Category Archives: Design

Negative space is a positive thing.

Space. 

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.

You see, negative space IS a positive thing!

More Ideas

The Disneyfication of Work

Can employee experience transform the workplace into a totally immersive WorkWorld?

The experience starts when this package arrives at your house.

When Disney was developing the MagicBand, they faced plenty of design challenges. One challenge in particular was what the MagicBand readers at each ride’s access point would look like.

The team designing the MagicBand system wanted a waist-high, modern-looking stand featuring the outline of Mickey Mouse’s head. To access a ride, a park guest would touch the Mickey on their MagicBand to the Mickey on the reader. If the reader’s Mickey glowed green, the guest could enter the ride. If it glowed blue, the guest would need assistance. (Using a red light was a no-no.)  

The “Mickey to Mickey” access points were elegant and intuitive, and the uniform design of the readers ensured guests would recognize them no matter where they encountered them in the park.

Debate to Excellence

Reportedly, Disney’s Imagineers weren’t happy with this solution. The Imagineers are the creative powerhouses responsible for the design and construction of the company’s theme parks. They argued that the MagicBand readers would disrupt the immersive experience of each attraction. The shiny, high-tech scanners might fit in well at Space Mountain, but would you really expect to find such a thing on the grounds of an ancient, haunted mansion?

These were two valid but competing perspectives on what would deliver the right experience for guests.

If you’re doing employee experience right at your organization, these are probably the kinds of debates you’ll be having.

Link the Employee Experience to Business Goals

Disney invested $1 billion in MagicBands because they wanted park guests spending less time waiting in line and more time buying and creating memories. 

What do you want employees to do less and/or more of and how does the experience of working at your organization contribute to or inhibit that? 

While “employee experience” may seem like a new and trendy topic, recognizing the business value of a good employee experience is not.

Way back in 1995, the Harvard Business Review published an article called Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work. In it, the authors wrote: 

Profit and growth are stimulated primarily by customer loyalty. Loyalty is a direct result of customer satisfaction. Satisfaction is largely influenced by the value of services provided to customers. Value is created by satisfied, loyal, and productive employees. Employee satisfaction, in turn, results primarily from high-quality support services and policies that enable employees to deliver results to customers.

The Service-Profit Chain

Support services & policiesSatisfied, loyal, productive employeesCustomer ValueCustomer SatisfactionCustomer LoyaltyProfit & Growth

They went on to say that the “internal quality of a working environment contributes most to employee satisfaction. Internal quality is measured by the feelings that employees have toward their jobs, colleagues, and companies … Internal quality is also characterized by the attitudes that people have toward one another and the way people serve each other inside the organization.”

A growing number of organizations are tapping the proven ROI of a better employee experience. But, at the moment, few companies can claim an advantage in this area. In his book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley, 2017), Jacob Morgan classifies just six percent of the companies he analyzed as “experiential.” This means there’s an opportunity for you to help set your organization apart … Now, if you can just figure out whether your employee badge readers should be shiny and modern or dusty and cobwebbed …

By the way, the MagicBand designers and the Imagineers ultimately arrived at a compromise. The readers would have both consistent features, like the Mickey icon, as well as thematic elements to help them blend in with each attraction. 

More Ideas

Why Traffic Signs Work

A Lesson in Uniformity for Communicators

A driver going 55 miles per hour needs about 280 feet of stopping distance — almost the length of a soccer field. So, if you’re trying to communicate to highway drivers, you have just a few seconds to get across important messages like this one:

The driver of any vehicle shall not turn such vehicle so as to proceed in the opposite direction unless such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with other traffic.

No vehicle shall be turned so as to proceed in the opposite direction upon any curve, or upon the approach to or near the crest of a grade, where such vehicle cannot be seen by the driver of any other vehicle approaching from either direction within five hundred feet.

Try posting that on a road sign.

Luckily, the people who design traffic signs came up with a solution that allows them to translate the full meaning of those two paragraphs into this:

This sign works — and works quickly — because it sticks to a few important rules.

On traffic signs, red always means “no” or “stop.” A vertical rectangle is always used to tell a driver about a regulation. These and other rules are spelled out in a detailed document called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The MUTCD states: “Uniformity of traffic control devices is critical in highway safety.” It adds that uniformity also creates efficiencies, helping public agencies simplify maintenance and control costs.

Of course, traffic signs rely on more than shapes and colors; they use words and symbols, too. So the MUTCD includes specific guidelines for lettering, size, borders, arrows, and more.

It may seem odd for a communicator to be extolling the virtues of uniformity. Numerous laboratory experiments have found that creative messages (those that feature unusual and nonobvious solutions) get more attention, lead to positive attitudes, and are more effective at influencing behavior.

But, successful communication also relies on a certain amount of predictability. Imagine if your grocery store or your bank’s website shuffled its sections around each week. We’d spend more time searching than getting — and that’s a sure way to get your audience to stop paying attention.

Lastly, the MUTCD states that an effective “traffic control device” meets five basic requirements. It must:

• Fulfill a need
• Command attention
• Convey a clear, simple meaning
• Command respect from road users
• Give adequate time for proper response

These “rules of the road” would serve any communicator well.

By the way, the MUTCD permits use of 13 colors on road signs. Two of those are coral and light blue, which are reserved for purposes that haven’t been determined yet. (Keep an eye open for those pink traffic signs.)

More Ideas

Summary Plan Descriptions

Why I Love SPDs.

I love SPDs. This is a feeling not universally shared by those clients and colleagues who are tasked with developing and maintaining them (or even most of us who receive them).

When I first began working on SPDs, I didn’t fully appreciate them. I often described them in terms that weren’t always (let’s just say) the most flattering. However, more exposure to these documents has helped me value their finer points.

Benefits make a difference. Benefits are a critical part of employees’ total rewards from their employer. A thoughtfully developed benefits program provides a safety net for employees and their families. How employees participate in these programs can affect their overall financial picture, now and far into the future.

I create multiple communication/education programs associated with employee benefits, ranging from recruiting to new hire to annual enrollment materials and beyond. SPDs assume a unique position in this communication universe. In many ways, they are the backbone of any benefits program.

SPDs are legally mandated under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). ERISA specifies information, timing and distribution requirements to make sure participants are informed about how their benefits work and legal protections provided to them. [ERISA background]

SPDs provide employees important legal and regulatory details, such as rights and protections provided under ERISA. These include where to go for help; who is responsible for running the plan and what their duties entail; what benefits are insured, e.g., defined benefit plans under the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation; what rights are in place if a claim is denied; and required notices, such as the Women’s Cancer Rights Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

SPDs are a comprehensive user’s manual and reliable reference tool. The SPD provides information about eligibility, enrollment, timing requirements, benefits provided, where to go for more information and much more. Rules can be complicated and have big financial implications.  [Requirements for a 401k SPD]

Participants are encouraged to read the documents carefully and keep them in a convenient place for future reference. Now SPDs are commonly posted electronically for easy access at any time.

Keeping an SPD up-to-date is the realm of a team of benefit professionals—HR staff, technical benefit consultants, specialized attorneys, and communicators. Legal contracts, insurance policies and documents that spell out how a benefit plan works must be translated into understandable language for the average person. [SPD Development Strategy]

Such an important document deserves our respect. We should all view the SPD as a valuable resource that helps employees find information, use their benefits effectively and appreciate their employer’s investment in their well-being.

For those  reasons, I love SPDs!

Pat Dodd is a senior consultant  at Smith Communication Partners. 

More Ideas