2014 National Conference recap: Optimizing the designer-editor relationship

At the 2014 ASBPE National Conference in Chicago, Alison Fulton, designer, and Mark Schlack, editor, discuss the communication issues when these two passionate types come together.

By Adrienne Wagner
Group Content Manager, Advanstar Veterinary
2014 ASBPE Young Leader Scholar

Many of us in B2B publishing have witnessed a standoff between editorial and design, and it’s not always pretty. Alison Fulton, senior digital and interactive content producer for Advanstar Communications, started this session by referencing a classic communication management tool, Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler. The book is centered on the idea that the most crucial conversations we have, both at work and in our personal lives, happen when the stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong. With those criteria, nearly every conversation between editorial and design could be described as crucial.

To combat a clash, Fulton suggests that editors and designers make better use of an art-planning meeting. After all, she noted, 65% of people classify themselves as visual learners.

To prepare for an art meeting, editors should send out a content synopsis, offer headline options and special notes, and distribute that list out to the team once ready. The entire team brings visuals to a meeting to discuss. Fulton stressed the importance of creating an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas, and that there are no “bad” ideas.

From a designer’s perspective, Fulton offered this highly useful tip: Don’t make it personal; present your critique in the sense that it doesn’t work for your audience, who is the ultimate client.

Fulton wrapped her portion of the session with some funny sayings from editors to designers, including “I like it, but can you make the snow look warmer?” “We just don’t feel red is right for Christmas,” and her personal favorite, “I did this at home with Microsoft Paint. Can you make it look like this?”

Mark Schlak, ASBPE president and senior vice president of editorial at TechTarget. focused his portion of the session on the editorial and design relationship as content moves to an entirely online model. Here the beast is different, for a number of reasons—much of the design is “baked into” the site, the design function is fragmented, time frames are compressed, resources are scarce, and editorial shares the page not only with design, but also with advertising, marketing, and much more. Essentially, the design can be dwarfed by all that additional content.

Despite these challenges, designers still want the same things from editors; mainly, designers need to know what the story is about, who the audience is, the headline and what the editor envisions for the package. Then, the designer must go one step further, understanding whether the package should be conceptual or literal and if it requires interactivity. There are also different, online-only licensing concerns.

Site-level design is another important consideration, and the architecture and design of an entire website has more immediate concerns than in print. Here, the user experience, search-engine optimization and technical performance are critical. Plus, according to Schlak, every stakeholder thinks the page has a different purpose—for instance, sales wants more ads on the page, design wants beautiful graphics, editorial wants room for lots of text, and audience development wants to promote member-only content.

But Schlak’s biggest takeaway? The primary purpose of every web page is to allow the reader who came there, from wherever they came from, to find the information they came for. No matter how good or bad your internal communication may be, those thousands (maybe millions) of eyeballs are the biggest concern for both editorial and design.