Demonstration Session [Pre-Summit Programming]

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

3:00pm – 3:45pm

Johanna Ostrich, Beekeeper Group

Beekeeper Group’s Creative Director will show you how to easily create your own visual content without huge budgets and resources.

Have feedback on this session? We’d love to hear it! Submit it here.

Learning Objectives

  • Why is designing visual content particularly useful for advocacy?
  • What can you do to work better with your designers?
  • What goes into a designer’s strategic toolbox?
  • What are the key components that designers are thinking about when they start a new project
  • What tools can you use to get started in designing your own materials?



  • Johanna is the Creative Director at Beekeeper Group, and oversees all of our design work.
  • The goal of the session is to provide you with some tangible things that you can take away with you.
  • Take some of the insights from a designer and apply them to what you are doing on a day to day basis.

Why design visual content?

  • Design is all about organizing and communicating your information clearly through the use of visuals.
  • Visuals are very important for advocacy. They help to translate wonky and complex information and turn it into something you can share with your target audiences with the eventual goal of activating them.
  • There are different styles of visual content – but ultimately style is not as crucial as taking the information and making it visually interesting.
  • Visual content can be leveraged across various media and platforms. When you create an infographic or other design asset, your ultimate goal is to put it in different places where people can then go and interact with it.

Working With a Designer

  • No matter if you are working with someone in-house, an external resource, or any form of designer, there are some things that you should know about working with designers.
  • First off, designers have a reputation for being a pain to work with, but if you approach working with them with a shared understanding, you can create a better working relationship. (Shared: Silicon Valley clip with designer trying to start their work)
  • Mike Monteiro Quote: “We’ve been trained to think of designers as people who are a few cards short of a tarot deck, out in left field, creatures of instinct. They don’t follow rules. They accidentally set conference rooms on fire. And they only work when inspiration rolls up for a visit. Even worse, we believe that those are the qualities we should value and seek out in designers. The myth of inspiration has a strong hold on designers and their clients. Both share in its perpetuation. (Can you imagine letting any other employee get away with only working when inspired? I hope not.) The world of advertising, whose list of sins runs deep, has sinned most by branding these people as creatives, which the world of web design sadly adopted as its own. Calling someone a creative doesn’t elevate. It marginalizes. The label excludes designers from conversations about strategy, product definition, business goals, and metrics. It sets them apart from other employees as people who aren’t bound by the same expectations and requirements. It diminishes their opportunity to be seen as people capable of analytical, rigorous thought.”
  • Ultimately, you need to go into a meeting with a shared understanding that when you leave you will both know what you need to get out of it.
  • REMEMBER: Fundamentally, design is NOT about making things look pretty, it’s about communicating effectively. Even though you do want it to look pretty in the end.
  • The best way to make a designer work with you is to understand it is a collaboration.
  • As the client, you need to understand that you bring a few crucial points to the table: Knowledge of the issue you are trying to communicate,  Knowledge of the target audience, Knowledge of the pain points that are unique to your industry, Knowledge of your message, even if it’s not fully formed yet!
  • The designers then take what you bring, and they bring their visual best practices like knowing what questions to ask, knowing about composition, typography, color, and imagery.
    A designer’s strategic toolbox
  • There are a number of things in a designer’s strategic toolbox: Alignment on goals, Logistics, Style, Format and sizes, Timeline, Knowledge & expertise on Composition, Typography, Color, Contrast, Imagery
  • Alignment on goals: It may sound the least like a “design” thing, but the most important tool in a designer’s toolbox is alignment on a goal. Designers need to know the message, the target audience, and what you want that audience to do with the information you are presenting to them. This alignment can help the designer determine if you need something more narrative or if you need something more fact and stat driven.
  • Logistics: Designers need to be armed with all of the details about how the design process is going to go down. Do you have any brand guidelines or a brand book? Most major brands will have some standards for the use of your logo, the type, and the color. You need to know what those standards are. Furthermore, it helps to know what the layers of approval are for the final product.
  • Design Style: Sometimes the style is dictated by the brand guide, but other times, different styles communicate different moods and feelings.
  • Format and Specs: Before a designer starts designing something they should know where and how it will be shared. There are different standards for print, then for digital. There are different sizes for optimal presentation on different social networks.
  • Timeline and Budget: You need to make sure you are on the same page with your designers about the timeline and the budget. This is more than just about alignment, it’s also the most important way that you can track and demonstrate progress.
  • Composition: This means how the piece is laid out – and it is one of the key places where alignment on goals and what you are trying to accomplish is important. In today’s digital world, where you are bombarded with lots of information, people do not read everything, so your layout needs to communicate where they should look. Designers should consider the visual hierarchy, the use of white space, and other design principles to guide peoples’ eyes. Non-Designers DesignBook by Robin Williams (not the late actor) notes that you should always consider CRAP (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity) Overall, when you’re laying something out on a page, keep in mind that you should make things look the same unless there is a reason to make them look different. Keep in mind proximity as well – when things are closer together you know they are related.
  • Typography: This is a topic that designers love, but nobody else really cares about it, unless it’s really bad. Always consult the brand guidelines (if they exist), they will tell you what to use. Always ask yourself these 2 questions: 1) does it set the right tone for the project? Can you read the text comfortably? When it doubt simpler and easy to read is always the best bet. There are two good resources for fonts: Google Fonts (it’s typically a good font if it has at least 4 styles), and Buttericks Practical Typography.
  • Color: People always remember color (partially because it is more experiential, for ex: red makes blood pressure go up, blue goes down). Double check to make sure you know what colors go with your brand’s primary colors (the secondary palette). People tend to throw color at things, and remember that it’s not usually the best way to do it.
  • Contrast: If the contrast is low, it will be hard to read. You should think about your target audience – if they don’t have access to really high definition screens, some of your choices may be hard for them to read. EX: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have guidelines for color contrast to make sure it’s readable to their target audiences.
  • Imagery: You need to figure out what kind of visuals work best with your content. You should consider if photos, charts, or icons are better. You need to also think about the mood that you are trying to set.
    Putting it together (with budget in mind) – tools that you can use to get started


