Reflective January

 

2018 seems to have got on to a slow start as every January tends to do, so quite glad to see the back of it to be honest. But, a dry period is not all bad.

 

It has given me time to reflect (maybe panic even) and to think ahead. It is not often in the hectic lives we live you have time to sit back and think about where you want to go with your business and what you have to offer.

 

As a graphic designer I help and support businesses to achieve success and growth through clear design solutions that help increase the client’s exposure by a co-ordinated approach to brand and marketing communications. Looking back over my career I have always got a lot of pleasure from helping and supporting businesses, and students, seeing them thrive and grow.

 

My many years in the creative business has given me an insight into people’s behaviour and an understanding of the world. I am therefore in a strong position to understand a business, what it delivers and then to communicate that. In the modern world with all our technology and social media it is easy to forget that the end user is a human being who needs to understand how the product or service you are offering is going to affect and, hopefully, improve their lives in a positive way.

 

I don’t want to sound old fashioned. Not at all, I embrace technology as I tell Alexa to change the music and order a bottle of gin, some AA batteries and a day-light bulb to be delivered the following morning by Amazon Prime. Dry January indeed. No, I am all for technology serving us well, and specifically in the med-tech sector this is all good.

 

So what has this got to do with my dry January you ask? Probably not a lot apart from it has given me the opportunity to think what I have to offer you, my clients. Experience, enthusiasm, understanding the end user’s perspective and how we best communicate that to support your goals. Call it branding, marketing, design thinking, colouring in or whatever you like, but I think it is principly about understanding the human factor and where that fits in.

 

Brand – the ultimate arbiter

I went to the ‘Fourth Revolution Organisational Learning and Knowledge Management’ conference last week which was organised by Partners in Management and was about sharing knowledge in an organisation and how this might be achieved. Not such an easy task as we apparently are bombarded with more knowledge all the time at a rate of knots.

 

But, to me as a designer, this statement, which was buried amongst the many bullet points on as many Powerpoint slides was interesting:

“Brand is the the ultimate arbiter in organisational survival and success.”

 

Arbiter is: someone who makes a judgment, solves an argument, 
or decides what will be done:

 

The conference was more about learning, actually, but I reckon sharing knowledge must mean that somebody is learning something too, so, same thing sort of.

 

My interest in this particular ‘discussion’ was that as designers we are part of the knowledge sharing process, right? Isn’t that what we do – make sure that whatever knowledge (message) our clients want to share is presented in the best possible way? We use visual tools (pictures, graphics etc.) and organise the copy so it is easy to follow. And, as the above statement says, this links back to the brand. This means the brand is a powerful tool to share knowledge and educate employees and customers alike about the brand and all it stands for.

 

I am not going to claim to be a high flying designer who has turned organisations around. I just know that I understand how to communicate and get a message across clearly. I also think that I play an important part in the process necessary to achieve the knowledge sharing a brand wants to achieve. How?

 

You have to have a process in place to first be able to curate the knowledge.

 

They way I can help in that process is by applying my experience as a designer, understanding the message and start creating the ‘identity’ to carry that message. That covers your tone of voice, the visual look and the communications channels you apply to reach your audience. I can then start to organise the content and give it a common structure. Once a structure is in place on how the content is to be presented, one can start basic layout work, maybe at a level we back in the day called ‘galleys’ and get all the nitty gritty detail and spellchecks and so on out of the way before we are having to go through a highly finished layout every time there is an alteration, which is very time consuming and therefore  expensive.

 

I would therefore suggest to any business or organisation who is communicating within their own organisation or to the outside world that to engage the designer from the outset is the best way to make sure the message is clear, you have as smooth a process as possible and it saves you time and money. The extra bonus is that the outcome will also be a better piece of work than it otherwise would be.

The brand as a communicator and innovator

The brand can be the vehicle for conversation and shared knowledge in an organisation. Further, through sharing knowledge internally the brand can encourage not only brand engagement, but innovation and change.

 

The brand has to perform two roles for it to support innovation and change. Firstly, the process of sharing the knowledge within the organisation. Secondly the brand has to create content which allows knowledge sharing amongst employees and in turn informs sections of the organisation involved in innovation, such as R&D and marketing.

 

For this to happen there needs to be a strong will in the organisation to support knowledge sharing and to put that into a structure that works; collecting and formatting the material and making sense of the content so that it can be communicated to everyone. Once this is done one can distribute the content to everyone. One can possibly employ software such as Noddlepod to share and for individuals and groups to be able to contribute and exchange ideas. See illustration.

 

This will be explored further at a conference held by Partners in Management at the Media Centre in Huddersfield on 8 September.

 

 

How is your internal branding performing?

