D2L’s Rebrand

Gosh, this makes a system that had some good vibes feel look stodgy and old. So much so, I wrote (maybe my first intentional) Twitter thread about it a couple weeks ago.

Basically, my argument is that while I understand the need to rebrand from time to time, I’m going to suggest the IPO and going public aspect of D2L’s recent offerings lead me to believe a couple of things. I don’t have any insider information as most of the handful of people who I knew on the inside of D2L have left in the last few years. The ones that remain have been tight-lipped if they do know, so take this speculation for what it is – pure speculation.

It looks, from my higher education perspective that the LMS market is kind of saturated. Most large and small institutions have one, have had one for years, and are kind of settled. Yes there’s still Blackboard losing clients at a rapid rate, and Canvas and Brightspace picking up users. So it’s not a stagnant market for any reason, but it is, let’s say, mature. This maturity will start to let the LMS folks look for other potential markets for their products – and D2L has been looking at the workforce/corporate for quite a few years. At the last few Fusions I attended (Orlando, Florida (2019?) was the last in-person, and I presented with my colleague Katrina Espanol-Miller in 2020), there was significant highlights from corporate clients. Half a dozen people I met after the discussion l led on data, almost half of them were corporate clients of D2L. In informal chats in the hall, I met at least four or five people who were, you guessed it, corporate clients or prospective clients. That was 2019. I’m sure, three years later, they’ve made more in-roads.

So to say they’re trying to make in-roads with corporate clients is not a high-risk statement.

This re-brand shows that. They’ve gone from a very education feel, to a corporate feel. I did a quick trends search for corporate branding in 2022 and found a decent Forbes article (where if it’s not true, it likely will become fact because of the trust that Forbes engenders): https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2021/12/14/eight-branding-and-design-trends-to-follow-in-2022/ – and the D2L rebrand coincidentally ticks off a lot of these boxes. Retro/Throwback Design? Yes. This looks like Blackboard did in the early 2000’s. Bold but muted colors? Yes, gone is the bold orange, in favour of slate grey and accents of colors. Some of the other trends: online communities and platforms? Yep, that’s built-in with Community and the Product Idea Exchange. Hybrid Events? They’ve been doing webinars since I can remember. In fact I remember them using Adobe Connect way back when… Purpose-Driven Campaigns? I suspect some of the subtleties in the design will be the connections there.

I frankly don’t think this moves the needle, and my outrage is more along the lines of “you’ve taken something decent and made it ugly”. And I should own up to my own preferences, which is that I honestly liked the previous designs, and incremental changes they made. As goofy as the moose is, it seemed like an organic thing that developed from the customer base actually liking it – and the D2L amplified it. That’s good customer relationships. To ditch that is akin to farting in an elevator and getting off at the next floor. Yeah, the stink is temporary, but it’s pretty unpleasant for those who wanted to ride in the elevator.

D2L has a bit of history of unveiling changes – in 2014, they shifted from Learning Environment to Brightspace. I was among the folks who were in person at Fusion, and thought Brightspace? People will shorten it to BS! Thanks D2L, now us folks supporting it will have snarky opportunities. That didn’t come to pass and thankfully they were right in that they could get ahead of it. However, there’s still snarky folks (hey, no, don’t show me that mirror!) that bring it up from time to time. It was one of those things that were fine and didn’t need change – but turned out to be inconsequential in the grand scheme, but still obfuscates what the product does. Much like their current strategy of D2L Brightspace and D2L Wave. What is the difference between the two products? Oh, don’t bother leaving a comment below on what the difference between the two are, I get that Brightspace is aimed at the education sector and Wave is aimed at corporate. The point is though, I shouldn’t have to go look it up (and read the copy) – the name isn’t synonymous with learning environment, or integrated learning platform, or LMS or VLE, and it just creates a barrier to understanding at a glance. I guess that creates “engagement” with a customer?

I do like D2L as a company, and the majority of people at the company I’ve interacted with over the last 13-14 years have been decent, caring and for the most part forthright. Although these signals are a bit concerning – if we start to see prioritization of corporate clients over higher education needs, what does that mean for existing clients in the higher education sector? I don’t want training level tracking in higher ed. I want students to be able to add content easily (as I have asked for YEARS). I want peer review baked into the assignments and groups tool. I want quizzing to allow uploaded files. I suspect that corporate needs don’t reflect those desires. Hopefully D2L can satisfy both needs.

2 thoughts on “D2L’s Rebrand

  1. I’m less concerned about the design itself (who cares if a logo is orange or bright green?) but I think the IPO and the focus on corporate markets both signal a shift from their previous primary focus. D2L used to be able to say it was for teachers. John Baker’s whole thing was that his parents were teachers, that he loves teaching, that he wanted to improve the teaching and learning experience (initially in higher ed, then into K12). Now, with Wave being a peer product to Brightspace, corporate training is taking the lead. They’re just following the money, which of course they have to do, but it feels like that shift is getting away from their roots. I hope they’re able to find a balance and keep some focus on high quality (higher ed) teaching and learning. Parts of Brightspace feel years (or decades) out of date (I’m looking at YOU, discussion boards!) and need some pretty significant development investment in order to modernize the experience. (no, integrating Teams is not the same as having a great discussion tool built in). Remember the big push to build in a community platform with Wiggio, and how it stalled out as D2L shifted focus? I’m hoping that isn’t part of a pattern.

  2. It feels almost as if they’ve (and I know it’s not the case) dusted off their hands and said “Job done” – splitting focus will inevitably cause issues with keeping both products (and there’s lots of room for improvement with Brightspace still) up to date, and flexible so that those who want bad pedagogy can do it, but those who are more interested in disturbing the teacher-student power dynamic can. Currently, that’s a half-baked workaround filled solution. Thankfully no other LMS does it either – so the entire product marketplace is ripe for disruption (pardon me while I vomit about what I’ve just written).

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