With an inbox full of emails and newsfeeds flowing with updates, it can be difficult to make sure employees aren’t scanning through your communication.

Take your employee communication to the next level with visuals. In Episode 5 of the Employee Buzz podcast series, we will hear from our creative director, Patrina Marino, to learn about the critical role visuals play and how you can incorporate them in your communication.

It’s time to let the visuals tell the story!

Episode transcript: 

Alyssa:
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Employee Buzz. I am Alyssa, your baseball mom, black clothing-wearer and former New York City-dweller. I'm here with Patrina Marino, Davis & Company's creative director. Patrina, tell us a couple of things about yourself.

Patrina:
Well, funny that I should be a baseball mom, black clothing-wearer, former New York City-dweller.

Alyssa:
Many former New York City-dwellers are also black clothing-wearers.

Patrina:
This is true.

Alyssa:
Today, we're going to talk about something that I think is really important to communicators, which is the role of design in employee communication.

Alyssa:
So, it’s funny, Patrina, that we both mentioned baseball moms. It's obviously a big part of our lives. Whenever we're in meetings together, inevitably we end up talking about our baseball experiences. My son is a fourth grader who pitches. Your son is in college and pitching, so you've been at this a long time and have a lot more experience that I am learning from. But it's funny, because I also think that there are a lot of lessons that we can learn from being baseball moms and watching our sons play. What do you think, specifically, baseball has taught you about design and communication?

Patrina:
A pitcher needs really good prep to understand the hitters that he'll face when he gets onto the mound, and then he can execute well. As a designer, we need to understand our clients' needs—what does the audience want. Therefore, we can put together a really great visual solution.

Alyssa:
Let's focus on how design impacts employee communications. Why are visuals so important to engaging employees?

Patrina:
Well, right now, we're all bombarded with information. People are scanning more. They're not really reading. If you think about it, our inboxes are full, our news feeds are flowing, so what rises to the top are visuals. And if we look at the layperson right now, they're connected with visuals in a really interesting way. So, they have photos, they have Instagram, their filters are being used, text is put over—I mean, every Snapchat is a poster, okay? My nine-year-old nephew can take a picture, manipulate it, and post it. That's pretty crazy.

Alyssa:
It is amazing. I mean, my 10-year-old son has a phone, takes pictures, puts filters on. I mean, things that used to require hiring a professional designer and Photoshop, he's got it at his fingertips.

Patrina:
Absolutely.

Alyssa:
So, the expectation for visuals is also, I think, elevated.

Patrina:
It has been. I think we're all much more sensitive and we're a little more discerning.

Alyssa:
Yeah. So, can you share an example where you think design played a really big role in helping employees understand a topic?

Patrina:
I actually worked on a project together for a really big pharma company, and we needed to talk about a really complex idea around compliance. We had a simple message, but the approach, visually, was one that was simple and dynamic, and we had really huge, engaging photos. Employees were able to take a look at these and really make the connection back to that message that we wanted.

Alyssa:
I remember that well, and it's something that I think about often because compliance as a topic can be very finger-waggy and feel like rules. We really stepped back to say, "Well, we want people to understand the why and really tap into the emotion behind why this was so important." An anecdote coming out of that is we hear some of the most amazing feedback from our client, which is that people were printing these posters and hanging them in their office like art.

Patrina:
They were.

Alyssa:
And I think that speaks to exactly what we were trying to do, which was really send a message in a very compelling visual way. And it worked.

Patrina:
It did. We took a real editorial approach, so they were large photos. They were engaging. There wasn't much that the viewer needed to do, other than look at them and feel connected.

Alyssa:
And it wasn't a lot of words. We let the visuals tell the story. In one case, for example, it was about decision making. It was very clear, if it was a path going in two directions, that it was about making a decision. We didn't have to spell it out with a lot of words. We let the visuals speak for themselves, which is really impactful in a cluttered environment like you describe.

Patrina:
Absolutely.

Alyssa:
So, I want to focus on something specific when it comes to design, which is color. We get a lot of questions about color. What are three ways you think color impacts communication?

Patrina:
Well, we could use color for emphasis. So, the tagline we were talking about in our last project– use a really bright color. Stop people. Have them look at it. They're going to go right for that tagline. We use color to organize. For instance, call to actions on a website. Make them all the same color. Ours happened to be orange. The user goes, they look, they absolutely can go right to that color and know what to do. Colors also evoke emotion. We've all heard about being green with envy, so it really gets to you on a level that is not necessarily subjective. It's intuitive, so you're green with envy.

