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What does good design mean in internal communications?

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On this episode of Culture, Comms and Cocktails, we have Michael Lund, product designer at SocialChorus. We'll learn the three types of design.

We have a new top shelf guest for you that will change the way you think about design and how it relates to internal communications.

On this episode of Culture, Comms, and Cocktails, we have Michael Lund, product designer at SocialChorus. Now I only get to run into Michael a couple times a year, but did see him a few weeks back in New York City at FutureComms and thought it’d be great to have him on the podcast.

We’ll chat about what design really is, the three types you should know about, and how it can help communicators build trust in their organization and even unify their workforce.

“Good design is meaningful design. It’s sustainable, it builds trust and is reliable. That trust creates freedom, a freedom of being, a freedom like you have the mental space to exist. The tool itself becomes so reliable that it becomes invisible… Good design in comms would be everybody that is driving an agenda or driving an objective, they all have a shared, unified voice. They all know what their goal is. And being aware of where the employees are mentally, emotionally and moving them from that point A to point B.”

-Michael Lund, product designer at SocialChorus

Culture, Comms and Cocktails is internal comms served straight up. So settle in, drink in the knowledge, some shaken, some stirred and maybe even some with a twist and enjoy the top shelf guests I have lined up for you.

We feature communications leaders every second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Don’t miss an episode of Culture, Comms, & Cocktails. Subscribe now wherever you listen to podcasts (Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.)

Culture, Comms, & Cocktails Episode #10 Transcript

Chuck Gose: Welcome Michael.

Michael Lund: Thank you, glad to be here.

Chuck Gose: Let’s grab a seat here at the Culture, Comms and Cocktails lounge and let’s get started. You live in Oklahoma. (So adding that to the episode that Kayla Turner was on). We’ve now featured two people from Oklahoma in just nine episodes. I’m curious, to you is that about the right ratio a podcast should have?

Michael Lund: It’s actually, it’s still imbalanced, you need more people from Oklahoma.

Chuck Gose: More people from Oklahoma? All right, we’ll get on that, we’ll talk to the producers about that. So you are a product designer at SocialChorus, I’m curious, maybe philosophically about this, define what the word design means to you.

Michael Lund: That’s a great question. So design, I think a lot of times it’s understood as something that’s just aesthetics, it’s just dress it up and open it up into Photoshop or Illustrator or InDesign and make it look good. And that’s not what design is at all.

Design is really about moving the user or whoever the person that’s being engaged, moving them from point A to point B. Whether that’s mentally, emotionally, with information or with a product. Good design and a good product are the exact same thing, they go hand in hand.

There was a quote once that I saw that was, “There’s no such thing as no design. There’s only good design and there’s bad design.” And in my mind that breaks down into three different areas. You have good design, which is thoughtful and meaningful design. This is something that’s going to add value to the user. Bad design is thoughtless design. It’s just, “Hey, let’s get it done.” Get it out the door. And then there’s this other category of evil design, which is meant to mislead or lie to the user for the purpose of self gain. And I can go into each of those.

Chuck Gose: Yeah, evil design … I get the good design and bad design, but I’m curious, is evil design kind of aligned with some of the fake news and things like that that we’re seeing?

Michael Lund: Definitely, definitely. Evil design, what it does ultimately to the user, is it destroys trust. It’s entropy, it tears things down. Examples is like click bait, just like you described. Another example would be like Facebook’s privacy issues, where they’re just selling off user’s information for profit. Or last year there was somebody who was one of the co-founders from Facebook came out and said, “I regret everything that we did. We were trying to create addictions in the user to get them to come back as often as possible.” That is evil design. It did nothing except for advance the company.

Chuck Gose: So then obviously we don’t want communicators focusing on evil design. Or I would say they’re probably guilty of bad design, as you’ve mentioned, it’s just sort of get it done, get it out, put it out there. So how can they focus on good design? And what sort of energies and thoughts do you put into to create really good design?

Michael Lund: So, let me talk about, that was evil design, let me talk about bad design, because bad design happens a little bit more accidentally. Bad design is, it gets the user to the destination, but it can be a little bit shortsighted. It can be like within an application, it would be like the button not working. Or it could go all the way to, “This product is so complicated I can’t even use it.” Right? It absorbs all of your time and energy or money and has these unintentional consequences. And those unintentional consequences can be skewed or exploited by, maybe not even intentionally, but it can be exploited in different ways. And what you end up having is systems that break down easily.

Michael Lund: Good design is meaningful design. It’s sustainable, it builds trust and is reliable. That trust creates freedom, a freedom of being, a freedom like you have the mental space to exist. The tool itself becomes so reliable that it becomes invisible. Good design has a consistent and unified voice.

Think about Apple products. The whole ecosystem works together really, really well. Right? They have the same philosophy that’s expressed through all their products no matter where you’re interacting or how you’re interacting with it.

Good design in comms would be everybody that is driving an agenda or driving an objective, they all have a shared, unified voice. They all know what their goal is. And being aware of where the employees are mentally, emotionally and moving them from that point A to point B.

Chuck Gose: Now a question for you, should, say the employee, the end user, should they notice good design? Or should good design almost be invisible to them because everything works as it should?

Michael Lund: Yeah, that’s exactly it. Good design is invisible because it’s reliable. Nature is a really good example of good design. Trees, it works symbiotically with humans and we don’t even notice it, we just take it for granted. Same thing with some of the apps that you use consistently. You’re so used to it being a part of your life that you don’t even realize it or recognize it as it happens. You’re so thoughtful of your objective that you don’t notice the tool.

