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Requisite to the work of a designer, whether in-house or for an agency, is communicating effectively with teammates or clients who are not fluent in design. Bridging this communication gap can be difficult, and when done poorly, results in compromises that decrease the quality of the project. When done well, those involved can each feel a sense of pride in their contribution to the project.

In working with all sorts of clients, marketers, and product teams, I’ve developed a few strategies that make communication more effective:

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  1. Truly listen to their concerns

  2. A project manager or marketer will have goals that are not related to design at all — for example, lead generation or revenue. Nevertheless, it’s important to try to truly understand them and be a partner in helping them achieve their goal. A design which doesn’t do that isn’t serving its purpose. Instead of becoming frustrated by constraints, work to understand as much of the context as possible. When explaining your design choices, you should be able to justify how those very choices are accomplishing your partner’s goals. Framing them in this way, as a means to an end for the project goal, creates a greater sense of collaboration. When contradictory requirements are manifesting themselves in a confusing design, raise the issue in terms of the overall goal — how the contradicting requirements might be hurting the project, not just your design.

  3. Distinguish problems from solutions

  4. Steer conversations back to the goals or problems and away from specific suggestions for how you should fix them. If your design isn’t supporting the goal yet it’s important to fix it — let your partner know that you’re committed to supporting the goal. But let them know too that it’s your expertise for how to achieve it visually.

    If they have a lot of specific suggestions try to get to the bottom of why they think those solutions would be best, and talk through ways to get the project where they want it. If they are asking for the text to be bigger, or for more energy, ask what the underlying motivation or thought process is. Then, try to accommodate that.

  5. Learn their language

  6. It helps to learn non-designer visual vocabulary. If, for instance, your partners give you feedback like, “make it more fun,” ask if they have examples of “fun” — paradigms through which you can better understand their critique. This can be helpful in both communication and revision. Alternatively, with concrete examples, you can explain why the “fun” aspects of that design would or wouldn’t make sense in the context of your project. Learning what each person’s vocabulary is can help find a solution that best solves his or her problem.


  7. Respect their first impression

  8. When the design is finally out in the wild, you won’t be there to answer questions about it. If a non-designer finds something difficult to understand or unintuitive, don’t brush that aside. Not every non-design opinion will merit a change, but hearing those opinions helps you understand what the trade-offs of each decision are. If the trade-off is too great, it’s time to revisit the design.

The Great Font Debate

September 23rd, 2015 by Ashley

A little under a year ago, the design team at Chartbeat began planning an overhaul of our public facing website. The redesign was a big commitment and served as a catalyst for a few global design changes we had been meaning to make. One of these was introducing a serif that could double as a body font and take the place of our slab serif headline font. At the time we were working with Jubilat as our main display font, and Proxima Nova for pretty much everything else.

Why We Switched

Jubilat was causing problems. Despite having a wide range of weights, none of them felt quite on brand. At light weights it was too reminiscent of Martha Stewart Living, a strange association for an analytics company. At heavier weights, it began to feel — well — heavier and out of step with the clean, smart font we wanted.

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We briefly thought about removing Jubilat from use and just using Proxima Nova across the board. This thought barely made it onto paper, however, considering the near-ubiquity of Proxima Nova. Using it for headlines would have sacrificed too much brand recognition.

So the hunt for Jubilat’s replacement was on.

Requirements We Had

We had two types of requirements: brand and technical. Our brand requirements were that the font felt smart, approachable, youthful, and clean. Our technical requirements were that it worked well at both display and body sizes, was visually compatible with Proxima Nova, and was flexible — meaning a wide range of weights and an attractive italic.

Fonts We Considered

Each member on the team went on a hunt through Typekit and pulled the fonts they thought fit our requirements. This generally meant we were looking for a humanist serif, with relatively uniform line weight, and a generally wider width.

Our main contenders were Merriweather, Calluna, and Rooney.

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To find the different strengths and weaknesses we tested out each of the fonts by using them in existing designs, stress testing them in use cases like landing pages, white papers, and Twitter ads.

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What We Decided

We looked over our stress tests with the full team and decided on Merriweather. Although Calluna was a beautiful and refined font, it ultimately felt less youthful and approachable than Merriweather. And even though Rooney hit it out of the park with its approachability and youthfulness, it ultimately felt less clean and smart than what we were looking for.

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What We Learned

  • Know your needs. Identifying our pain points helped in our search for the fonts, and helped us identify where we could make trade-offs.
  • Have a variety of voices in the room. Balancing brand and technical needs would have been tough without designers sitting alongside the head of brand.
  • Test as much as you can. There were a couple false starts, and making the final call was tough. But seeing things in context made all the difference.

You can see Merriweather in full swing on the Chartbeat Quarterly.

What’s On Our Desks

August 18th, 2015 by Ashley

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 2.12.10 PMThis week on the Design Blog: Find out what book(s) each member of the design team keeps on their desks for reference, fun, and inspiration


Renee
Envisioning Information  by Edward Tufte

Ashley
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

Chris
HTML & CSS: design and build websites by Jon Duckett

Janny
Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton
Infographics Design by BNN

Avi
Universal Principals of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, & Jill Butler
Type on Screen by Ellen Lupton
The Art of Tim Burton by Leah Gallo

“I am constantly inspired by the artistic concept of Tim Burton. Having the work of those whom you admire near-to-hand is so important to me.” — Avi, Senior Marketing Designer.

Michael
The Wall Street Journal Guide To Information Graphics by Dona M. Wong
Just Enough Research by Erika Hall
The Shape of Design by Frank Chimero

And this week’s bookworm winner: Collin!
Universal Methods of Design by Bella Martin and Bruce Hanington
Strange Plants by Zioxla
Typographie by Emil Ruder
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

Editor’s Pick: “Vampires in the Lemon Grove shines. It makes you want to jump up and sing, to spend the rest of your life trying to be Karen Russell.” — Jared, Marketing Associate.

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhusrt
Designing Information by Joel Katz
Information Dashboard Design: Displaying Data for At-a-Glance Monitoring by Stephen Few
Resonate: Present visual stories that transform audiences by Nancy Duarte
2013 Feltron Annual Report
Fox 8 by George Saunders

P.S. Want a desk of your own? We’re hiring: Chartcorps, Product Design, and Marketing Design. Check out the openings here.