Alyssa:
But it's interesting. We've had conversations, because your son has expressed interest in politics, and I have friends who are in politics. If you think about political lawn signs, for example, as you're driving down the street during an election season, most of them are red, white, and blue.

Patrina:
They are.

Alyssa:
Right? That's the sort of standard red, white, and blue. If you see green in that context, it means that candidate is standing for something related to the environment.

Patrina:
Absolutely.

Alyssa:
You kind of know that intuitively as you're driving by. That's what I think. Whereas, you know, in a different situation, green might mean something else. I think the point, though, which is so valuable, is color really evokes a response in people. You have to be aware of that. One of the things you've pointed out to me is that it's different culturally.

Patrina:
It is.

Alyssa:
This reminds me of a story. When I was in college, I took an interpersonal communication class of some kind. We walked in one day, and the professor had all these different colors written on a whiteboard and asked us to describe traits; adjectives related to those colors. They were kind of things that you might imagine. So, white, people said things like pure and clean. And black, people said dark and evil. Then, she showed us examples of how that same exercise was done in different countries and different cultures and how people think about it completely differently. So, we're working with a lot of global companies. We have to be so sensitive to that, because what red means to me may be very different, for example, than what red means in Japan.

Patrina:
Absolutely. There's a lot baked in that we sometimes are not aware of. It's important.

Alyssa:
That's great. I'm sure you've had some crazy requests from clients throughout the years. What's one that really stands out as a memorable, unique request?

Patrina:
Years ago, I worked on an annual report for a consumer products company. And we were out in the field, taking location photography. We had a route driver, and he happened to be in shorts. We were in Arizona. That was his daily dress. Got all the way back to the CEO, who was going to approve this, and he looked and said, "Why is this man in shorts? This is not the way we would present our employees." Our answer was, "Well, that's what he wears in Scottsdale." We actually put pants on this man, so we retouched a nice long pair of pants and he was absolutely up to corporate standards.

Alyssa:
That's very funny. Do you have a design pet peeve?

Patrina:
Oh, I do. I love Chinese food. However, I don't like Chinese food in my design. I don't like when we take one from column A, and we take one from column B, and we make column C. Every design is unto itself. It's been thought out. All the things we've just talked about have been integrated, so all the pieces that are there, are there for a reason and for a particular solution. I like to say that we would keep column A on its own.

Alyssa:
That puts some pressure on us as the consultants in how we present those concepts, so that they understand why A is this approach and why B is this approach and what is it about it that makes A not work with B, or vice versa. On top of pet peeves, I'm sure you've faced a number of challenges. What's the challenge you face the most often?

Patrina:
I think that most often, clients will want to say to a designer, "I want this." As opposed to asking for that, tell us what you would like us to solve for you. What is the problem at hand? We'll come up with a solution and using all those basic elements that go into a really solid design. We take those parameters, we look at them, we look at the foundational elements like type, color, visuals, and then we're going to put that solution together for you. And there's no one right solution. There are a lot of different ways to solve a visual problem.

Alyssa:
That's so true. It goes to the point design is subjective.

Patrina:
It is.

Alyssa:
People have reactions to it, and so some of the most challenging feedback we can get is, "I don't really like that." On top of that, our clients, our main client, whoever we're interacting with, has internal stakeholders that they have to get approval on, who also have their own opinions. We may not be part of that process when that client is going to secure all of those approvals. So, they're coming back to us with, "Well, this person liked this, and this person liked that," which brings us back to the Chinese menu and why they're, very often, looking for an approach, but it's another big challenge I think we face regularly.

Patrina:
It is. I think that, for me, the most important thing is that we should educate our clients in what we do, explain to the clients what our role is, and then keep the communication lines open, because that dialogue is really important. Because if I know what your stakeholders are looking for, again, come back to producing the solution, that's one of the parameters. So, all of the things that are being asked for will be built into that solution. And therefore, you've got to hope that it's going to have a lot more solid footing when it gets there.

Alyssa:
Yeah. Brings us back to baseball. You have to know which pitch to use against which hitter, et cetera. We always come back to baseball, Patrina.

Patrina:
I know.

Alyssa:
Yeah. Especially because we're getting into baseball season. So, to wrap up our conversation, what is the one thing we want our listeners to walk away with?

Patrina:
We want our listeners to walk away with the fact that design is a partnership. It's a partnership between our client, who has the problem that they're bringing to us, and the designer, who is putting it all together and presenting that solution. Keep talking about it. There's always a solution.

Alyssa:
Design is such an important piece of communication, so thank you so much for your insight and thank you for being here. Now, it's time to spin the wheel of games. Are you ready to spin the wheel, Patrina?

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

Recent Podcasts