In some organisations the idea of sharing knowledge is viewed as a risk to the business. Managers like to protect what they know so they (allegedly) have an edge over their team members and the company might be afraid of staff taking knowledge outside of the business, particularly if they are leaving to go elsewhere.

 

This to me is a sad state of affairs and it works against the idea of a healthy, and profitable, business. I am in the business of communication. My task is to help businesses communicate their message through the design work I do for them. But, there is an important function to brand or marketing communication other than making you look good or passing on your (own) message to the outside world, and that is your internal brand communication strategy.

 

Through an internal communication process you have the tools to build trust and at the same time boost your brand. When everyone in the organisation is feeling they are communicated to, and also are listened to, you will build the brand as employees become brand advocates because they are well informed and able to reflect the brand values in a consistent and coherent manner to your customers.

 

A recent paper published by the Performance Improvement Council cited studies by Gallup that:

“…confirm that engaged employees are more productive, create better customer experiences, and are more likely to remain with their employers. As a result, employers win because they get a more stable and motivated workforce and can, consequently, spend more time strengthening their brand.”

 

This will all be explored further in a conference hosted by Partners in Management on Friday 8 September; go here  for more details. This is hosted in partnership with  noddlepod which is a knowledge sharing platform.

Design Thinking

The designer

When discussing a simple thing as a re-design of a magazine as a designer, one might think about the choice of typefaces, the beautiful letter form of Baskerville or the versatility of Helvetica, the use of white space and so on. But, it soon becomes a discussion about the target audience and how to connect with them. For our client, a communications company, how should their magazine best serve the business sector they operate within? How will the magazine sit alongside their website both in look and feel and, not least, content? How are we going to make sure we are relevant to attract advertisers, crucial to the survival of the magazine and the company as a whole? We therefore need to look beyond the design elements and think about the client and the readership as a whole. How can we serve the client in more ways than (just) with great design?

 

Enter the design thinker

Design Thinking as a principle is not new. It has been practised by designers for as long as they have been around. But, it is only more recently companies are realising that design thinking can be used in more ways than just solving design problems. It can be applied to company strategy and reshaping, and encourage innovation in both the private and public sector. The latter an area that maybe needs re-thinking more than any other with the current cuts and restructuring. So, here at Rohde Consulting we are stretching our design brains to make sure that we can not just support the (graphic) design process but also understand all the other aspects of strategic thinking in business. We need to understand market segmentation, know why a PESTEL analysis is important to see what the opportunities and threats are in the market our client operates in, and appreciate that market research can form a vital part of feeding information into the business both from customers and, in our case, readers. I am aware Henry Ford didn’t think much of market research, nor did Steve Jobs. But I feel most of us need to at least try and see what might be happening out there.

As designers we are trained in the process of trying lots of ideas early, engaging with all the stakeholders in the process and understand what the end user is wanting from a product or a service. We are trained in thinking outside the box and not being afraid of failure. (I could write another blog about the disfavour our education system is doing our kids with all the targets and fear of failure we are breeding into them.) As Tom Brown says in his excellent book Change by Design: “Fail early to succeed sooner”.

Innovation culture and managing ideas

I am recently read that the BBC is now working with an ideas management system for their BBC iCreate programme. 

Looking at this from a designer’s viewpoint, and as a designer interested in the way brands can help businesses innovate, change and develop, I found it fascinating that the BBC feels that using technology to be able to harness ideas is the way forward.

I have only read an article today in the Business Matters regarding this and I believe there are other routes businesses in general can use to foster an innovation culture. And, for most businesses the reality is that they haven’t got the resources to enter into a big ‘programme’. So, it needs to be part of the company culture to innovate, be allowed to come up with and suggest ideas to change and improve products and services or production and systems.

The way forward for most businesses, in my view, will be to go back to the starting point every now and again and ask themselves why they are here, why was the company started, what is their reason for existing, what value do they offer the customer? Through that process one can identify the brand and start communicating that to employees and customers in a clear and consistent manner. With that vision one can then develop a culture within the business that allows employees to innovate within and become ‘intrapreneurs’.

But this needs to be initiated from the top. If the  top management is not on board or resisting the idea that ‘others’ can come up with ideas and allow them to develop those ideas, then it is going to fail.

Pat Younge, Chief Creative Officer, BBC Production, says of their thinking behind rolling out the BBC iCreate programme: “Good programming ideas need development, feedback and discussion and employee engagement is a key part of how BBC Production operates. We believe we have a wealth of untapped creative talent which BBC iCreate can help liberate to generate some fantastic TV shows.”

So there it is – ideas, feedback, discussion, development and employee engagement to liberate the employees and generate ideas.

Do you need a crowd-sourcing technology to do this as the BBC is doing? I think not. Be open, encourage new thinking and be critical of those who won’t try and change rather than stop those who want to.