On the Job: Design vs. Content (ding, ding!)

As a staff member at APU’s Office of University Relations, I work alongside an energetic and creative group of marketing, Web, design, PR, and editorial staff to promote and brand the university.  Within such a climate, it’s not uncommon for brainstorming sessions to organically crop up at any given time.

Recently, I witnessed a lively discussion between two fellow coworkers—one an editor, the other a designer—about a print piece they’re working on for one of our clients. It was quite the dance of strong opinions, preference clarification, and very direct communication. For some, this might have proved a recipe for disaster, but for these two, there was a groundedness to the conversation, held together by mutual respect and dedication to reaching a great outcome.

I was just a passer-by when I got pulled into their conversation. “What do you think of this?” they asked. Never one to shy away from opinion-giving whether from my area of expertise in Web or otherwise, I threw in my two-cents worth and then some. Then I realized as the discussion went on, my input wasn’t really necessary, so I sat back and more quietly observed their dynamic.

“What if we put the checklist on the front instead of the back and move this block of copy?” said the designer.  “It would give the page more of a cover-like feel and make it not feel so heavy.”  Vigorously shaking her head “no,” the editor pointed out, “Then the person won’t have sufficient context, and we may risk wrongly communicating that it’s a TOC [table of contents].”  Another idea struck down.  They each shot out a few more variations on that theme, but they soon found themselves at a bit of a stand still as those new ideas led to the same stalemate. Out of curiousity, I stuck around to see what would happen next.
Rather than showing fists of fury or a dogmatic need to prove one’s point simply to win, I noticed this discussion was clearly energized by sound expertise and a solid conviction that there was an answer that wouldn’t just end in half-hearted compromise. In a fashion true to our office culture at University Relations, these colleague-friends were committed to problem-solving by putting their raw ideas on the table, listening and respecting one another’s viewpoint, risking by being direct in their feedback, and finding a solution to the challenge they wanted to surmount together.

As I continued to watch this creative process unfold, I clearly saw that this designer and editor team weren’t so stuck on their own opinions that they weren’t willing to listen to one another. Instead, these colleagues held their ground per their expertise while trying to find a new path that addressed both of their concerns. They were insistent, “There’s got to be a better solution we haven’t thought of yet that will make this piece better!”

Shortly after that passionate declaration, a fourth teammate came back into the office. “Hey!” they exclaimed motioning to the colorful marketing piece on the screen. “What do you think of this?”  Ah… familiar words. =)

So I left my colleagues to it but not before asking them to update me on the solution they’d reach. I was confident that as they kept looking for solutions, fully committed to the process, the outcome, and each other, they would surely find the answer they desired…together.

An Update:
Later that evening, my designer-colleague popped into my office to tell me that while they hadn’t reached a conclusion yet, they agreed to shelve the conversation and revisit it in the morning.  “It’s good though,” she reassured me as she smiled wide, “because we’re going to make it [this piece] even better!” And with that, she turned with a flourish and continued down the hall.
I smiled to myself as I reflected on the exchange. They’ll make it better… indeed.

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