  • Design can be a powerful tool for communication, and to help you get your message to a broader audience
  • You need to make sure your whole team takes time to get your strategy right at the beginning of a design project
  • Keep your design clean simple and aligned


Question: Do you have any tips for how to sit down and establish a goal with a team that may have differing ideas?
Answer: A good way is just to reemphasize and communicate the importance of alignment. But also you can simplify it and get them to really just answer: Who is your audience? What else are they hearing? What are you trying to communicate to them? What do you want them to do? Check out Greg Storey for other good insights and thoughts on how to get to these goals.

Question: Is it easier to take a design made for print and turn it into something digital, or to take a design made for digital and turn it into something for print?
Answer: There are more restrictions around print than there are around digital, so while it depends, it is probably easier to go from print to digital. The most important thing is to try and determine all the ways a piece will be used ahead of time.

Question: Design can be expensive – so it can be beneficial to recycle content. Do you prefer to start from scratch or to work with something that has already been made?
Answer: This also depends, it is another situation where it is easier to know the objectives from the beginning. The best thing to keep in mind here is how the branding works and fits in with the new asset.

Question: Do you have any tips for working to gain consensus with a group of people?
Answer: Recenter them on what the objective and the end goal is, usually people can align on that and it can help to work backward from there.

Question: How have infographics evolved?
Answer: Biggest difference is just in the ways that they are being repurposed. There is also new interactivity and clickable items in a lot of design.

Question: Do you have tips for how to give tough feedback to a designer?
Answer: You should not feel like you are hurting their feelings. Remember that you are working to solve a problem together and you are not going to get it right the first time. It doesn’t have to be an ego thing.

Question: What kind of information do you need (or want) so you can provide better direction for a creative piece?
Answer: Knowing as much about the issue as possible ahead of time is important – but keep in mind that if you are working with a designer, you are the expert, you have all of the content. The designer is not usually going to create the content.