Good design is invisible

The thing about good design is you don’t often know it’s good design. Because it just works. 

Don’t get me wrong, design will give us those ‘wow’ moments and totally blow our minds. But 99% of design is totally unsung. It’s so good you don’t even notice it.

That’s not to say it’s easy, mind. It doesn’t just happen by accident. In fact, it’s actually an exercise in user experience. Let me explain.

Designing for the user

Someone once said, ‘the most important story you tell is the one in the mind of the reader’. The quote was actually about copywriting (I can remember that much, just not who said it!). Anyway, you could say something similar about design.

The important aspect of design is how it’s interpreted by the viewer. Therefore, everything is approached with that in mind:

  • What draws you in?
  • Where do you look first?
  • What happens next?
  • How do you get to what you need?

It’s how the mind works…

Have you heard of Gestalt theory? It’s a branch of psychology which says whilst the world is made up of lots of small parts, we process things as a whole. 

So, when you look at a car, you see a vehicle, not a collection of wheels, lights, windows and sheet metal. When you look at spaghetti bolognese (my favourite), you see a meal, not a mound of beef (or, in my case, plant) bits, mushrooms, tomatoes ,and  pasta.

Think of how complex the world would be if we processed everything there is to see. We have to make shortcuts. We do that by grouping things and seeing them as a whole. 

If we didn’t, by the time we processed the sharp claws, big teeth, narrow eyes, etc, the angry bear would have made its own spaghetti bolognese…  out of us.

Gestalt psychology is the foundation of good design.

The key principles

If we’re going to create visual things for people to process, knowing how they process them gives us a great advantage. 

There are various principles at the heart of Gestalt psychology. Here are some of the key ones:

  • Proximity – we make associations between objects based on their location. Where an object sits between two pieces of content, we assume it to belong to the one closest. 
  • Closure – we fill gaps between elements to create a whole image, even when there is not one. Dashes may form a circle, dots may create a square. We just need a suggestion of an image and our minds will do the rest.
  • Continuity – we see things as related when they sit in line. We naturally follow a linear path and connect those things that sit along it. 
  • Figure/ground – we separate what we see as the focal point from what we see as background. Contrast often helps us identify the light on dark or vice versa, but colours and imagery mean it’s not always that simple.   
  • Similarity – we naturally group items together based on colour, size, and orientation. Objects with similar appearance are thought to have the same characteristics (all words highlighted in red must mean X).

With all of these in mind, a good designer can use spacing, contrast, hierarchy and everything at their disposal to create pleasing visuals that just work.

It’s an experience for the user, built around how their mind works.

The unsung heroes

So, each time you look at a brochure, land on a website or see an advert, and just naturally know where to focus, what to attend to and what to take away, – spare a thought for the designer.

They have built visuals to play into how you see the world. 

They’re the ones who have worked hard, so ultimately, you don’t have to!

Get in touch if you need help visualising your story (we’ve also got a great Bolognese recipe too!)

Disruption… do it, deal with it and make it work for you!

Disruption… it’s a fact of life these days.

Like your toast landing butter side down, losing your socks in the laundry, or hastily updating your LinkedIn profile after a terrible day in the office, you’ve probably already experienced disruption at some level.

If you haven’t, you will, sorry about that!

As delegates at our recent Barn to Boardroom event (the networking and learning event for I/C pros) discovered, the good news is there are some solid tactics out there to help you embrace it, learn from it, cope with it and even make it work for you.

In fact, sticking to great internal comms principles, driving an employee-led employee experience, adopting agility, putting out some authentic stories and being bold and resilient might all help, whether you’re being disruptive OR being The Disruptor (what a fab name that would be for a 1980s cartoon baddie, don’t you think?)

A ‘north star’ employee experience

As Barn to Boardroom co-founder and Elsevier’s VP Internal Communications Sarah Meurer and her lovely team Richard Etienne and Lisa Pantelli explained, defining your employee value proposition can give you a real anchor should the waters around you get a bit choppy.

Making sure your EVP is clear and well-defined with employees and that it forms the basis of not just the employee experience but drives through to the external talent proposition means it can become your shiny and twinkling north star.

It’s not something you can sit around with a cup of tea and come up with. Authentic EVPs are something you’ll uncover using insight, insight and more insight from your people.

Giving it plenty of welly at launch and through drumbeat comms, and allowing your people to tell their stories will get your EVP messages ingrained in your BAU and get everyone feeling it every day.

Ready for anything with agile thinking

A bit of agility can also get you ready to disrupt or be The Disruptor (trademark pending).

It’s about being efficient, reducing those processes that drag along behind you every day, stopping you from being innovative and coming up with those funky disruptive ideas. Like new names for ‘80s cartoon baddies, for instance.

