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!)

Employer branding: should you hide the crap?

Let’s be honest; no business is perfect. Yeah, some are pretty good. But we all get things wrong. And we all have areas to improve. Still, when it comes to employer branding, let’s shout about the good stuff and put the rest in a drawer. Right?

Let’s leave that question hanging for a moment and go right back to the start. 

Why do we invest in employer branding? To help us attract better talent? To reduce recruitment costs? To engage existing employees?

Well, everyone will have slightly different objectives, but the crux tends to be attraction, with maybe a little retention. So, it would seem counterproductive to focus on anything other than the actual selling points of the business, wouldn’t it?

Well, our research suggests that when people are looking into a potential employer, the top two things they are looking for are 1) cultural alignment and 2) signs of their reputation.

What’s more, when it comes to choosing a job, we found that employer reputation is the second most influential thing for Generation Z (after culture) and the fourth most influential for everyone else (after work/life balance, salary and benefits, and culture).

People used words like “credibility” and “red flags” when describing what they’re seeking out in a potential new employer.

The reality is job seekers are looking at the good stuff but also digging deeper for reasons not to join.

Trust and believability

It seems safe to assume people’s behaviour is driven by a need for trust. When you read employer claims, you want to make sure they are as real as they say they are and you’re not about to waste time and energy.

So, let’s consider two hypothetical employer brands.

  • Business #1

You land on their career site. They’ve captured all the shiny great stuff that makes them look like a great workplace, with some nice personal employee content to bring it to life. Great.

You’re excited, but you do your due diligence. You look at Glassdoor and feel immediate disappointment that the reviews don’t match the company content.

So, you search for news articles about their culture and find they’ve made some bad decisions in the past. Hmmm.

  • Business #2

The business has captured all the great stuff, as before. But as you scroll through their content, these guys also make some admissions.

They made mistakes in the past, but it’s made them stronger and wiser as a result. They offer many great things, but they’re still working to improve X, Y and Z – and they invite you to be part of that journey.

Maybe they even give a narrative on their employer reviews and recent press, giving a humble understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and demonstrating the action taken as a result.

Which business do you choose?

Who fosters the most trust and belief?

A product versus a relationship

The thing is, when you look at how we market and sell products, we wouldn’t dream of highlighting the things they don’t offer people. Just picture it – “The latest iPhone has the world’s best camera but at the expense of the quality of the speaker”.

It just wouldn’t happen.

But with these products, we’re looking for volume. We want to sell to everyone.

What we’re looking to achieve in employer branding is more akin to building a long-term relationship. So more like eharmony than Amazon.

It’s about developing trust and understanding and taking the steps towards a commitment together.

Spotify admits that the way they work can be chaotic. Netflix openly says they aren’t a good match for people looking for stability or building seniority. Openness breeds believability but also increases the likelihood of finding the right person.

If something sounds like it’s amazing in every possible way, do you just think, “Wow, I’ve hit the jackpot”, or do you think “, Hang on, this sounds too good to be true”? Let’s be honest; an endless list of positives isn’t fooling anyone.

Put yourself in their shoes

It’s hard to distance yourself from the love you have for your company, your role or even your service. It’s what makes you a passionate professional.

But sometimes, the real value comes when you step back from your view of things and see it from your candidate’s perspective. Building your brand based on their behaviour and needs will bring you the most success.

So, should you hide the crap? No, you shouldn’t.

You don’t have to shine huge great lights on it, but the more balance you present, the more believable you’ll feel, and, well, the more you’ll lay down the first steps of a good relationship with the right match.

Want to know more about candidate views? Check out our research here.

Want to learn more about the Surgery and see how we’re people people? See our team here.

How do you convince a candidate to join you?

How do you get that perfect candidate to take that leap of faith? What would clinch it? And what does that tell us about how we’re really doing?

It’s a golden question. What’s the one thing we could do to convince you to join us?

For me, it’d be – show me how what I’m doing is positively helping people and positively helping the planet. And whilst I’m there, pay for some solar panels for my roof and perhaps a month’s travelling for my wife and me. Oh, and dog care whilst we’re there.

Okay, maybe I need to think that through a little more, but you get the gist.

We asked this question to over 100 people as part of a small research project. And do you know what they said? Certainly not this:

  • Make me MD
  • Buy me a boat
  • Give me shares
  • Double my salary

There were no outrageous requests. Not one.

We were shocked and disappointed. But actually pleasantly surprised! And maybe even a little moved. Genuinely, the nature of most replies was quite humbling.

What do people want? 

What is that one thing, then? What is the one thing that convinces you to join a company?

Yes, there were some of the things you might assume. There were people looking for financial reward, but more in a more measured way than you might think:

  • “More money and better working environment”
  • “Right now, it would probably be a significant salary increase.”
  • “Pay me fairly for my experience and what I bring to the table.”

It was far from the main theme.

You might also assume some requests around flexibility. And you would be right:

  • “Improve work/life balance”
  • “Show me how I can still put home life first.”
  • “four-day week“
  • “Remote work 100%”

But the absolute joy was in the consistent responses around fairness and ethics. People value being treated with respect, living up to values, honesty, and many other humble traits.

Now, we’re not expecting that to be a mind-blowing surprise – people are people. But remember, this is the ONE THING an employer could do. This is your big ask.

Here are ten responses to convey our point:

  1. “To be fair and transparent in all areas of the business.”
  2. Remove badly behaved employees to live by values.”
  3. “Demonstrate  they are fair, kind and ambitious.”
  4. “Show me how they value their staff.”
  5. Demonstrate that they put their values at the heart of how they lead and make decisions.”
  6. “Be honest about its failings.”
  7. “Show their track record to match their promises.”
  8. Respect my views and opinions.”
  9. “Convince me they give off a good energy and that they’re positive about what they do.”
  10. “Have an amazingly driven, kind team.”

And so…

And so, the question is – what do we take from this?

It’s great that people have such humble requests. Treat me fairly. Value my opinions. But it suggests these basic things are currently absent. If that’s the ONE THING you want, then the likelihood is that you don’t have it right now. Is that an assumption? Yes, but it feels like a very logical one.

So, whilst there’s a nice view of humanity from the responses we received, there’s maybe a tainted view of employers.

Are we all getting the basics wrong? 

Are we failing to make people feel they’re appreciated for the value they bring? Are we failing to be honest about our mistakes? Are we failing to show people we care about their opinions?

Here at The Surgery, we’ve always said to have the best employer brand you just need to be the best employer. And I think this underlines our view.

So, before we get excited about the snazzy things we can do to attract new people, let’s get the fundamentals right. For us, that starts with listening. Let’s ask people how we’re doing and build a plan that turns their thoughts into positive action.

Once that’s sorted, I’ll get back to negotiating that month-long trip and those solar panels 😉

Want to hear more about that research study? Download the report here.

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