Skillshare Class Behind the Scenes

This summer I was approached by Fifty Three and Skillshare about an opportunity to create a free course on data visualization using Paper (the app). If you aren't familiar with Skillshare, it is an online learning community for creators. They have a ton of great classes (some free, some available to paid members) on any topic you can think of, taught by experts in a field, with spaces for their community of students to post projects and share ideas. I had taken a few classes on Skillshare, and was thrilled to have an opportunity to develop a course in an area where Skillshare is trying to expand: creativity in business. 

A Few Thoughts on Creativity in Business

Creativity is becoming increasingly recognized as an essential part of any business, and not in a Don Draper genius type role. It is about much more than style and form, and is no longer the sole responsibility of a designer or creative director. Creativity in business today is about being incredibly resourceful and flexible in a fast changing environment, while maintaining focus on what really matters to the heart of a business. It is everyone's responsibility. 

Until recently, it has been difficult for anyone without extensive training and technical skills in a particular design software to call themselves creative. However, the competitive edge gained from these skills is decreasing. These days there are tons of easy to use apps everywhere you look that enable people to do pretty much anything at functional level. 

In my experience, the most significant barrier to creativity in business is culture. Particularly within large, risk averse companies it can be incredibly challenging to shift the organizational mindset to become more accepting of failure and more open to sweeping changes. Most large companies I have worked have small pockets that have thriving creative cultures, usually they exist within a new business segment or market offering that is forced to work within constraints like limited budget and resources. With the right leadership, these groups can become wildly successful and with enough time that culture will spread. 

Drawing Data: An Easy Place to Start

On Location at the Skillshare offices

On Location at the Skillshare offices

So, back to the Skillshare class. I hope to empower creativity in business at the ground level, by introducing individual students to the power of visual thinking. The course title is "Visual Thinking: Drawing Data to Communicate Ideas" and the class project is to visualize a commute or journey through a collection of hand drawn charts and diagrams. Many people are intimidated by drawing, and especially by sharing their drawings with others, however research proves that crude drawings are more effective than photographic images. I focused on drawing data in this class for a few reasons:

  • First, drawing data is an easy starting point to get people to use both their left (logical) and right (creative) brains to understand and solve problems.
  • Second, it's a lot easier to draw basic shapes that make up a simple chart than it is to draw portraits or other representational images.
  • Third, data visualization is now hugely popular for many reasons. However it can seem intimidating or inaccessible for those without large datasets and BI tools, and I want to prove that these things aren't necessary to tap into the power of visual thinking. 
  • Finally, drawing data reaches a broad audience. The ability to visualize relationships between a set of variables is a skill that can be applied to almost any field within any industry. 

Thanks to the help of a fantastic Skillshare content producer Alyssa, the course came together really well. I hope that after taking my class students feel empowered by visual thinking, and can easily find ways to apply it in their careers or school projects. I also hope that they have fun and come up with totally crazy ideas that they otherwise wouldn't be able to. 

What's Next? 

Anyone can take the class here-- if you aren't a premium skillshare member, this link also provides you with one month of a premium subscription (all of the classes you want!). After seeing how people respond, I'd love to develop additional courses that continue to enable people to be creative in business. A few ideas swirling around include how to draw wireframes, how to do sketchnotes, and visual protoytping. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this class and potential future courses.