As Kate Hughes, Group Internal Comms Manager from Cambridge University Press and Assessment, shared, an iterative define-build-release model can help you constantly refine and learn on the go. It’s for BAU not just for projects and campaigns!

Team scrums, project sprints, and development bursts. They’re all part of your wider agile armoury, helping to drive collaboration, to be slicker in what you do, to reduce risk, to visualise and prioritise the work, and to be on-your-toes ready for whatever is around the corner.

Once upon a time

Stories. We all love them. But if they’re not compelling, genuine or come from those who are actually living them then you’re missing a great chance to be disruptive.

Sam Bleazard, Employer Brand Content Producer at Fortnum and Mason, knows a thing or two about disruption. In fact, he even created his job himself after persuading the bosses at the luxury brand a bit of storytelling is exactly what they need. Nice disruption, Sam!

As he says, sharing great internal personal stories (every business has great people with a story to share) is about creating that genuine, emotional connection with customers, and of course, with potential new talent.

Sam’s takeaway advice is to think about the stories you’re not telling. It’s likely they’ll be much more compelling than the one you’ve just posted on LinkedIn. Oh, and if you can get the CEO to share what they’ve been up to on your socials, it’s even better.

Eating disruption for breakfast

For Laura Campbell, Internal Communications Director at EasyJet, it’s all about resilience because resilience eats disruption for breakfast. She really should know. There can’t be many industries that have had to deal with as much disruption as aviation in recent years.

Natural disasters, cancellations, delays, even a global pandemic. You can add all that to the comms challenges presented by having a remote, up-in-the-air, and desk-based workforce at a high-profile household-name brand which is very visible on social media. Think I’d take the toast landing butter side down anytime!

Everything Laura and her team have dealt with has built real resilience. They use the power of their internal channels to integrate, to head off problems at the pass and to make their senior leaders visible and accessible. It means their strategy and responses to disruption are clearly signposted and out there. It’s really increased the value of their internal comms channels, too.

It kinda goes back to those good old comms principles. When the going gets tough, keep going and keep communicating. As Laura says, it means they’ve been able to bring back the joy (and the fun) of working in travel.

Be The Disruptor on LinkedIn

Personal branding, ooff. It’s one of those things we need to think about if we want to be disruptive, stand out and be noticed. It’s not always comfortable talking about what you do and how good you are at it, though, right?

As Vicki Marinker, Candid Career Coach, wonderfully told her attentive Barn to Boardroom audience, you can get yourself out there and grab attention without being a total $&*7.

It’s not all about you, of course. LinkedIn is where all the talent is just hanging around, waiting for the next piece of inspiring content to thwack them over the head. It’s where the decision-makers are too. In fact, LinkedIn is 277% (yes, you read that right) more effective at generating leads than Facebook and Twitter. 81% of B2B buyers are more likely to engage with someone who has a strong personal brand. Vicki makes a very compelling case!

So, whether it’s your brand or you’re updating the pages for Timpkins and Sons, remember Vicki’s seven Cs – complete your profile, curate your feed, connect, communicate, comment, create and be consistent.

So, another brilliant Barn to Boardroom (which had its own fair share of pre-event disruption thanks to rail delays, torrential downpours and chairs for the event only just turning up in time!) is done and dusted.

It was so good we should do it again next year!

Interested in employer branding? Download our whitepaper to understand the context, case and considerations for a modern employer brand.

The intriguing world of driving engagement through employee personas

In the bustling realm of internal communications (IC), one pivotal element that often goes overlooked is the understanding of employee personas. These fascinating character profiles provide a window into a company’s workforce.

From the diligent tech wizard who lives and breathes innovation to the enthusiastic social butterfly who sparks contagious energy, employee personas offer valuable insights for crafting effective IC strategies.
So, how do they shape the fabric of corporate culture?

The Visionary Trailblazer

At the helm of every organisation, you’ll find the Visionary Trailblazer; someone who’s brimming with ideas and a tireless appetite for innovation. This persona thrives on opportunities to reshape the company’s future, eagerly seeking out the next big breakthrough. To engage the Visionary Trailblazer, IC should think about offering a platform for brainstorming sessions, sharing cutting-edge industry trends and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

The Analytical Problem-Solver

Meet the Analytical Problem-Solver, armed with spreadsheets, data-driven insights and an insatiable thirst for cracking complex challenges. This persona’s cerebral prowess and methodical approach ensures that no problem is left unsolved. IC should emphasise logical reasoning, present structured information, and provide opportunities for critical thinking and problem-solving exercises, to effectively communicate with the Analytical Problem-Solver.

The Social Connector

There’s a Social Connector in every office; a vivacious persona whose mere presence electrifies the room. They possess an uncanny ability to forge connections, build camaraderie and bring diverse teams together. To capture the attention of the Social Connector, IC should consider incorporating elements of fun, team-building activities, and foster an inclusive, collaborative environment.

