Over the years, I have noticed the following procedures correlate with efficient design projects.
Tell us your problems, goals and expectations
A big part of the design process is figuring out how to solve your problems and meet your goals and expectations with an exciting design. Before designers begin working with colors and images we put a lot of thought into how we can communicate your information in a logical way. Design can help solve your communication problems and meet your goals and expectations. One problem could be how to communicate a complicated open enrollment benefit chart in an easy-to-understand way. Another issue is how to make sure your target audience receives important information. If we know what you need to accomplish, we can figure out the best way to get the results you want.
Give us your guidelines, stylesheets and deadlines
The more information you give us the better. If you are not sure what you want (besides visually-appealing content) even the smallest detail or note is helpful. But, remember, the less information we have the greater the chance the proof will not be what you expected, and it may require extensive revisions. The deadline is also important. Most designers I know will change things and think of new ideas and modifications until the end of time, so we need a deadline. A deadline helps us fit all creativity, design execution, and proofing into the time available to us.
Tell us what you don’t you want
Telling us what you don’t want is also helpful. It helps us narrow down what we have to work with and also makes you happy since your proof won’t contain your pet peeves. If you do not like purple, Helvetica, and cartoony art let us know upfront.
Give us examples
If you have an example of what how envision your project, show it to us. We won’t copy the examples but will use them to get an idea of what you want for the project’s overall look. Maybe you envision it clean with a lot of white space, or fun, or corporate. Since all these styles are subjective an example helps us determine your idea of “fun.”
Tell us what you like and dislike about the proof
We took all information you gave us and figured out a way to visually represent it. The proof is now in your inbox. The first draft should be close to what you were expecting relative to the amount of information you gave us. If the proof is not what you were expecting there is a positive consequence. We now have an example of what you don’t want. The best thing we can do is apply the above steps to the proof. Tell us what you don’t like about the proof, give us examples of what you do like, and give us guidelines on what to change.
Working with your graphic designer and achieving great results will be easy if you follow the above recommendations.
In a few weeks, another open enrollment season will be upon us. Benefits communications professionals here at Trion will brainstorm ways to persuade your employees to register for benefits.
Yet pushing out similar content each year is a drain to both the writers and the audience. Shaking up the content is necessary to make sure the message comes through loud and clear. But how to clear those mental cobwebs and spark that creativity? A change of scenery is just the thing!
Sitting is the new smoking
You may have heard siting is the new smoking. That phrase seems like an exaggeration, yet many studies show the connection between a sedentary lifestyle and health risks, like:
- Greater risk of colon cancer
- Greater risk of diabetes
- Greater risk of obesity
- Increased back and neck pain
Not good! Yet Americans self-report their activity levels are currently their lowest point.
Taking short breaks to stand and walk around the office is a good first step to get up and moving. Ideally, you should at least stand up and stretch every hour.
But there is a way to get the benefits of motion that will boost both your physical and mental well-being. All you need to do is step outside.
Take control of your health
Walking in nature is the ideal inverse to sitting in your cubicle for eight or more hours each day. It can lower those risks for cancer, obesity and diabetes. Besides the obvious physical perks, studies show waking outdoors brings mental health benefits, like:
- Less risk of anxiety
- Less risk of depression
- Less self-reported stress
No matter your industry, I know you’re busy . Time fills with deadlines, projects, meetings and the endless to-do list. But as little as five minutes of outdoor exercise produces positive effects on your mood and psychological health.
If that does not convince you, here’s the kicker: Being outside spurs creativity and decision-making ability. In other words, it can make you better at your job.
I came up with the idea for this blog post during a walk. Exposure to nature improves your ability to think expansively. It can be the perfect way to spark a new concept that revives those employee communications.
Being in a natural environment also replenishes our ability to problem-solve and multitask. It also boosts attention span. Writers and editors will be especially pleased to hear that exposure to nature can lead to improvements in proofreading. Sounds like what the doctor ordered during the chaos called open enrollment season!
Heading outside for a few minutes during the work day can also make you a better colleague. It boosts feelings of connectedness, making community and generosity priorities over personal advancement. Walking outside also helps us be less impulsive and more focused on the future. This technique is useful when we set long-term goals, like strategic plans for our organizations.
