Personal space, office space, open space, dead space, green space, storage space, outer space. We all need space.
As a graphic designer, there’s one kind of space that often gets a bad rap – that’s negative space, or the space that surrounds a subject or focus of a design. Many clients are uncomfortable with negative space or feel it is wasteful and cannot resist the urge to fill it. But negative space truly is a positive thing. Let’s explore why.
People shouldn’t have to work hard to absorb content. One of the most common complaints from clients is that employees don’t read. One way to engage employees is to make it easy for them to absorb content and compel them to read. That means making the composition of the content balanced, visually appealing, minimizing copy and enhancing content with visuals that support or explain the subject matter. In other words, eliminate the feeling of chaos.
If you have a lot of content that needs to be conveyed, consider the following:
Determine what is truly necessary. Stick to the top three things you want people to remember or take action on. As a communicator, you are a subject matter expert, so you have the full picture and its details in your head. But most often, people don’t need all of that detail.
Layer information. That means focus on the top three things, then provide direction to where more information can be found. This will keep your abstract thinkers happy as they typically don’t want all the details and keep your concrete thinkers satisfied because they can access more detail.
Incorporate visuals that offer meaning and provide a “break.” Leverage visuals, such as photographs, icons and infographics that provide a break from all of the words and enhance the meaning of the content. This is especially important given 65% of the population are visual learners!
Use negative space effectively. As covered earlier, negative space is your friend and will help keep people engaged and make content scannable.
Granted, there may be situations where you can’t get around dense content, like legal notices. But even then, hierarchy is everything and can create a positive experience for the reader that truly wants to find specific content or read all of the content.
We all need ways to let off some steam. As a youngster, I became all too familiar with the taste of Irish Spring (I’m not a fan!), so knowing your audience is essential. Take a look at this clip for ways to keep it clean(er). (By the way, Safeguard wasn’t too bad.)
I often hear clients say: “We want to do something new and different!” or ask “What is new and exciting in employee communication?” While the forms of communication haven’t changed in recent years—print, web, mobile—the approaches we use to maximize these media have.
Audience segmentation by role is nothing new (i.e., HR, leaders, managers, employees), but adapting communications to engage diverse generations is becoming an area of focus. This is where media mix comes into play. For example, baby boomers prefer print and face-to-face communication that is open and detailed. Digitally-native Millennials prefer electronic communication that is meaningful, brief and visual, with the option to get more detail. Surprisingly, Millennials love face-to-face interactions for complex or important subject matter. Sandwiched between the two is Generation X—technically very competent and preferring email or electronic communication with higher levels of complexity.
One way to address diverse generational audiences is through media mix and tone.
A U.S.-based engineering and manufacturing company has employees ranging from the age of early 20s (millennials) to mid 60s (baby boomers), with an average age of 42 (generation x). For an initiative such as retirement readiness, this overlapping mix of communications will best reach this broad audience:
Posters or full-sized banners with stand and a 30 second commercial spot (plays on local kiosks/monitors and website) to generate awareness
Postcard mailed to homes to engage spouses
Interactive guide with a downloadable/printable PDF
Microsite with layered information (page content, PDFs, videos, links), including testimonials (diverse ages and job functions) and a short game or quiz
Employee meetings organized similar to a health fair, including a short presentation and various vendor/financial planning experts
The trick to success is to match media to audience preference, even if you repeat yourself using varied forms. The important idea is to reach your audience in the from it prefers.
Sensory immersion creates engaging experiences that heighten awareness and increase engagement. Sight, smell, taste, touch and sound are common in marketing and in the gaming industry but also can play a part in any communication. This approach is particularly compelling for Millennials, who are always hungry for new meaningful and entertaining experiences.
Brilliant images, like those below, when attached to compelling headlines will hook your audience. They can be paired with other sensory inputs or merely suggest the types of experiences your audience finds compelling.