The Detail-Oriented Perfectionist

Ever met that colleague who spots the smallest typo from a mile away? That’s the Detail-Oriented Perfectionist. This meticulous persona ensures that every comma is in its place, every PowerPoint slide is pixel-perfect and every document is flawlessly formatted. To engage the Detail-Oriented Perfectionist, IC should focus on precision, accuracy, and attention to detail, providing well-structured guidelines and templates.

The Enthusiastic Learner

Enter the Enthusiastic Learner, a perpetual student who craves knowledge and growth opportunities. This persona views each new project as an opportunity to acquire new skills and broaden their horizons. To captivate the Enthusiastic Learner, IC should offer a variety of learning resources, training programmes and platforms for knowledge sharing.

The Empathetic Supporter

Behind every successful team, there’s an Empathetic Supporter. This persona possesses exceptional listening skills and a genuine desire to help colleagues overcome challenges. They are the go-to person for advice, encouragement and an empathetic ear. Providing opportunities for team recognition and promoting employee well-being initiatives is a great way to tap into this persona’s needs.

Good stuff but how do we build our own employee personas?

  • First of all, talk to your colleagues with experience in building personas.
  • Talk to your employees. Set up working or focus groups. Understand their wants, needs and niggles.
  • Decide what criteria you’ll use to categorise your personas.
  • Build and store your new personas.
  • Test them out. They’ll naturally evolve over time but keep going.

Making use of personas

Having realistic expectations is important. In reality, you won’t be able to generate an optimum number of personas to cater for everyone but you can create examples highlighting common problems, based on your research or data. Addressing key challenges, segmenting your audience, deciding on preferred channels for communication and understanding what motivates your employees are all hugely beneficial learnings for cultivating positive engagement and hanging on to your staff. These learnings often have a domino effect, resulting in meeting your customers’ needs, meaning the business wins too.

Employee personas should serve as a guide to understanding your workforce’s needs. By striking the right balance between personalisation and authenticity, organisations can create a workplace culture where IC thrives, driving engagement to new heights.

Virtual work events: the good, the bad and the Wi-Fi woes

In a post-pandemic world, virtual work events have become all the rage. We’ve bid farewell to the days of stuffy conference rooms and awkward icebreakers and said ‘hello’ to the convenience of online gatherings. But, as with anything in life, there are good bits and bad bits.

The pros…

Super convenient

No more commuting long distances, getting stuck in traffic, or rushing to make it on time. With virtual events, you can join from the comfort of your own home, or anywhere with a stable internet connection. Plus, it opens up opportunities for employees globally to participate and collaborate more easily.

Kinder to the purse strings

Hosting an in-person event can be a hefty financial burden. Think about it: venue rentals, catering, travel expenses and accommodation can quickly add up. Virtual events, on the other hand, eliminate these costs. All you need is a reliable platform, and you’re good to go. So, not only can companies save a ton of money, but they can also allocate those resources to other important areas of their business.

Being inclusive

Traditional in-person events can be challenging for employees with disabilities or those who have difficulty attending due to personal commitments. Virtual events allow everyone to participate on an equal footing, creating a more inclusive and diverse environment. Moreover, introverts, who may feel overwhelmed by large gatherings, can find online events more comfortable and less intimidating.

And the cons…

Lack of in-person interaction

While technology is wonderful, it can’t fully replicate the experience of being physically present with others. Non-verbal cues, spontaneous conversations and building personal connections can be more challenging in a virtual setting. It can be harder to establish rapport and develop strong relationships with colleagues and clients, sometimes leading to feeling isolated or disconnected.

Screen freeze and other glitches

We’ve all been there – frozen screens, lagging audio or poor internet connections. Technical issues can disrupt the flow of the event, cause frustration, and hinder effective communication. Backup plans are a must. Test the technology in advance and be prepared to troubleshoot problems on the fly, before it turns into a tech nightmare.

The buzz

Virtual events can seriously lack the energy and excitement that come with in-person gatherings. The buzz in the air, the shared laughter and the spontaneous moments of inspiration can be harder to replicate virtually. Engagement and motivation can suffer too.

Winning with virtual events

There’s no exact formula for producing a gold-star virtual event but you can follow some easy steps to make it much more likely. Here’s how to engage your audience and add some digital dynamism:

  • Trying creating a fully managed vision-mixed broadcast with production levels that’ll make the audience feel like they’re watching a TV show – as opposed to it feeling like ‘yet another virtual meeting’.
  •  Share real stories that capture the attention and imagination.
  • Mix up the content with live speakers, interviews, video, Slido (or similar), and chat.
  • Ensure the content is fast paced, with no one presenting live without interaction for longer than nine minutes. There’s even some proper neuroscience research from Inc to back this up.
  • Give people a reason not to switch off with a ticker tape teaser – ‘coming up next is….’
  • Make sure everyone knows it’s fully live (and not just a recording they can snooze through).
  • Let people interact with the speakers via the chat and Slido.
  • Keep it interactive and fluid with quizzes, questions and polls.

