The Weekly Course

Recap and Lessons Learned of Design Courses With Empathy

This was the least popular email course so far... with the best lessons learned.
Ramses Oudt 5 min read
Recap and Lessons Learned of Design Courses With Empathy

Hey friend,

How was this week's email course for you? To be honest, I'm glad it's over.

Of all three courses I’ve sent so far, this one got the least comments (none), the least email replies (two), and the lowest open rate (35% average).

So why these down numbers? It could be anything, from simple fatigue reading my long-ass emails to how I write them to this week's topic not being your jam.

But it’s not all bad news, as I’ve learned a ton by publishing these five pieces. Hopefully, this experience will help improve the experience for both you and me.

Here’s an overview of what’s in this roundup newsletter:

  • A (quick) overview of this week’s lessons.
  • My lessons learned and plans forward.
  • Subscriber count and opening rates.
  • The topic of next week’s course.

Let’s start with a course summary:

Recap of the empathy map

As this week’s topic was one single Design Thinking exercise, I’m not going to break down each lesson into different sections. Instead, I’ll give you a one-sentence summary and a link to each complete lesson:

In Tuesday’s lesson, we made a start describing our audience (persona) and their goals in detail, all based on our Sales Safari research.

In Wednesday’s lesson, we described our persona’s environment based on what we see them say in online communities.

In Thursday’s lesson, we organized our research into what our persona is saying (and not saying) and who influences them most.

In Friday’s lesson, we combined our research about the outer world of our persona to journal about their inner world.

Here’s the whole empathy map again for reference:

Empathy Map Canvas by Dave Gray (Gamestorming)

My lessons learned

Please allow me ~300 words to ramble about what I learned this week.

I got the idea to write about empathy mapping while reading my notes on How People Learn (by Nick Shackleton-Jones). In it, there’s the “think, feel, do” exercise that’s derived from empathy mapping.

I’ve done the simple version of the exercise dozens of times, including with clients. But as I needed to fill up the lessons for the week, I thought of going with the (expanded) source version of the exercise.

The thing is, I’ve worked with this large version of an empathy map. That means I was learning about it as I was writing the series.

Big mistake.

While I’m a fan of teaching what I’ve just learned, it didn’t turn out well this time. I stepped into a common trap of not testing the idea enough and regretted it by Tuesday.

But here’s the flip side of publishing an (email) course: once you’ve started, you must finish.

That’s why I will now stick to topics I know better (but still within our skills for content creators). And when I talk about something new, I’ll ensure I’ve spent time studying and experimenting with it.

Another change I’m making is to move the key takeaways to the top and cut the word count of each lesson in half.

So far, my emails have been hovering between 900 and 1,200 words. But I aim to make them much punchier and limit myself to 500 words. That will be a challenge, but I think people tune out when seeing a long email daily.

How will I achieve this cut? Because I'll move the takeaways to the top of each email, I can eliminate the recap at the end (short lessons don't need one anyway). Second, I'll be much stricter on myself and limit myself to one idea per email.

If I slip, please don’t hold any punches and let me know in the comments or via a direct reply.

Speaking of punches, let’s look at some data:

Subscriber count and opening rates

When I rebooted this blog, I combined my old email lists. Together, they made up 4,667 unique email addresses.

In the first mailing, I got to delete over 300 inactive addresses. Another 400 people unsubscribed. Auch, down to less than 4,000…

As I write this, the subscriber count hovers just above 3,000. That means over 1/3 have left since starting! And yes, that does sting a bit.

Of course, I hadn’t emailed you in at least two years. Some of you hadn’t even heard from me in over four years. But the topics I write about are still essentially the same. So, I suspect it has to do with the fact that I’m sending more words more often.

Here’s a screenshot from Mailgun showing the downtrend:

Mailgun stats for past 4 weeks

Here are the open rates from the emails this week (down 10% on average compared to next week, which was just below 50%):

Ghost stats for week 3 of 2024

One upside is that unsubscribe rates are slowing down. Now about 20-25 people unsubscribe daily, with only 1-2 new subscribers to make up for it. But that’s down from hundreds of unsubscribes per email just weeks ago.

Still, this is not sustainable long-term. So let’s hope I find a way to engage you and reverse the trend before I run out of an audience 😉

What we’ll learn next week

To stop hemorrhaging subscribers, I will write about something I know many of you like. It’s also something I’ve lived for half a decade now: building a second brain.

Or better said, we’ll look at the CODE framework I learned from my mentor Tiago Forte and how I use it day-to-day.

I’ll show you how I’ve researched, ideated, and created this month’s email courses, making everything I taught so far come together in one week-long demo (at ~500 words per day, I promise). That means less theory and more behind-the-scenes of how I produce content.

If you’ve been trying to implement the CODE framework but haven’t been successful (yet), I’d love to hear from you. What concepts don’t you understand, and at what stage do you get stuck (meaning you never complete the Express step)?

Please drop a comment or hit reply, and let me know how I can best help you.

Have a wonderful weekend, and I hope to read from you!


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