Sight—Given our age of rapid technology, such as email, smart phones, the Internet and social media, sight can be challenging to engage and maintain. We have become accustomed to tuning things out due to oversaturation, so there needs to be a visual hook and strong sense of hierarchy. This can be achieved with unique typography, provocative imagery (especially macro imagery) and/or use of solid geometric shapes with bold color. Evoking the sense of sight can tie in nicely with communications that focus on the future.
Smell— Did you know that we can recall 10,000 unique smells! While we can’t reasonably infuse scents into most employee communications, we can certainly suggest them through imagery in a way that triggers recollection of a smell, and the feeling(s) associated with that memory. For example, the aroma of a steaming hot beverage on a cold morning that also warms your hands, or the smell of roasting marshmallows over a fire as you prepare to indulge in s’mores. Stirring up these memories can come in handy when communicating healthy behavior, such as eating delicious and healthy food, engaging in yard work in the spring or taking a relaxing vacation at the beach.
Taste—As with smell, taste is something we can suggest through imagery that can trigger a memory and feeling to make a more personal connection with the audience.
Touch—Print appeals to the tactile sense, including various weights of paper and textures that can enhance or support a communication. Embossing/debossing and coatings such as varnishes also can elicit the sense of touch. It is more challenging to engage touch electronically, but we certainly experience it with gaming and phones (vibration) and here again, we can use macro photography to tap into the sense of touch. For example, drawing people in with the feeling of holding a sparkler, the rough texture of new money or the gentle softness of a fluffy pillow to rest your head on.
Sound—We can use sound to enhance a video or influence the mood of a website or interactive environment. See what Volkswagen did with sound that resulted in a 66% increase in taking the stairs that were positioned next to an escalator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lXh2n0aPyw. Today we can’t cost efficiently integrate sound into a print employee communication, but we can suggest it in a way that can trigger a memory so it comes to life in our minds.
Infographics blend information and visuals in a minimalistic way to help people comprehend content. This approach oftentimes is used to convey complex concepts, processes and/or to visually break up dense content. After all, 65% of people are visual learners!
Long Format Websites
With over 80% of the U.S. mobile market using smartphones, we have had to start thinking more about the user experience on an array of devices—computers, tablets and phones. This means thinking more about adaptability of the communication (look and functionality).
For a long while web page design has been focused above the fold to eliminate scrolling. Now, those same web pages have a different experience on smartphones, meaning lots of scrolling— there’s no way to avoid it with a small device. As a result, design has begun moving toward long format or scrolling pages.
Designers are finding advantages to this, such as creating a fluid and creative storytelling experience (this dovetails nicely with sensory immersion and appealing to millennials). It also promotes interaction, has greater user consistency from one device to another and it opens the door for training or other game-like experiences.
Rapid technology has enabled organizations of all sizes to work effectively with communication that is fast and electronic. Conversely, the explosion of easy digital communication, is also creating a desire for face-to-face interactions for significant situations, such as organizational transformation, annual benefit enrollment and retirement readiness.
Certainly this won’t be the only touch point with employees for a large communication initiative, so the content should be high-level and offer additional resources for greater detail. PowerPoints or similar tools can be used to guide the conversion and should be used to tell a story that provides meaning to employees. In other words, avoid “death by PowerPoint” or reading the slides word for word. The face-to-face interaction is more about humanizing the message and providing employees with the opportunity to listen and ask questions. The high-level presentation should be fluid so it can be distributed/posted and make sense to the end user. Here’s an example of a creative and fluid PowerPoint that tells the story of how Google works: http://www.slideshare.net/ericschmidt/how-google-works-final-1#20.
Innovate to Engage
There are many creative approaches that can both attract the attention of a diverse workforce and align with budgetary needs. Next time you communicate an initiative to your employees, instead of printing the same old letter-sized booklet or emailing a PDF, consider:
Addressing various generational media preferences
Increasing engagement through sensory immersion
Maximizing comprehension by matching images to content with infographics
Building fluidity and story-telling into mobile and desktop web design
Meeting face-to-face to increase impact
Kara Pernice (2016), Top 10 Intranet Trends of 2016, Nielsen Norman Group
Natalia Lumby (2016), Sensory printing: engaging all of the senses, Graphic Arts Magazine