Keeping employees interested in what’s on-screen can be difficult as digital communication expands. In Episode 15 of the Employee Buzz podcast series, one of our graphic designers, Robert Tepper, will share why design is important to digital communications and what design components to use to keep employees engaged.

Episode transcript: 

Alyssa: 
Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Employee Buzz. I'm Alyssa Zeff, your iPhone addict, bird of prey enthusiast, and general lover of all things lake life. I'm here with Rob Tepper, a graphic designer here at Davis & Company. Rob is our residential low-key fitness buff, amateur iron chef, and cold brew enthusiast. Rob, thank you for being here.

Rob:    
Thanks for having me.

Alyssa: 
Today, we are going to talk about digital design and the role of digital design in internal communications. So let's start with something that we both have in common. We are huge sports fans. Basketball, baseball, football. How do you use sport to draw inspiration for your work?

Rob:    
I mean, I think sports are very exciting. There's a lot of motion. Obviously, graphics on and off the field adds, brands like Nike, Adidas, they have huge campaigns with all different types of graphics, and sneakers and stuff like that. It just inspires me a lot.

Alyssa: 
That's very cool. Actually, I worked with Nike many years ago. They were a client of mine, and I heard one of their lead designers give a talk, and there's something that stood out for me so much, which is they draw inspiration from the auto industry, because the auto industry, unlike many others, has to be about 10 years ahead, because of how long it takes to go from concept to development, and so they're always looking at the auto industry because they're so far ahead, and I thought that was so interesting.

Rob:    
Yeah, it's really cool. It's also really competitive, so auto industry, there are so many brands and everything.

Alyssa: 
Yeah, absolutely.

Rob:    
It's cool stuff.

Alyssa: 
So why is design important when it comes to digital communication?

Rob:    
Well, I think because there are so many different, not just audiences, but environments that the designs live in. There's a lot to think about, how it's executed.

Alyssa: 
Let's talk about those different environments for employees, and how that really comes to life, how digital communication comes to life. Just rattle off a few types of things when you're talking about digital communication, what are they in employee communication?

Rob:    
Well, I feel like the main ones are definitely email, digital signs, and then the more broader ones would be intranets, portals where employees log in to get information and read articles.

Alyssa: 
Okay. So let's dig into some of those. Let's start with email. When it comes to email, what are some of the design elements that are important?

Rob:    
Well, I think you definitely have to consider like how are employees experiencing this email? Are they going to be on their phone? Are they going to be at a desktop? And then what kind of information are you trying to convey in the email? Is it going to be a long newsletter? Is it going to be a short save-the-date? Things like that.

Alyssa
So what kind of design elements can you incorporate into email?

Rob:    
I think it's great to always have like a banner, like a header image, a hero, just to draw in that viewer's interest and make them want to read it. And then also just keep things kind of short and bite-sized for them to just skim through and not have like a huge block of text that's kind of just read through for an hour.

Alyssa:
Yeah, and I think with today's technology, you have a lot of options to do more with email. You can insert pictures in the middle.

Rob:    
Definitely.

Alyssa: 
It doesn't have to be straight top to bottom read. You can have people's eyes go to different places.

Rob:    
Yeah, it'd be great having images, call-outs, buttons, things like that, just to make it a little more interesting visually.

Alyssa: 
Yeah, I just worked on a campaign for a client, and it was a lead-up to a big meeting, and they wanted a lot of excitement generated for it, and we took what, in previous years, had been an all-text email with just information about stuff and really turned it into an experience for employees, and there was a lot of visual design that was brought into it, but in a simple way. It wasn't overly complicated for the client, and we heard these great stories that people would rush to each other's computers, and it became this group event that they knew that this email was coming every Friday, and it became something that they looked forward to opening.

Alyssa: 
So it's amazing how just taking design, same content, but bringing it to life with design, had such a huge impact. Okay, so digital signs. So first of all, tell me what you mean, and explain for our audience what we mean when we say digital signs.

Rob:    
Essentially just TV screen or monitor hanging in the common area, hallway, of a workplace, just showing information on an event or an upcoming town hall, featuring images and obviously text and just get employees' attention as they're walking down the hallway. Oh, I haven't seen this yet. What's this about? Let me check this out.

Alyssa: 
So what's unique from a design perspective when it comes to digital signs? What are you really trying to do there?

Rob:    
It's essentially functioning as a poster, but I think because it's digital, A, you don't have to worry about timing for printing. You don't have to worry about costs, so you have this monitor hanging, and you can obviously change it regularly and keep employees interested in what's on the screen week-to-week or day-to-day, and you can also rotate multiple announcements or multiple signs in one screen. It would just kind of slide through like a slideshow.

Alyssa: 
So because you have people who are walking by, I mean, occasionally you see people stop and look, but for the most part, you've got to get them right as they're walking by. What are some of the design things you try and incorporate there?

Rob:    
I mean, obviously, you don't want five paragraphs of text.

Alyssa: 
Right.

Rob:    
You want a couple lines. Main headline, maybe a subhead, and then a few sentences. One, two, three. Or maybe some bulleted text, and just really short, bite-sized pieces of information that could literally gather as they're walking past it.

