Directing Creativity In eLearning: An Interview With Kristian Terry

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Who is Kristian Terry?

As Kristian and I are about to begin our interview, we soon find a lot of common ground. Not the least of which is the TV show Mad Men, which paints a picture of an office where creative minds try to find footing in the real business world. The fourth season opens on a reporter asking the main character: “Who is Don Draper?,” a question that might not get a comprehensive answer quickly, or at all. For those who want to know, their best bet is to focus on the man’s work, and the relationships he builds with his teammates over time.

Understanding the job of the Creative Director for a global eLearning company may take you down a similar route. In a world built on compliance and strict budgeting, Kristian’s role is to not just keep creative vision alive, but thriving and soaking into as many spaces as possible. It’s probably here where his similarities with the Madison Ave. guys end. Despite the title, Kristian thinks of himself as an introvert, who sees his main job as a “parrot” of everyone’s ideas.

But despite his aversion for the spotlight —or because of it— Kristian offers a refreshing and encompassing view of his role, where the critical task of articulating a single vision is the result of vigorous team debate and collaboration, and with each new voice enriching it.

Kristian and I spoke online about his colorful background, his approach to creativity at work, and his thoughts on what eLearning can be for people and companies globally.


Tell me a bit about yourself and your background before joining eCreators and Open LMS.

I was always interested in art. Most of my subjects at school were on art and design. But later on I did IT, and that’s where I fell in love with design on computers. I would stay up late playing around on things like Photoshop 5 and Corel Draw. I had all the programs, I liked exploring and pushing the boundaries of what you could do with it. To this day I still like to take software to the limit and try to break it, installing lots of plugins and setting up lots of automations. People are usually surprised about the things we’re able to do with our Adobe or Captivate.

Immediately after school I studied graphic design, typography to be specific. But then I started working on engineering drawing on computers, using software like CAD, 3DS Max, and Rhino. That type of drawing was very methodical and clean. I really enjoyed it.

Then I moved to Canberra to work for a military engineering firm. I didn’t realize how much that would excite me. I became fascinated with structures like oil rigs and ships. There were about twenty of us designing concepts. This is where I really fell in love with 3D sketching.

I took a nomadic year working around Europe, just me and my laptop. But then I decided to settle. I returned to Melbourne, where I met Scott (Thompson) and we started to work on the design of apps, video games, and “serious games.” We built a mining simulator, and other things that still involved engineering, this time with virtual and augmented reality. I started to get excited about “future tech,” all while the company was pivoting into kid’s games.

Something I’ve done all my life is drawing, doing doodles, and cartoons. The games for kids we placed on the app stores would have these forms of drawing. It was a funny merge of different jobs and skills.

Let me stop you for a second. Are you some kind of genius? How are you able to succeed in so many different areas?

(Laughs.) I feel the opposite of a genius. I feel like an impostor a lot of the time, but as I speak often with the team I realize we all have these feelings.

I consider myself lazy. I always try to find ways to make my life and everyone else’s easier, and always try to speed up a workflow.

From the ‘Local League’ to Open LMS and LTG—the ‘Champions

How did your incursion in eLearning start?

I kind of fell into eLearning. My first job here was doing very specific character animations, things like hand and lip movement. I remember being short-staffed and our company wasn’t doing any sales or marketing. One thing about me is that I say yes to everything. So I would join meetings with clients, I would also help with the digital marketing and creating social media posts. Literally everything that would help make money for the company, I would do it.

I ended up overseeing a design and development team. My way into instructional design started when we hired Wendy. (Wendy Johns is Art Director at Open LMS.) I started to think about ways to involve future tech as well as video game animation and film, and try putting all that into eLearning. Looking at the competition at the time I didn’t see anything that would catch my attention. I kept thinking about all the missed opportunities. One of the first things I realized about eLearning is that you can harness things from technology and design and put them to work into something more fundamental: Teaching someone something.

I joined eCreators and I bought into Sally and Dean’s vision. (Sally Matheson and Dean Saunders are the founders of eCreators, currently Head of Operations and VP of Product Development at Open LMS following the acquisition.) I felt ready to help whenever they needed me, in any area. I didn’t really know what I was good at, I just wanted to help out. I was also lucky to work with Scott and Wendy again.

What is the work like in Open LMS’ Australia?

We have our core team in Melbourne, focused on design and development. That’s anything related to instructional design and building courses. But I also oversee design work made by teams in places like Colombia, where the team is expanding. This includes web design, user interface and experience (UI\UX). We’ve managed to keep our team intact even after the merger, and with the LTG companies I only see more opportunity. I meet new people all the time and I think, “Wow, where’s this person been hiding all this time?

I love working with like-minded people and their phenomenal creativity. I want our team to always be designing amazing things, really pushing the boundaries of what people are expecting. Or better yet, designing what’s unexpected. We have an office in the city with over 30 people. But now everyone’s working remotely. We do catch up face-to-face once every two weeks or so.

Clients would tell us, “Hey, this is a bit too crazy, maybe calm down a bit.” Which is always a good position to be. We’d never want them to be like, “This is a bit boring.”

Directing Creativity

How do you direct creativity?

When I think about it, most of my job consists of asking, “What’s the creative vision?” I know I have something in my head. But I know Wendy’s got something on her head, and so do Scott, Cheryll, and everyone else. So we talk about it, as a team. More often than not we actually agree on the one vision. The team really does it themselves. I am just a parrot of information.

I do want us to always be creative and always try to push. I don’t want us to be reactive. We don’t want to build the eLearning experience everyone is already doing. I think the team has always agreed on that.

How can companies take better advantage of people’s creativity?

I certainly want to look into all aspects of business. From the way we do finance sheets, and figuring out ways to present information better; to statements or purchase orders presented to our clients. I want them to be the best ones they’ve ever seen.

It’s self-explanatory to think about improving the experience in the areas of design or marketing. But we should be willing to have more discussions about creativity with people in every area of the business.

I consider myself an introvert, but I know it’s important to have “promoters,” people who are influential within the company and who continuously share their vision. I am glad we have people like Dean who can encourage others to share their vision and provide spaces to do so. We have pretty smart people in every single area, and we all have a natural curiosity. Even if it’s not work related, it can tie in and help at work.

eLearning according to Kristian

Nearing 7 years working in eLearning, how do you view the space?

eLearning is one of the nicest jobs there is. You can see how you’re really helping people. It was a nice change of pace in my career. You meet really friendly people, the clients are lovely, and things always seem to go well. At least they’ve been this way for the past 6, 7 years.

I realize I had a long background before joining eLearning, but the reality is that we all do. The space as it is today didn’t exist ten years ago, so we were all doing different things before ending up here. Nowadays there are specific roles and degrees that did not exist before.

So eLearning today should still be the confluence of great ideas from other places. I know I will work to discover the potential of future tech in eLearning. But there’s also a lot of small things to bring from other places, especially the way people solve problems and use software.

What is something new that excites you?

I don’t like to be the last person into something. I’m excited to see eLearning moving faster, with new courses on the latest things popping up: Cryptocurrency, bitcoin or NFTs.

Something that also really excites me is video game design and graphic engines like Unity or Unreal that give you the ability to have millions and millions of polygons into one scene. It’s mind-boggling. You see these topics getting a lot of traction, you want to bring them into the eLearning experience, and you get excited about what’s going to happen next.

Create With Kristian

How can anybody get in touch with you?

I’m always happy to talk about anything with anybody, on chat or email. I’m a bit OCD, I check every message, I read, and try to reply to everything. I love new ideas.

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