare for your next thing.
💡 What’s new?
⭐️ Website updates: I made a couple of brand and navigation updates to Approachable Design, which better reveals what I offer—including design consulting. None of these were accessible without a direct link. An embarrassing rookie move, but I’m most proud of the happy customer’s page.
⭐️ Purchased a new domain for the 80/20 Design Challenge that forwards to the hosted version. It’s easier to share this than the full URL. (If you’re enrolled, here’s a screenshot of upcoming lessons.)
⭐️ Salman and I have begun structuring and filming our Drawing for Writers course. It’s been wildly motivating to define our audience early on, and see how it has shaped our curriculum decisions. More to come!
Quick extended sponsor note: This is my first sponsored post! 🙌 I also care a lot about knives since my first job after high school was a summer selling knives door to door.
🔪 My buddy Joseph is building a knife sharpening subscription business that also aims to support school lunches.
Face it, your kitchen knives are dull but they don’t have to be. Return life and joy to your kitchen. Have your knives serviced by mail. Happy cooking. (Save $10 using code ‘PYN’)
Stop taking yourself so seriously and build things differently
If you’re at all like me, you’ve taken your share of online courses, attended webinars, or learned a new skill by watching sequentially placed videos from top to bottom at your own pace.
The software platforms where these streamed ideas live are sterile. A lifeless piece of software that depends on your ideas to breathe life into it.
Learning should be entertaining, but most of the time it’s packaged up in the same way with a different face stuck to the front. One size fits all.
To create a course these days, all you need is a talking head, a camera, and a new “creator economy” piece of software to host your dozen videos in the cloud. You’ll be charged $99/mo so you will have to charge more than your course is worth just to make a profit on the creator economy tax.
No wonder why there’s so much noise surrounding the idea that everyone and their grandma has a course these days.
But I believe there is a more interesting way.
The value of entertainment
Most creators are not natural teachers. And their ideas are inherently not fun. Like with anything, teaching takes practice. To me, listening to most designers talk about their craft is like rubbing my ears against sandpaper.
How is it possible to suck the fun out of something so creative? We take ourselves so seriously it’s no wonder our partners would rather us talk about anything than the seriousness of design.
I one-hundred percent used to view my craft this way. We’re groomed to leave the fun at the door because only serious designers do the real lifting. The only ones having real fun are the ones using MS Paint.
Serious blog posts about serious things like whether or not designers should use an 8pt grid, how maybe Comic Sans isn’t a shit font because it’s misunderstood (it isn’t), or why minimalism is boring. (Guilty of that one)
I get caught up in my own bullshit every now and then too. It takes sincere effort to live comfortably in your own skin and poke fun at your own life choices, especially after you have built a career by sinking 10,000+ hours into taking it seriously. It’s probably why I love the idea that comedians can simultaneously improve their craft just by being better at poking fun at themselves.
Comedian Whitney Cummings was once asked if you can learn to be funny. She replied, “Of course, you can! You just have to be willing to pause and point out the silliness of the world.”
Learning environments matter
Building a video-based course that takes almost no effort is admittedly seductive. It’s one thing to point your DLSR camera with a prime 1.8f lens that produces a fat bokeh back at you and your brightly lit room. It’s another to actually create something people enjoy watching, where a 20-minute video feels more like ten instead of 40.
What if your next course was delivered without logins, without URLs, and without the sterile environment we’ve become accustomed to?
Last year, I met Will Steiner who has been building email-based courses for a while. His main course, Big Later, costs $5, and teaches you the 101 of investing. It’s all delivered to you over email, and it’s funny as hell.
He launched a course aptly named Email Based Course that teaches how to build just that—an email-based course. I purchased it because of the natural format that email gives us. I’m tired of logging into Teachable, Podia, Kajabi, and all of these other heavyweight platforms to learn as a lightweight. Why do you think Duolingo does so well?
I was drawn to it because of the environment it creates around learning. This is why YouTube is such an effortless way to learn, but its environment is designed to get you to click the sidebar and continue down the rabbit holes, leaving you more distracted than you should be.
Legendary copywriter Joseph Sugarman said creating a natural buying environment for your customers is important. Setting up an environment for buying tells your customers they’re in the right place. Imagine wanting to buy a brand new car and having to go to the car salesman’s house. It would be utterly creepy, and the buying environment wouldn’t work. A car showroom is designed for those who need a bit of nudging into a purchase they have already committed to.
I believe the same goes for creating great product experiences. If you desire to create a lightweight and comedic experience, it’s difficult to create that environment on platforms where you need to remember your login and username, clicking through videos with some text beneath it trying to describe their context.
If you want to hear a comedian perform, you’re going to have the best experience when there’s nothing between you and the jokes, which happens to be a chair and a microphone.
This might sound trivial, but these platforms usually mimic a traditional classroom, sucking all the life out of your brand experience.
These are serious platforms for serious ideas that don’t allow for serendipity or fun to happen between you and the content. It’s not their fault, but it’s just the way it’s built.
How to build a course differently
There’s a saying in design that the best-designed interface is when there’s no interface at all. It’s loosely thrown around as if that’s the answer to everything, but there’s some truth to it.
Instead of building a course dependent on an interface, what if you used an email environment to learn? Email is portable, effortless, and can be organized depending on how you use it. Your ability to search for old emails is easy, and it’s also easy to categorize topics into folders or labels if you want.
Sam and Sara Parr did this recently with CopyThat.com, an email course to teach you copywriting skills over email. I was inspired by his approach to learning, which was simply an email with a lesson, and a marked-up PDF to download. It gave me the idea of challenging someone to implement the lessons immediately.
Will gave me a path to approaching a course that can be traditionally boring, like investing or design, with humor.
So I gave myself some constraints using the 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the Pareto Principle. Like my live workshop that aims to condense 5+ years of learnings into 2-days, what might an email course look like with just the creme de la creme of design—the 80/20—sent to you by email?
With that in mind, I set out to design some constraints, like a tweet.
20 emails over 20 days. No weekends. No logins.
Each email is < 600 words
Each email includes a quick edited < 20-minute loom video
Challenge the reader to complete a design exercise
Must be funny/entertaining (I don’t consider myself naturally funny, so this is a forcing function to listen to Whitney Cummings’ advice.)
Outside of a few examples, I listed above, most “Email courses” are just marketing drip campaigns. These have a completely different approach. While they have similar characteristics, this is a fundamentally new learning approach that gives the reader flexibility in how they want to learn.
Just yesterday, I had a friend text me how he’s organizing my email course using folders:
I can definitely get behind this format of learning, and I hope to do more of these in the future.
And since none of these lessons are tied directly to a platform, they’re timeless lessons living right in your inbox.
⚡️ Three creative hits for you to check out next
👨💻 The beauty you see on TV: Portfolio of motion designer Filipe Carvalho
When you remember that everything has been designed, it’s beautiful to see so much compelling work designed by one person. h/t @round
🗺 The original diagram of Inception by Christopher Nolan
This was found in the book, The Nolan Variations. h/t Julian Shapiro
👋 See you next Sunday
My calendar is open to chat about your next adventure, crazy idea, or if you’re feeling creatively stuck.
My goal is to level up the visual vocabulary in the world through writing, teaching, and design. If you want to support my journey, the best ways are to:
Sign up for the 80/20 design challenge
Become a sponsor of this newsletter (Starting at $50—Please reach out)
Discover your own unique style by joining my live workshop
Have a great week,
p.s. Words are just words, but if these words made you feel something, would you let me know by tapping on the heart below?