Alyssa: 
One of the things that was interesting for me, I had a client that we had designed a few digital signs for them, and I went to their offices and saw for the first time how it works, and they had a ticker along the bottom and a ticker down one side, and those never changed. Those are always there, and they had different things on them. And so the space that we were actually designing for lived inside those tickers, like sort of on top and to the left of them. And what was so interesting to me was it spelled out for me even more how little text you need, and that our images and the stuff that we had designed really stood out because this digital sign was busy enough as it was. So if you really wanted your stuff to stand out, it had to be super simple, very little text, a lot of image, and having not seen that and not knowing that when we did design it, now having the context was really helpful.

Rob:    
It's cool, yeah. I think even just walking through your hallway, whatever your normal routine is, just seeing something new, just grabs your attention.

Alyssa: 
Yeah, absolutely. You also mentioned intranets. I think that's a little different than email and digital signs, but it's an important channel to talk about. So talk to me about what design components are really important when you think about building intranets.

Rob:    
First, you have to think about, is there an existing platform the client or the employees are using? But within there, I think just keeping it very visual and also not too heavy on the text helps. And just easy to navigate, because there are going to be pages, subpages et cetera. Just having it very streamlined and easy to navigate would probably be key.

Alyssa: 
I think what's so interesting is that we are so used to simplified experiences on internets, like the websites that we go to as consumers, and so trying to recreate that and create that experience for intranet users. Employees are really looking for, if they're going to an intranet, they want to easily find what they're looking for. Or if they're using it as a news source, it has to be an engaging news source. They want to see quickly to buy in. I think what you described with using a lot of photography and a lot of imagery and clicking, especially on a home page and clicking through where you get more text or more meat behind it, is what employees really value.

Rob:    
Yeah.

Alyssa: 
It's got to be easy for them to navigate, like you said.

Rob:    
Yeah, I think something else to add would just be like this kind of goes with all digital pieces. I think keeping it fresh and updating it regularly really helps because if you go on the intranet one week and then a month later you go on and it's still the exact same content, you're not going to want to go and check it again, so it's important to always keep updating these things.

Alyssa: 
So tell me about a personal experience. What's the weirdest, funniest, coolest digital communication project that you've worked on?

Rob:    
Recently, we just worked on a cool project for a manufacturing company. It was a digital newsletter. So instead of being your traditional scrolling email, it was a multi-page piece with animation, videos embedded, stories, articles. That was really cool. It was just something different and unique that I haven't really seen before.

Alyssa: 
Yeah, and I bet employees probably hadn't seen it either, which they really appreciated. I worked on a cool visual project for a big company where we created posters, very little words, they were static posters. You know, workplace communication. And then we said, "Well, what can we do for these for digital signs?" And rather than just take them, like you said, digital signs could be static, right? You could just put those images, and they would just look like posters on the wall, but we created very little animation that just kind of gave them some depth and character and it was really neat because it wasn't much, and it wasn't difficult from a technology standpoint, but it was just enough if you're walking by to really capture your attention because there was a lot of photography and a lot of nature-based photography, so it gave it depth, and it was almost like you were in there. You could see leaves moving and things like that. It was pretty cool.

Rob:    
That's great.

Alyssa: 
So let's talk about tools. There's probably a lot out there. What are a few that you've worked with that you like when it comes to digital communication?

Rob:    
For digital signs, for example, you can get as simple as using PowerPoint. You can get pretty creative with that if you know what you're doing.

Alyssa: 
Yeah, people underestimate what PowerPoint can do because we're so used to boring PowerPoints, but really, there's a lot that can happen there. And those signs that we talked about that I was just mentioning were built in PowerPoint.

Rob:    
Yeah. But then obviously you have Adobe Creative Suite. You can do PhotoShop, InDesign, Illustrator. And then for email, you can build image-based emails in PhotoShop and then just slice them up and they're basically embedded images as an email in Outlook or something like that. Or you could use tools like Stripo, which can be like drag-and-drop email builders that are pretty easy for anyone to use. And then you can export that as HTML and get a little more custom and whatever you want to do with it.

Alyssa: 
That's great. So as we wrap up, what is one piece of advice you would like to give our listeners to help them create engaging digital communication?

Rob:    
Just thinking about the audience. If employees are on the phone, on mobile devices most of the time, just thinking about if I'm going to send an email out to them, you know, obviously they've got to be able to read it on the phone. It can't be super small or scaled down or something like that. And just, like I said before, just regularly pushing these communications out. Keeping it fresh. If it's a weekly newsletter, have employees look forward to that new information, new content. Maybe articles about other employees. Things like that. People they know. Using templates could help simplify some of that, so you're not like recreating the wheel every time. "Okay, this is how it looks. This is how it functions. Let's just populate the template and get it out."

Alyssa: 
Yeah, right. With of course the caveat that the template doesn't mean you get the same thing every time.

Rob:    
Yeah. Yeah.

Alyssa: 
It just means from a building standpoint it gets to easier. Well, great. Well, thank you again for joining me today and sharing your experience.

Alyssa: 
Thank you for being here again. And thanks again for all your advice.

Rob:    
Thanks.

Alyssa: 
Thanks for listening to Employee Buzz, where practical advice meets fun.

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