Why Good Design is Good for Your Business — and Employee Experience

September 23, 2016by Mike LepisInternal CommunicationsVisual Communications

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Good design is everywhere. For today’s top companies, it’s a powerful competitive advantage. Pick up an iPhone, check in and walk onto a Virgin America airplane, or summon a car using the Uber app—today’s consumers expect brands to deliver products, services and experiences that surprise, delight and transcend the everyday, at every turn. Don’t just take my word for it; the research shows good design strengthens brand loyalty and boosts the bottom line.

If you’re part of an HR or internal communications team, your employees are your consumers. The principles of good design should apply to them, too, at every touchpoint—from CEO email, to the setup of their work environment, to an all-hands meeting, to an article on the intranet.

Too often, however, this isn’t the case. People often have a vastly different experience with your brand as consumers vs. employees… and in today’s design-savvy world, this disparity is becoming increasingly obvious. We can sign up for car insurance in 5 minutes using a slick mobile app, for example, but we struggle for 20 minutes to log vacation hours in the HR system. We might be able to send photos, post status updates and read the news all from one social media platform, but we’re still receiving our company newsletter as a PDF attachment in email.

The Science of Good Design

PDF attachments aside, good design isn’t just about decorating a space or adding visual flourishes to an email. Decades of research shows that truly powerful, audience-centric design affects how the human brain processes information, and can change behavior.

Here’s a comparison of two different approaches to a message. Which one do you want to read?

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Design-led companies like Apple know that it all starts with knowing your consumers better than they know themselves. As Steve Jobs said: “As visual communicators, tapping into our audiences’ deep psychological triggers will make our work significantly more engaging and persuasive.” He knew this better than anyone: When you couple a thorough understanding of your audiences with designs tailored to their unique preferences, you can create experiences they want and expect.

Closing the Design Divide

OK, now back to that PDF attachment. What gives? Why does the employee/consumer divide still exist, given the research and clear impact of good design on the consumer (read: employee) experience?

Most Internal Communications teams understand their role in helping to close this gap, but they tend to hit the same stumbling blocks: lack of resources, competing priorities, and/or lack of a basic understanding of the impact of good design. Here’s the good news: You don’t need a huge budget and a staff of 20 to start incorporating design thinking into your communications strategies. Here are a few ways to start.

Six Steps to Better Design for Your Employee Communications

  1. Understand your employee audiences. It all starts here. Conduct surveys, polls, and focus groups to gather a deep understanding of audience behaviors and preferences. Then segment them into groups based on commonalities, and design your communications strategies to meet them where they are. For example, you may find that some audience segments are visual learners, while others are auditory learners. Infuse these insights into every aspect of your communications designs. (Bonus: Arming yourself with solid audience research is key to advocating for resources and influencing strategy when you talk with leadership. You can see our blog post on this topic here.)
  2. Create an employer brand company style guide. This is an essential tool for ensuring consistent, clean and compelling design across all channels. Designing a compelling employee experience goes well beyond fonts, logos, and typeface, but those elements serve as a crucial foundation for everything that follows.
  3. Begin every project with a design brief. A crisp, results-oriented design brief goes a long way toward ensuring a common understanding of expectations for the project. Remember: This isn’t where you specify aesthetics; that’s the designer’s job. This is where you articulate desired outcomes.
  4. Team up with the experts. If your team lacks dedicated design resources, it’s time to start making friends with your marketing department. As the designated steward of all things brand design, the marketing team should care about whether that design extends consistently across employee communications channels. Do you suspect your marketing colleagues will need some coaxing? Check out our tips for making the case for a stronger partnership.
  5. Use a third-party email tool. Let’s face it: Email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So make it count. Third-party platforms like Campaign Monitor, Benchmark and the like offer clean, user-friendly designs and mobile-friendly distribution—key for employee populations who are increasingly on the go and accessing information from multiple devices.
  6. Measure, measure, measure. You won’t know the impact of good design unless you figure out how to measure it. If you put together a strategy to communicate the company’s new mission, for example, make sure you include mechanisms for measuring employees’ understanding, engagement and adoption of that mission. It could be as simple as a sending out quick, post-campaign survey to get a pulse on these factors.

I’ll wrap up on this point: Good design is essential to your success in any communications initiative — but a one-size-fits-all approach won’t do. Your designs must be fine-tuned and adapted to the unique needs of your audience segments. That’s the challenge (and thrill!) of working in the ever-evolving world of internal communications. I’ll dive into more specifics of audience segmentation in a future blog post. Stay tuned.  

Need help designing a more compelling experience for your employees? Get in touch.

Mike Lepis

As a Creative Director, Mike is responsible for developing insights and mapping them to the creative solutions that drive employee engagement for Vignette’s clients.

Early in his career Mike worked for both consumer marketing and internal communication divisions at Nike. In event marketing, Mike saw how a strong brand can bring people together. In consumer marketing, Mike learned how modern practices and measurement shape effective messaging. In Latin American marketing, Mike was immersed in video and digital communications channels. And with internal communication, Mike saw how—when employees are challenged, encouraged, and supported—they will get behind a brand and its mission.