Dana Pavlichko

Designer at Happy Cog

Dana Pavlichko

Designer at Happy Cog Episode 27

Episode Notes

Episode Transcript

Gary:
Hello, and welcome to Episode 27 of Design Edu Today, the podcast series discussing topics concerning the state of interactive design education at institutions of higher learning. I am your host, Gary Rozanc, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Today’s guest is Dana Pavlichko. Dana spends most days designing and illustrating. She works as a Designer at Happy Cog in Philadelphia where she creates websites for big brands like MTV and Harvard. Having worked with a wide variety of clients ranging from higher education, to children’s television networks, to quirky medical museums, she is most excited about creating orderly, flexible design systems.

Dana began making websites and blogs at the turn of the century on her dial-up internet connection. This inspired her to earn her BFA in Graphic & Interactive Design from the Tyler School of Art. When she is not designing, Dana is gardening, making costumes with her friends, and running.

Welcome Dana.

Dana:
Hi!
Gary:
Hello, thanks for being a guest today, I really appreciate it. One thing, before we get into the line of questioning that I invited you here today, I just wanted to ask one question about…and I’ll frame it this way. I started designing websites just before the turn of the century…building websites: I don’t want to say designing. Building websites before the turn of the century and I too, that’s inspired me to go to school for it. But I’m just curious, what made you decide to go for design and illustration and interactive design instead of Front End Development?
Dana:
I was always very interested in art and graphic design seemed like at the time a really nice way of combining my love of art and then my love of customizing things and getting more into the technical side of things so graphic design and specifically my major, or concentration, was more interactive, was at the time what seemed like a perfect fit for both angles.
Gary:
The only reason I ask is just…I was thinking back, it’s like wow, I really do love the Front End HTML and CSS and I create a little PHP and I’m just surprised I didn’t go down the computer science path, I guess. Instead, I went down the design path. So anyway, it was just curiosity.
Dana:
Yeah, I think that was really fun because they’re both solving little puzzles, especially Front End: you’re just solving all these little puzzles over and over or that build on each other and design is also really similar to that.
Gary:
So, for the listeners, I came across an article you wrote called “Content Strategy for Designers”, and while I was reading I began to think about how I have students handle content on new projects and I was wondering if what I was doing in the classroom was serving my students well, once they got into the industry. So, basically I’ll either supply the content to the students, or I’ll ask them to go out and find or create it themselves. So Dana, it seems to me based on your article, that my process undervalues content strategy. So, before we get into specific questions, from your perspective of being a designer, what is content strategy and ideally where does content strategy fit into the visual design process?
Dana:
So, I think there are a lot of different perspectives around what the definition of content strategy is but from my own, content strategy is planning, it’s creating content and then it’s creating a road-map for how to create content in the future. So, the guidelines and decisions that come out of content strategy will inform messaging hierarchy and even things like how to structure CMS in a project but most importantly, it’s all about organization and clarity.
Gary:
So, where does that fit into the design process, the visual design process?
Dana:
So, I think content strategy can fit into a lot of different places in the design process. Content strategy in my experience usually starts well before design officially begins but it can continue well into the design process, which is ideal in my opinion, because content strategy produces a variety of different deliverables and those can each change depending on what the project needs but the part where design and content strategy start to overlap, there’s a lot of IA and UX deliverables and I think the overlap and the collaboration between a designer and a content strategist can help create stronger deliverables.
Gary:
So, how valuable or how important would it be for design students to know that content…to be aware of content strategy, because when I give them the content, ideally they’re focused on designing for the visual, so does it matter truly that in school, that they were involved in the process of coming up with the content strategy, is it a relationship to the real world or not, into the business world, I guess?
Dana:
Not necessarily. I think as I’ve been learning more about content strategy at work it’s started to open my eyes to all the ways that content helps make your design stronger, so it helped me to start thinking about how all these little pieces are so connected and how the messaging is so connected to the way it’s laid out and how all of these little bits of supporting content and things like micro-copy can really reinforce your whole project and determine whether something’s going to be successful or not.
Gary:
Can you give me and the listeners an example of the micro-copy? What do you mean by that?
Dana:
For that, that could be things like if you’re going through a sign-up flow and things like: success, you’ve done this the sign-up flow, so micro-copy can be things like when you’re going through a sign-up flow and at the end there’s some sort of validation that you’ve done it the right way; or just making sure little things like the way text on a button is phrased aligns with the way the rest of your voice throughout the project is going.
Gary:
OK, and so from…I think that makes a big difference, educationally speaking, because we could spend hundreds…we could spend a ton of time having them design the button over and over again but good content strategy, good micro-copy means maybe we don’t even need a button. It could be something else. And so I think that’s personally where I struggle with, in the classroom, is that there’s this ambiguity that designers need to help work through and help sort out but without active live clients to work through that, it’s really hard to replicate those scenarios in the classroom, if that makes sense?
Dana:
Yeah, absolutely. I think maybe one way of doing it would be maybe giving an example of how one message could be re-written in so many different ways and could convey something completely different the way…in the way it’s written.
Gary:
Oh, yeah, that’s interesting. I have a couple of examples that popped to mind. Do you have one that popped into mind, a specific one by any chance? Sorry to put you on the spot!
Dana:
Sure, no problem. Maybe almost showing a case study of something, some sort of written content where you see how something could be written in a conversational tone versus formal. Or conversational voice versus a formal voice, or maybe even just showing something in one of those and having students re-write it to fit into another voice, could be valuable.
Gary:
Yeah, that definitely would because again, I don’t…I think one of the problems that we create…that I create in the classroom is that there’s just…we just simply design something and there’s no thought for, are we designing the right thing? Does this truly what the intent was? We just kind of take it for granted that everything that we received was correct, or that the educator hands us is correct. So, in your article, you mentioned content strategy influences and informs user interface and design hierarchies. Can you give an example of this from your own work?