Not everyone works an office where green space is easily accessible. A task as simple as placing a few plants around your workspace can boost mental health. Yet the most benefits come with physical activity. So if there’s no walking trail or park near your office, take the time to find one close to home. Spending a few minutes there will spark your creativity.
Way back, when I was new to benefits communication, I hardly had any idea what I was getting involved with. Old timers tried to warn me that this niche tested the ability, skills and will of the best in the communications field. Properly communicating to employees the differences between an HSA and an FSA is an art, and not every consultant has the chops to make it.
“Poppycock.” That was my response. I had been in the publishing field for years. How much worse can this be?
Having had enough of my flip attitude, one wizened, battle-scarred consultant pointed a crooked finger in my direction. “You laugh now, you mock our experience and the wars we fought,” the consultant growled.
“But you, YOU,” shaking her finger directly at me for added emphasis, “have never seen how poorly executed benefits communications can devour an employee population from the inside. The CHAOS from carpet bombing employee populations with unintelligible letters and memos. ENTIRE employee populations zombified and beating down the doors of human resource managers. Managers with their own questions and few answers…”
“Whoa,” I rolled my eyes. “Kill the theatrics.”
The consultant pointed to the log in her cubicle, beckoning me to sit.
“Listen to my tale of woe before you dismiss me,” the veteran said as she began to build a fire.
“A campfire… in the office?” I thought to myself. But, sit down I did. What else would you do when someone is about to be escorted out by security for trying to burn down the building? Something had pushed her too far. I needed to hear her story.
“I was there the day the communications died. When it all went wrong. When a thousand benefit plans were ripped asunder and shattered the hopes and dreams of many.”
As the consultant spun her tale, more co-workers gathered by the campfire and took a seat on the log. All of them, might I add, a bit in shock by the scene they were witnessing. The veteran paced back and forth with a wicked grin on her face.
“Come on, you must be exaggerating. No one has ever died because they did not receive their benefit communications!” one of the gathered team members asserted.
“Don’t be so smug,” the veteran answered with a snarl. “Without the necessary communications, anything can happen.
“Why, if they aren’t properly informed on where to go for care, employees may flounder on whether to go to the urgent care or the emergency room,” the veteran continued. “A severe infection may not get treated in a timely matter. A small splinter could cause a serious infection, gangrene could set in…”Tthe veteran paused. “Then… AMPUTATION!” the veteran bellowed.
The assembled audience, their tension relieved, burst out in laughter and eye rolls. They assumed this had all been the gag of a stressed out co-worker.
With a loud “Boom!” the veteran’s fist slammed down on her desk.
“You think this is all a joke!?!?” The veteran screamed in a creepy, high-pitched voice. With malice, the consultant hoisted her hand in the air above the gathering.
Where there had once been a hand, there was now the glistening steel of a sharp, hooked claw at the end of the veterans forearm. Since this was a detail no one had ever noticed before, there was much confusion amongst the team.
Finally, I asked, “Wait… are you able to use FSA or HSA funds for your prosthetic appliance?”
“Good question!” the veteran answered. “Now, THIS is why employee benefit communications are so important.”
So I’ve got news: I’ve been invited to speak at a local TEDx event in October. I’m really excited about it on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that I’ve been working toward this goal for a while:
- Engaging with a speaker coach to nail down the elements of performance.
- Visualizing myself standing in the red circle of TED on stage, facing a friendly audience (yes please).
- Writing and refining a speech that meets the very deliberate 18-minute time limit, as designed by the TED engine.
I was so excited to get my formal “YES”. And then, the TEDx organizers lowered the boom: They told me I have just 10 minutes to talk. Not the 18 minutes that my speech is now. TEN.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I am super appreciative of the opportunity and ready to bring my A game, of course! But 10 is practically half of 18 and that, my friends, is the challenge.
As a writer, I’ve always known that it’s harder to write short than long—but that the end result can be most powerful. And this is no exception. You simply cannot write the same way for all lengths and mediums. In fact, writing for live performance—where you can use words AND real-time body language, facial expressions, and tone to convey information—requires different muscles and word counts than writing for video, email, traditional print, presentations, social media, and podcast.
