Training Your Coworkers to Understand Design

More than a few in-house designers have told me that their biggest frustration is the fact that their coworkers don’t understand what they do. Because of that, their colleagues don’t value their work or their time, and they don’t engage the design team at a higher level. There are many ways to educate your workers about some design basics, but one of the simplest ways is to offer training sessions with your coworkers, either in person or via web broadcast. But that poses two problems: How to get them to attend? And how do you keep them engaged? Here are a few tips that have worked for my team:

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Photo from Shutterstock

Make it fun. Years ago, most of my coworkers at National Parks Conservation Association had no idea how to work with a graphic designer. As one of my previous employees once said, “They treat me like a trained monkey—move the logo to the right, move it to the left—rather than a partner helping them communicate their message.”

So we crafted a presentation to show them how designers work, why we do what we do, and how to make the most of our talents. Rather than call it “How to work with a designer,” we gave it the title “Inside Annie’s Brain,” referring to our lead designer’s noggin, of course. Annie kicked it off with drawings from her childhood, showed off her previous work at an agency, and sprinkled plenty of jokes throughout the 45-minute talk. Instead of telling our audience, “This is what you should do” we said, “This is how we think,” which carried the same essential message in a more engaging way. Annie earned high marks in the survey that followed, and she was even asked to offer an encore presentation via the web for those who had missed it.

Get your colleagues to endorse you. One of my team’s first organization-wide trainings focused on the goal of encouraging other departments to value photography and design. We were pretty green at the time, and I’ll admit it wasn’t the greatest presentation we’d ever give, but we were smart enough to invite some of our best internal clients to come in and talk about the process of working with us. They discussed what they’d learned about the value of photography, and shared the results they’d gotten by making an investment in imagery and design. Getting others to sing from our songbook was far more powerful than singing alone.

Bring in special guests. As part of our work producing National Parks magazine, my team collaborates with many talented freelance photographers who are featured in newsstand publications all the time. In the last few years, we’ve had half a dozen of them come to our offices to share their images and give a talk to our coworkers. People are thrilled to hear from some of the best in the business, and they’re always inspired after seeing amazing images of the places we work to save.

But the unspoken message is: “This guy gets up at 4 a.m., drives or hikes for several hours, and takes 300 shots of endangered animals in a national park, then picks a handful that meet his criteria for usage in publications. So the next time you’re producing a report, we could use the photo of wolves that you took from half a mile away, with your iPhone, or we could pay $300 for his photo. What do you think we should do?” We never have to say those words, but the value of the work becomes very clear. The next time we ask them to fill in the line next to the words “Photo Budget,” they’ll remember what they learned, and be a lot more likely to pony up the needed funds.

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Photo from Shutterstock

Don’t know any professional wildlife photographers? You probably know some fascinating creative pros with great stories to tell—talented freelance writers who can talk about their experience or professional illustrators who could show off work from some clients who are household names. Odds are your special guests will be happy to share their stories and increase the chances of getting even more work.


One thought on “Training Your Coworkers to Understand Design

  1. Cara

    Great advice! I will definitely be using this in my work place.
    I am a designer in the National Park Service and getting my other coworkers to understand what I do was extremely frustrating.