Chuck Gose: Now it’s very clear to hear about your passion and thought you put into design. Share with everyone what your role as product designer is and maybe even a little bit of your background, even before you got to SocialChorus.

Michael Lund: Oh my goodness. Okay, so, my job is, okay so, I’m the product designer, that’s also user experience design. So on a very … I guess detailed level my job is about collaboration. I collaborate in between business objectives or vision, the engineering, which is how feasible it is to accomplish a task and then the user themselves, to understand how desirable whatever it is that’s being created.

On a more expansive level, my job is to make the communicator successful. And the communicator is successful when the company is unified, top down, bottom up. When everyone in the organization shares the same values and the same goals and the same vision. And so I create tools and create a platform that communicators can trust and an employee experience that the employees can trust and find useful. And only when you have that trust established, only when it’s well designed, can you then think about, how can we move forward as a company?

Chuck Gose: I think this is going to change, maybe, the way a lot of communicators think about design. Because I think it’s the first time I’ve heard the word trust being brought into a design conversation. Or maybe a better way, a design being brought into the trust conversation. Because it is a thing that communicators look at whether it’s the Edelman Trust Barometer, these other things that come out to say, “How do employees look at leaders in the business and how they act?” And I think this is the first time I’ve really heard about the role of design in that conversation around trust.

Michael Lund: Yeah, I was reading a book the other day that was talking about, what’s the future of technology? It’s not the internet of things, it’s not AI, it’s not blockchain, it’s not all of these new technologies that we all get excited over. It’s the future of technology is trust. And that occurs with design.

Chuck Gose: It reminds me, there’s a video out, and I think it’s probably back … 25 years ago maybe, of David Bowie talking about what the internet is going to be. And he absolutely nailed it, he absolutely nailed, not necessarily what it was going to be, but what it would do to things. And I think that’s, and again it wasn’t about the nuts and bolts of technology, it was about the impact that it would have on all parts of the business.

Obviously, he was thinking of from the music side, but it was all parts of the business. Because it’s fascinating to hear what a visionary he was for that.

Michael Lund: Yeah that’s great. I love that.

Chuck Gose: So then thinking about this and trust and the future of technology in design, what are some things that communicators should be, I guess, maybe prepping themselves for, or begin thinking about? Because most of the times these are career communicators. These are people who are going to be doing communications their entire career. So whether they’re in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, what should they be looking for when it comes to future technology in design? Because you said it’s not the AI, it’s not blockchain, it’s not those nuts and bolts parts of it. But what’s your advice to them?

Michael Lund: Right now communicators … or historically communicators have not been very well supported within an organization. They’ve had to rely on old tools. When you don’t have a tool that works for you, you end up spending all of your time focusing on the tool itself. Like if you’re drawing a picture and your pencil keeps breaking, you have an unreliable pencil, you can’t even think about what you’re trying to draw, you are focusing on the tool and you’re getting frustrated at the tool. And that’s what communicators have had. They’ve had frustration over not having the tool in order to their job properly.

Michael Lund: With what we’re doing at SocialChorus and as other competitors come along, the tools are getting there. And so it’s shifting this mentality away from, “What is it that I need to do my job?” To, “Okay, we’re going to do this job well. What’s the overall goal here?” That’s the design of the company that’s going to be reflected in the tools that’s being used. And so you’ll actually see that feedback loop, you’ll see that reflected back to the user. The design of the company that’s been there, they didn’t even necessarily realize. And then also using that tool to help advance or to align a company based on goals and whatever that unified vision is.

Chuck Gose: I think that’s a great visual for communicators to think about with the broken pencil. Because it is a great point, when we’re trying to get a job done and the tool keeps breaking, we end up spending more time trying to get that tool to work, which is not our job, a communicator’s job is to communicate, to align the business, to engage, inform, educate. And when you’re spending time getting new pencils, you’re not able to do your job.

Michael Lund: Yeah, exactly.

Chuck Gose: Michael, I really think this has been a great … I know it’s been a great conversation. I love your thoughts around how design impacts trust in organizations. I think this is a new thought when it comes to communicators. So thank you for sharing your expertise and advice on that.

Chuck Gose: And we did talk about culture in comms and as this podcast is called Culture, Comms and Cocktails, so Michael to close this out, what is your favorite cocktail?

Michael Lund: So it’s funny because I don’t actually drink anymore. And I don’t know if I’ve just disqualified myself from this podcast. But it turns out that alcohol just wasn’t a very good design for me.

Chuck Gose: Oh, way to turn the tables on it here Michael. Now that’s a good thought. Well thank you again Michael for the time today.

Michael Lund: Thank you so much for having me, this was great.

Chuck Gose: If you enjoyed what you heard from this episode and want to check out others, find Culture, Comms and Cocktails on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you like to listen. And when you do, hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes.

This has been Culture, Comms, and Cocktails, internal comms served straight up. Thanks for listening.

Listen to all the podcasts and read the transcripts on the Culture, Comms, & Cocktails website and stay tuned for episode 11 next month.

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Chuck Gose

Chuck Gose

I am a self-proclaimed Skyline Chili connoisseur and Duran Duran fan with nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, corporate communications, and internal communications. My passion and enthusiasm for the communications profession began early in my career at General Motors and Rolls-Royce, Since then, I have focused on weaving internal communications and technology in creative ways. I'm also the co-creator of The Periodic Table of Internal Communications and The Very Hungry Communicator. But most importantly, I got to fly in a blimp once.

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