Designing Digitally, Inc.
January 13, 2014 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Full-Service Provider of Interactive and Engaging E-Learning Programs
Designing Digitally, Inc.
Designing Digitally, Inc. is
an award-winning full-service provider of interactive and engaging
E-Learning programs, Serious Games, 3D Training Simulations, Virtual Worlds
and Web design services, Designing Digitally, Inc. is dedicated to
developing creative, end-to-end, training focused digital design solutions
for your company or organization. We work alongside your team to help
overhaul, develop, and/or improve all aspects of your training approaches
with appealing, professional, interactive designs. With over a decade of
experience creating engaging interactive solutions, we strive to provide
your business with a prosperous return on investment by producing high
quality interactive products while providing exceptional customer service.
When he’s not working at
Designing Digitally, Inc., Andrew can be found teaching in the Business and
Interactive Media departments at the University of Cincinnati and making the
most of his Master of Management in Information Technology degree. He has
been privileged with the opportunity to continue working with some of his
former students as they have pursued positions at Designing Digitally, Inc.
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – January 13, 2014
CEOCFO: Mr. Hughes, what was the concept when you started Designing Digitally and where are you today?
Mr. Hughes: After undergraduate school, I worked for eLearning companies developing custom learning for large organizations. We were doing projects with General Electric and large power companies doing eLearning development in a presentation style, much like what you would see with the traditional online learning experiences. I just grew frustrated as one of the ground level developers of these learning experiences and it became a culture, almost like a factory, of cranking these out and just getting them out the door rather than just focusing on the retention of learning where the return on investment really is. After working at multiple eLearning companies I decided that I would want to try this on my own and just focus on the retention of learning rather than focusing on just getting it out and in their faces. I started as a freelancer, just myself, and we have grown in to 10 full time employees and 5 contract employees.
CEOCFO: What do you understand about the eLearning process that perhaps others do not?
Mr. Hughes: Here is the first thing; we all know the phrase “you have to spend money to make money.” Unfortunately, there are many times where the learning experience might be developed by one individual, both from the storyboarding phase up until all the way to the development. That might be an in-house instructional designer or a single developer, which can be very good in certain situations. I do want to express that I’ve seen very good outputs from individual people. However, there is a completely different caliber of learning experiences that can be created with an in house team that has an art director, director of game mechanics, multiple instructional designers, and graphic artists working together to provide an experience that really molds the learning into a gaming experience and not just Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune. Those have been done to death.
CEOCFO: Would you give us a concrete example of how you work with a company and what you are able to achieve?
Mr. Hughes: The first thing that we do is a needs analysis. We will either consult with the company to do a needs analysis and what we do is we determine technology restrictions, audience analysis, and determine learning gaps in existing training practices. Many organizations do not look to find out what their pain points are exactly, they just recognize there is a need for training.
A great example of this is that we are working with a Fortune 500 companyand one of the issues they were experiencing is their sales people lacking cross sellingof items as package deals. If they sold a product to one business, they would need to sell a service package, warranty, insurance, and potentially technical supportto aid in the entire infrastructure package for them to be able to run their business.Our role was to do needs analysis and really dive into the client’s processes and learn their sales techniques inside and out. When we were working with the organization, we requested points of contact and they replied “well, we can get you meetings with the sales managers and the director ofsales” and we kindly let them know they are not the target audience of this learning experience. Rather than interviewing the sales managers, and the director of sales, we interview the telesales people one on one to ensure we learn the pain points from the front lines.
During our needs analysis we look for the skills gap and give the employees the ability to answer some honest questions. What are hurdles that prevent you from closing sales, and how does management support your job efforts?These are just a small piece of that needs analysis but you can see how this research can provide a prospective that could not be seen internally.
CEOCFO: How do you create an exceptional learning experience?
Mr. Hughes: Here is a good example: We work with a large company, it is a manufacturer of computers and what they have done for years is make presentation style eLearning and delivered it to their staff of 400,000 employees. The problem with that is that their technicians and sales people do not really retain that knowledge and it was apparent that traditional learning experiences are providing lower and lower rates of knowledge retention.
Rather than approach it with the presentation style of training, Designing Digitally, Inc. created a custom massive multiple online experience where you go in to the computer, much like the Tron movie experience, and you are learning about the actual systems while playing a video game with and/or against your coworkers. You go on quests and solve problems on a conceptual level about servers that mimic issues technicians have when installing the servers.
CEOCFO: How do you reach potential clients?
Mr. Hughes: Much of our business has come from word of mouth, we ensure that clients get a positive return on their investment and when you do this word travel fast. We also do trade shows and all of the major e-learning/training conferences. Our focus is to help companies and government agencies educate, engage, and entertain their learners so that the content that is provided sticks.
CEOCFO: Designing Digitally, Inc. has received industry recognition for what you are doing;what is most meaningful for you?
Mr. Hughes: The thing that I get asked quite often is “Why are you in Ohio”? The answer to that is that Ohio has a lot of talent when it comes to interactive media and learning. We have found some very talented people out of the Universities and the private colleges here in the State of Ohio that has allowed us to put a team together of all stars. What is important to us is that we are ultimately providing return on investment on the work we create.
We are providing a perspective of learning that is innovative, retained, and is funfor the learners. We accomplish this by working hand in hand with the organization and even with their training departments. The reason why large companies hire us is because of our creativity and our ability to stand out in developing custom innovative learning experiences.
CEOCFO: How is business now?
Mr. Hughes: Business is great. We have grown every year since we have been in business and continue to grow even despite the economy. We have grown tremendously year after year and we have been able to learn how to control that growth so that we do not hurt ourselves from growing pains.
The way that we do it with our company is democracy. Before we even say we have the need to hire this individual, the entire team votes on what they feel the company needs in regards to personnel.There are times when I come up with an idea and even as the President; I get trumped by the voting system. Ultimately the employees at Designing Digitally, Inc. are looking out for the best interest in the organization so I ultimately agree with the decisions that are made.
CEOCFO: Was that always how you ran the company or was that something you came to as time went on?
Mr. Hughes: As time when on I learned how to let go of control and put the control in the hands of the employees. When I first started I was a freelancer and everything was funneled through me. I would be the developer, project manager, designer, art director and maybe one or two other people work with me on a project. Now that we are bigger than that I wear multiple hats but my focus has been on empowering my employees and using my leadership to drive pride into their work by ensuring creativity and fun at work. The nerf wars in the office help keep that competitive spirit and fun going throughout the day. Once I let go we saw tremendous improvement in productivity and accountability in our employees.
CEOCFO: Our readers are primarily in the business and investment community. Why should they take notice of Designing Digitally?
Mr. Hughes: I can tell you that we have won the Brandon Hall Award which is one of the most prestigious awards in the eLearning industry. We were named in the Top 10 eLearning companiesby elearningindustry.com. We are a company that has grown with no investments and no venture capitalists. We have runa cash based profitable business and been able to grow year after year and sustain that growth. That is pretty amazing considering where we came from and where we are today.
CEOCFO: What did you learn in your early entrepreneurial experiences?
No matter how much you grow, always remember where you came
from. There might be companies years ago that you were not charging an
extremely competitive rate for. Take into consideration that you need to
make sure that the existing clients that you have are the ones that you
retain and you give them respect and you do not outgrow them. The reason why
is that a happy client will tell one other person how great you are, and an
unhappy client will tell 10 people how unhappy they are, so make sure that
every single client, even if it was a good or bad experience for the
organization, walks out with a smile on their face and you have done
everything possible to make that happen. Always remember where you came
from, not where you are going and always make sure that you put the
empowerment in to the employees’ hands.
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