Top Teacher Hayden's System For Choosing A Winning Class Topic

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This guest post was written by Hayden Aube. He teaches design and illustration classes on Skillshare and runs Happy Faces on Everything, a website devoted to helping creatives have thriving careers.

 

Creating classes takes time and time is precious. It’s because of this that choosing what to teach can be paralyzing. Regardless of if this is your first class or your tenth, the fear that it’s going to be a flop is very real.

As someone who has spent months creating classes that completely missed the mark, I’m no longer interested in taking guesses. Even educated guesses aren’t good enough.

What I’ll be showing you is the system that I now use to decide what classes will and will never get made. In sharing this with you it’s my intention that you not only save months of precious time, but have confidence when you decide to spend it.

The Class Evaluator

From now on, I want you to put every idea you have through what I call the Class Evaluator. Rather than base your decisions on something as unreliable as feelings, this simple exercise separates the winners from the losers. Sure, nothing is a sure-fire success, but you can definitely stack the deck in your favour.

                                             The Class Evaluator can be downloaded here

                                             The Class Evaluator can be downloaded here

Here’s how it works: Every idea will be placed on the Evaluator according to how many people want it and how badly they want it. If there is a large audience for the topic, place it to the right. If the interest level is high, place it on top.

Depending on these two metrics your idea will fall into one of four categories:

No Thank You (Low interest, Low audience size)

I think the name speaks for itself. Any time an idea falls into this category count yourself lucky that you discovered it. It would be a shame to pour weeks or months into a class that has a small, moderately interested audience. In my experience, these are the topics that we convince ourselves are great simply because we love them.

I created a class called Character Design with Story that more than missed the mark. At the time I was very excited about the theory behind character design and assumed that the people who typically took my classes would be as well. So I spent 1–2 months creating it. Sure, people have taken and enjoyed it, but had I used this system back then I would have realized before starting what I learned afterwards—it was a No Thank You.

Fan Favourite (High interest, Low audience size)

While I’d recommend you avoid the No Thank You at all costs, the Fan Favourite can go either way. These are ideas that appeal to few people, but those who want it really want it. You may not have the mass market, but the audience you do have will watch hours of video, do the project and share the class with everyone they can. Fan Favourites create super-fans—which if you ask me are 1000 times more valuable than regular ones.

My class Create a Character from any Animal falls into this category. Not everyone wants to spend the time learning animal anatomy, researching bears and designing characters based on both. But those who do are glad to spend 2.5 hours taking the class and many more doing the class project. The class may not have a high student count but it has created fans for life.

Crowd Pleaser (Low interest, High audience size)

Crowd Pleasers are the opposite of the Fan Favourite—they appeal to lots of people, but the pull isn’t strong. Think of them like a new pair of socks; we’d all find value in it but it’s probably not going to change our lives. The success of the Crowd Pleaser comes down to how accessible the class is. If it’s short and simple, many people will give it a go. If it’s a lot of work, they probably won’t.

Level Up Your Colours is a class of mine that fits this bill. It has a large audience—pretty much any designer who uses Illustrator or Photoshop—and offers a few simple to learn tricks for improving their use of colour. It’s an area that every artist wants to work on, but most aren’t looking to pour enormous amounts of time into.

No Brainer (High interest, High audience size)

If a No Thank You is an obvious no, then this is an obvious yes. Sometimes you’re blessed with an idea that appeals to many people in a very strong way. You could say that the smart phone is a No Brainer product; not only does everyone have one, but it’s a big part of their day to day life. It’s important to mention that most ideas are not No Brainers, even though we convince ourselves they are. Yes, they make for the most successful classes, but they are also the most elusive.

I was fortunate enough to hit on a No Brainer with my second class Playing with Texture. While I didn’t recognize it at the time, just about every designer interested in illustration wanted a straight-forward way to use texture in Illustrator. In fact, I made the class because this is what I wanted. To date this remains my most popular class because it appeals to many people and provides them with a skill they are very interested in.

                                    Here are all of my classes entered into the Class Evaluator.

                                    Here are all of my classes entered into the Class Evaluator.

Category jumping

There’s a little bit of good in most ideas. Even if they end up in the No Brainercategory there is likely something valuable in an idea that had you come up with it in the first place. Ask yourself “What would this idea look like if it were a Fan Favourite? A Crowd Pleaser? Even a No Brainer?”. Had I asked myself what Character Design with Story would look like as a Crowd Pleaser, I could have dropped the focus on backstory and created a general character design class.

Knowing which category your class falls under

I’ve been talking as if placing ideas into the Class Evaluator is obvious. It is not. This is a wonderful tool but it is only as effective as your ability to correctly place topics. So how do we make sure we’ve done that?

Most people teach classes on things they are interested in; designers teach design, photographers teach photography, etc. Since this makes you a member of your audience, you are a pretty good metric for what would be appealing—so that’s a great place to start. That being said, it’s incredibly easy to overlook great ideas and overvalue bad ones. So the more you can bring other members of your audience into the topic selection process, the better.

Here are some techniques I use to check ideas with my audience:

  • Creating polls between competing class topics
  • Doing live demos for select people of what the class would look like
  • Creating brief (1–3 min.) samples of classes and sharing it online
  • Writing introductions for potential classes and sharing it online
  • Asking people; nothing beats jumping onto a Slack channel or Facebook group and asking people what they think of a class idea before beginning

Not only do actions like the above help you decide where to place classes in the Class Evaluator, but they give you confidence when you pull the trigger on an idea. Knowing that people actually asked for it makes it a lot less stressful to put the time into making that class.

Final thoughts

Choosing a class topic deserves time. It’s easy to get excited about an idea and rush into making it. And while this works sometimes, just as often it doesn’t. Do yourself a favour and remove the doubt. Be patient in your topic selection, filter through your ideas using the Class Evaluator and check in with your audience as often as possible. It may take more time up front, but it will save you much more by stopping you from making a No Thank You.

I want to close with a big thank you to Ramit Sethi and his Demand Matrix—the system I shamelessly stole and repurposed into the Class Evaluator. If you’re interested in how to apply this sort of thinking to just about anything, check out Ramit’s work.