Knowing the difference—and how to work each medium to its fullest—is what we do every day to help our clients meet the information needs of employees. Since the 21st century offers us a myriad of ways to communicate, we have to be very thoughtful and grounded in our approach.
We do that by asking a series of pointed questions up front and letting the answers guide our direction. Like, for example, who’s our audience? What do they need to know and how? What’s in the message for them? How can we meet them where they are? What can and can’t we do with the media and the time we have?
As far as my speech, I think I’m there. But it was a total rewrite. When it comes to writing short (or even long, since you want to make sure every word is working hard), sometimes it’s a matter of simply paring back a few words or playing Kerplunk with your sentences, making sure nothing falls through the cracks. But other times, it can be a matter of stepping back and rethinking things entirely.
In either case, it has to be done. And if you need help, well, you know who to call.
As the busy open enrollment season swiftly approaches, for some taking a few deep breaths and bracing ourselves for what’s to come may be warranted. As I start to prepare and accept the stress of planning, crunching and racing against time, I also try to remain focused and tend to the matter at hand – helping to provide an efficient, smooth open enrollment.
During this time, it can be very challenging for employers. After all, open enrollment isn’t exactly a walk in the park—from the deadlines, to questions, to communicating complicated information—tensions rise in the workplace. So, the need to find more positive ways to connect and communicate with your co-workers is essential. One way I’ve discovered to relieve stress and tension at work is laughter.
The months and weeks leading up to open enrollment can be overwhelming and daunting. However, a good way to experience relief from all of the stressors that come with planning, working through numbers and preparing for meetings is to find a way to laugh.
I’ve found that taking the time to tell a funny story or two to a co-worker, or thinking about a situation that made me laugh helps to relieve tension. It can even be as simple as thinking about that hilarious episode of your favorite television show that made you laugh the night before. I even sometimes turn to my Smartphone and tune in to the latest comedy podcasts to take the edge off.
Here’s a great quote I came across by Steve Goodier that really sums it up: “Humor can make a serious difference. In the workplace, at home, in all areas of life – looking for a reason to laugh is necessary. A sense of humor helps us to get through the dull times, cope with the difficult times, enjoy the good times and manage the scary times.”
Let humor and laughter be your passage to surviving your most stressful times of the year. When you’re feeling tense or overwhelmed, stop and think about a funny joke you heard – or just plain and simple – laugh out loud! After all, laughter is known to be the best cure for what ails you.
Welcome to our new blog! The first topic I wanted to talk about is creativity, or better yet, the process of becoming creative. You know that term you think about when you want to come up with ideas to change up your living room, finally sit down to write that exciting novel, or even effectively communicate benefits to your employees. It’s sometimes painstaking to think about, but can be an essential part of everything we do. Whether you start by not having any idea at all, or you have an idea and don’t know where to start—just let it happen! This is how we all begin when trying to come up with something new and different.
Creativity is not a skill, or something that you can be taught—it is digging into YOU and pulling out those imaginative thoughts that are already there. Having a Graphic Design background, I am always looking for new ways to come up with simple and engaging communications. I have come to realize that finding your creative self takes effort in thinking outside of your ordinary comfort zone. It requires exploring new and different ways of doing things. Don’t be scared, just do it—say the idea out loud or write it down and make it real. It can possibly work to your advantage in the end.
My creative process is finding inspiration from people I talk to and places I visit, and jotting down information (whatever comes to mind) that I may or may not use. The point is that it is important to take note of things you come across because you never know when or where they may be useful. Working at Trion, I have learned to think more openly and freely about how to approach my everyday tasks and how to apply my creative process to help communicate employee benefits and wellness to our clients.
For example, after rambling through all of my thoughts on a newsletter cover idea for one of our clients, I finally stepped away, referred to my book of notes and envisioned myself seeing the result through their eyes. Focusing on the needs of our clients and what they represent is a crucial part of this process. In the end, it worked out well, and I was able to produce a cover page that was both appealing and pleasing to the client.
Therefore, when you’re trying to find inspiration for a project, mix things up a little, take risks and see what happens. You may be surprised and proud of what you can accomplish. Being creative is there within us all and it may mean something different for all of us. Finding your process to come up with new ideas may take time and energy, but trust that the ability is there.
As a great woman once said…“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
― Maya Angelou