This blog post is about how my team handles design and production requests and about the new processes, routines and workflows we have put in place. While things are far from perfect, it’s a chance to blow the trumpet for my team and share how we are working.
First, we structured how work is requested from us. Most of our stakeholders do not have a marketing or communications background and thus are not aware of how to place a work request. We ask people a list of questions, which they need answer before we meet for a proper briefing. These include:
We re-structured the team and built a strong network of external suppliers. We now have two graphic trainees at any given time. We all work together in one room, which we call the Design Lab. Trainees profit from insights in my day to day work as well as supporting and inspiring each other. Trainees are highly involved in all projects, integrated in the team and are motivated to own projects early in their tenure, which is usually six to 12 months.
We have a Design Lab stand-up meeting every day at 9.15am to help us to align on tasks and priorities to agree special support when needed on specific tasks.
We changed the way that we share work within the team, not only based on capacity, but also related to talents, objectives and needs. We are lucky to have experts in each field from illustration, editorial design, corporate design, prepress production, which helps to constantly improve the quality on ALL products which are delivered by Design Lab.
We began to actively monitor how much time we spend on every design request. These are averaging around 60 per month and can range from creating a web banner, or brochure, or newsletter template to creating a journal cover illustration to accompany high-profile papers. Most of these requests are significant pieces of work and are not, say, cropping an image of giving quick feedback on a graphical abstract.
But this is only one little part of what my team does. We also:
In short: the Design Lab is highly productive!
Working with our scientists, we have won 5 cover pitches for major journals over the past year. Through this, we have structured the process of cover submission. We’ve also built good relationship with prestigious journals such as Nature and Cell. This has been really appreciated by our scientists, and contributes to Strategy and Communications’ team goal of raising EMBL’s profile.
There is no shortage of work: we could double or triple in size and still we wouldn’t be able to fulfil the demand for Design Lab services. So we need to get systematic. Our collaboration with one of our main stakeholders, the Courses and Conferences marketing office, headed by Julie Heinecke, is a good case study in how we are trying to do this.
Streamlining of the design process to support design requests for Courses and Conferences was important, as the number of events happening in the ATC has steadily increased over the years. For example in 2010 when the ATC was opened we only 16 events that needed artwork, but we are now regularly producing artwork for 25-30 events a year.
We worked with our graphic design colleagues from EMBO and the Courses and Conferences marketing team to define a completely new process. Here’s what we did:
We prioritise the support we offer to scientists. However, as we serve all sites, labs and departments, we unfortunately can’t offer design services at the level of PowerPoint slide design or the illustration of every scientific figure or graphical abstract. We are therefore working on a specific training course on design skills for scientists and will pilot this in the summer.
In the meantime, we also offer “open office hours” every Monday, between 10am and 12pm. Scientists can either drop by the Design Lab in the ATC or contact me via skype tabeaatembl. Within these hours, we provide individual design consulting, feedback and advice on design. In most cases, a few small modifications can really improve the look and feel of a poster or graphical abstract.
The collaboration with other teams within our department has increased tremendously. I have a weekly status call, for example, with Spencer, graphic designer at EMBL-EBI as well as with Mark, our Digital Team Lead. The collaboration with Ed, responsible for Core Content, is fruitful and we produce sustainable visual artwork. From our Press Officer, Iris, we receive very early insight, right when we know a scientific paper has been accepted. This gives us enough time to create appealing images, always in collaboration with first and second authors. I would like to list every single team member of the Stratcom team as ALL of them are amazing collaborators and help a lot to make our artwork and design thinking processes visible, successful and appreciated.
We also involve our joint heads of StratCom are highly supportive, support us in every decision making process and trust our skills. Both make sure that all senior scientists, all important committees and all other important stakeholders know what we do, why and how. Over these 1,5 years this helped a lot in order to create awareness for design in the scientific field and to appreciate our support, skills and thy way we think and work.
We are lucky to love what we do, and we approach our work with a lot of enthusiasm and joy and a good sense of humor. Plus: whenever an outstanding creative idea is needed, we’ll try to give our support and input. And thus, we hope to inspire not only our team, but the whole of EMBL and beyond.