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Q&A with Ashley Brenner of Imprint, a Sullivan Content Lab, on Visual Content Best Practices

The Content Council on October 9, 2015 - 2:49 pm in Custom Content

Ashley Brenner is a Creative Director at Imprint, a Sullivan Content Lab, and winner of The Content Council’s 2014 Best Creative Designer Award. Nominate someone for 2016’s Best Creative Director hereWe recently sat down with her to learn what she’s been up to since her win and learn what goes in to creating stand out visual content.

Q: Congratulations on your recent win. We hear the maxim ‘know your audience’ so often in content. What’s your take, as a creator of visual content?

You hear it time and again, but it’s true: Knowing your audience couldn’t be more critical.  No matter what you’re creating, the content needs to educate or engage with readers..

And knowing your audience isn’t synonymous with their demographics. There are so many ways people consume educational and entertaining content – and the way someone consumes is based on a lot of factors, ones that go beyond age, gender, the like. It’s about their mindset, attitudes, and intentions.

Respect is also a maxim that needs to be considered. There’s this assumption that when you create something like a website or whitepaper, for example, every visitor will only have five minutes or less to spare. That’s not true: Maybe they’re coming because they really want to learn something, and will spend more time with the site and its content.

Understanding and respecting your audience and their intentions has to be a main priority for content marketers – the designers and the writers.

Q: With a plethora of content formats and types available, how do you strike the right balance of visual and editorial content?

All kinds of visual content exist for you to choose and create, but don’t let those distract you from your readers and their expectations. They’re not expecting each piece to only be visual. Balance is key. You achieve it by putting your audience first and through close collaboration with writers.

Take, for instance, making content for a financial services client. You’ll want to design and write for their readers—and there could be many types. They could be seasoned investors who expect or need deeper information; if they’re just starting to save, they’ll need information to be broken down in fast and easy way.

And that’s the net of it: Design needs to fit with editorial. It may not often be obvious but that collaboration is the only way the content can be useful.

 Q: No doubt, infographics are one of the most popular formats of content. What are your thoughts on them?

There are a lot of different definitions for infographics. Famed data visualization pioneer Edward Tufte defined infographics as visual representations of data, not a graphic representation of statistics. That nuance often gets lost in translation but the popularity and demand for infographics underlines the reality of how we consume content today: through highly visual storytelling and message communication.

So for designers who are asked to create infographics, first determine what the story is that needs to be communicated in the infographic. Then, identify which data you have to support that story. This diagnosis and interpretation are best done hand-in-hand with the writer, whose perspective is paramount in landing on an infographic that does the job.

Q: Let’s talk about approach. What is the first thing you do when you’re tasked with visualizing a piece of editorial?

There are many ways to approach it, but a good practice is to read the editorial and jot down keywords or concepts that come to mind as you work through the content. Next, share those keywords and interpretation with the writer. Then the magic starts – both the writer and designer can hone in on what each visual element needs to communicate. Designers need to walk writers through the visual content—that’s often the moment where a key visual concept make its way to the top.

For example, if you’re creating visuals for a piece of content for a financial services brand, it could contain a lot of data-driven content. The designer and the writer need to dialogue about the most important insights we want readers to grab onto. Design can’t say what that should be, the writer does– but design can help ensure the point gets made.

Q: What do you read to find visual content design inspiration?

 There are sites and publications that I’m always checking but New York Times, National Geographic, and 99U are at the top. New York Times and National Geographic are strong in their visual and solid journalistic writing style. And 99U is more a resource that arms creatives with tools to collaborate and have clear dialogue with those that don’t come from a design-related background.

Q: What words of advice would you give next year’s Creative Director of the Year (and those that aspire to become one in the future)?

Be thoughtful about what you’re designing and understand what’s driving the design decisions you make. Use that lens to deliver the content messages you’re working with and visually bring them – and the story they tell – to life.

Nominate someone for 2016’s Best Creative Designer here>>

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