Let’s champion the virtual work event revolution, adapt to its challenges and make the most of our digital connections.

Employer brand content: quick and dirty or highly polished?

Employer branding content is a conundrum. You want candidates to get an authentic feel of the business, whilst demonstrating how much you care. But does that point to film-on-a-phone style stories, or something a little more high end?

Forget Charles, content is king right. We all need content these days, it’s what we all trade in. It gets traffic to our websites, makes us look good and can help us spread good vibes (cat videos anyone?).

When it comes to employer branding, content is our way of showing who we really are. It’s a way of getting stories out to potential candidates, keeping us in the minds of future employees and generally helping people understand what we’re all about.

But does it matter how we go about it?

Personal and credible 

The approach to your content can say a lot about you. It can showcase your skills for one thing. And whether we like it or not, people will make judgements off the back of it.

Remember hearing about the halo effect in GCSE psychology? When someone or something looks good, we generally expect it to be good in other ways. So, if you make good content, we assume that you may be good at other things too.

Let’s say for a minute you get a handwritten note through the door. It’s a bit of lined paper, torn from a pad, with handwriting written in biro…

  • If that’s a neighbour asking you round for a barbecue, then you probably see it as a nice touch and think little more of it.
  • But, what about if it was a local restaurant that just opened?

Would you still see it as a nice touch, or would you wonder why it’s not something more polished? Would you see the lack of professionalism as something to worry about? If they can’t even create a proper advert, how can they cook us a decent carbonara.


There’s a danger that things that seem put together cheaply and quickly don’t capture the quality we want to convey. When we’re selling anything – whether it’s our role as an employer, or our latest pasta extravaganza – that can be a problem.

So, what about if we add some real production value?

In the context of employer branding, a cheap and quick approach may be getting an employee to talk to your smartphone, and putting the video out as a story. A polished alternative, may be using a videographer, with some professional lighting, directing and post-production to create a high quality video.

Based on our halo effect, a top-notch video should convey the quality we want right? Content that has clearly had some real care put into its creation, will mimic the care an employee could expect when joining. Right?

Er. Maybe.

Here’s the thing – there’s a lot of research that tells us (younger candidates especially) don’t really trust companies. Content created by the company with time and budget signifies something that fits the brand’s agenda – and therefore maybe shows their less than authentic spin on life.

Persuasive content

Beyond the woes of credibility and quality, we should also consider the goal. Anyone from a comms or marketing background will know there’s a real challenge in matching your strategy to your audience and creating something that gathers attention, builds interest, and drives some action. It takes skill and hard work.

Can we really hit the mark without the time, effort and budget to produce something carefully crafted? Can we really create something engaging enough on the fly?

Head f#ck

It feels like an oxymoron. Create regular authentic content that feels personal and trustworthy, but also captures the quality and care that conveys your approach as an employer. Unless you have a team of people with an empty diary that work for free – it’s a head f#ck.

But – perhaps it’s not quite as bad as we’ve made out (sorry not sorry).

All approaches have merit. Standing alone they are open to scrutiny, but together they can appeal to different aspects of the psyche:

  • Regular digestible content – can provide a baseline authentic view of who you are, through regular short conversations with real employees, filmed on a phone or put out as audio clips
  • Creative campaigns and more permanent content – can showcase what you can do with a little time and budget, reinforcing the care and standards you hold dear as a business

Let’s be honest, getting regular content out is a challenge. We need willing employees, endless ideas, and a cycle of speedy production. So keeping it a little quick and dirty will give us a realistic way to create a baseline of believable stories.

Then we can layer on content designed to showcase how good you really are. Think creative campaigns, or career site videos – opportunities to really capture the imagination.

Quick and dirty, highly polished, they’re both winners here. The trick is to make the best of both. Think of the end user, think of your capabilities, and find the balance that draws it all together. And if you get time in between to visit to the local pasta place, all the better, even if their promotion didn’t blow you away.

Interested in employer branding? Download our whitepaper to understand the context, case and considerations for a modern employer brand.

The big Employer Branding question: Are you worthy?

Understand the context, case and considerations for a modern employer brand

We all want to attract and retain the best people. It’s expensive, it’s time consuming and it’s an endless cycle.

Employer branding is a way of working smarter. It’s a way of showcasing your story, spreading the good word, and getting people to choose you as the place they want to work.

We’ve pulled together external research, example brands and our own learnings to give you a step up. Gather all the insights you need for your business case and get a head start on your employer branding strategy with our guide.

Download your copy of our whitepaper: The Big Employer Branding Question