Dana:
Sure. What I meant by that was that certain aspects of a project are strengthened when there are multiple collaborators, so the outcomes of content strategy exercises will help inform the messaging hierarchy of what information is most important and that information can then be used and is invaluable for things like translating these hierarchies into a wire-frame, for example, and even determining things like source order or tagging, so there’s definitely an overlap between what can be found during content strategy and how that can translate to things far beyond writing.
Gary:
So, first, in regard to the source hierarchy, at a place like Happy Cog, I know you can’t speak for the industry at large, but who’s primarily responsible for that source hierarchy?
Dana:
Typically we determine things like, what type of messaging is most important and how, within the code, what’s going to appear first in the source order; we’ll determine that during wire-frames and that’s usually something that a Designer produces, but they don’t produce it in a vacuum; they absolutely…the whole team is usually involved, weighing in, if we have a Content Strategist that we’re working with, they’re involved too with any recommendations and everything we create has a very collaborative approach so while a Designer might be charged with creating the physical deliverable there’s a lot of collaboration that goes into producing it.
Gary:
But it is really important that the Designer be able to help identify the source hierarchy as part of their process.
Dana:
Yes, absolutely.
Gary:
And it’s not just handed off by the Content Strategist or the Information Architect.
Dana:
Right.
Gary:
OK. Because in the classroom, that’s something I feel like we do is we hand them, and even back in the good old-fashioned print days before we had to teach interactive, we kind of gave them the content with already a hierarchy established, again, taking away this process of student determining what…going through the process of determining what is the most important information, what helps convey the message of whatever it is that they’re working on and so I think that’s one thing I’d like to personally do better is take that out of my hands and put it back into the student’s hand, determining the content hierarchy.
Dana:
Right, and it’s tough to find a balance too because when you’re in school, there’s all of these visual and technical skills that you’re learning too and you’re working on really honing those and it’s hard to introduce so many other skills all at once.
Gary:
Yeah, and really that’s what this podcast is about is I want to hear from as many different professionals and get as many different voices as I can to…where is that balance, between the tech, between the research, between the content creation and all of that, because I believe I know personally, I can do better, I can find a better balance, so that’s what I’m trying to do. One thing you highlighted in the article was, how a company can determine an appropriate voice and how voice is separate from tone and messaging. So, if I give students the content, I’m dictating the voice. If students find the content for any project, they’re dictating the voice. How can an educator help set up an environment where students are determining the voice of a project for the client and not be dictating it or being spoon-fed it?
Dana:
I think a lot of my answer for this question might have been touched on earlier but I know when I was in school, in my own work I often thought about the written content the least; it was mostly lorem ipsum or something that was provided by my Professor to fill in my comps with and that’s more of how I thought about it. But I think I would have personally benefited from just pausing to think over a little bit more about what content was in my comps versus thinking about it as a purely conceptual or visual design so ultimately I think it would have strengthened my work at the time earlier to have a view of how these different voices could be applied to a similar messaging or how connections can be made with different pieces of content so maybe students don’t necessarily need to have to write content but just taking a look at a case study or examples of how certain content decisions were made and certainly the difference between a voice and a tone if they’re designing something that will be interacted with, with users.
Gary:
When students design…and it’s all related back to content strategy because we don’t…I don’t think educators handle the content strategy right in that the content strategy dictates the voice; that’s where the voice is born from: the voice is born from the content. So, when I give them the content, the importance of the voice of that content is lost because I just handed it to them. When the students gather the content, they’re gathering the content based already on their own voice. So, the content under those two circumstances doesn’t clearly…the visuals are derived at, not because of content but basically because of personal esthetics. Is that something that you’re seeing from people who are walking in from the undergraduate level when they first come, when you first meet them? Are they stuck designing for themselves and do they have a problem connecting this idea of, this is the client’s voice not, this is the voice that’s come from the content?
Dana:
I don’t have any specific examples of others but I know I certainly did not think about content in a way of, this is how another person needs to communicate this so I think a few things that helped me were, for example, in some of our kick-off meetings with a client we’ll have exercises that we do around content strategy in determining what your voice is and that kind of thing: what you are and what you are not and really just starting to understand exactly what your voice is and that then will determine your tone since tone is a little more how you react to situations. Just any way of really quantifying what your voice is and what it is not, I think could be helpful when working with other people or even in a student’s own work, just really dissecting any of their…giving them the tools so that they can dissect their particular tendencies or editing to make sure things are more clear or fit in more with maybe, goals that are set at the beginning of the project, or how they want their tone to come across.
Gary:
Yeah, this is why I like doing these things, because I never would have thought about simple, we can have a little check-list: does tone match…does visuals match content tone and voice, etc, just literally stopping making them aware of that, would probably go a long way.
Dana:
Yeah, I think it’s definitely the awareness because I know I absolutely was not aware of that kind of thing when I was a student and it was not something that I was focusing on either.
Gary:
So, we have about time for one more question and you also mentioned in your article, “frameworks for content strategy” Can you go a little more in depth on what they are and if frameworks…well, can you go a little bit more about what they are because Google was not helpful on this one!
Dana:
Frameworks are almost like these different philosophies on the process of content strategy. These are usually expressed as a chart or a visualization and they work to communicate what considerations have to go into making this plan for what the process. So, for example, parts of the plan might include: how are decisions going to be made on what content is kept, what’s not kept and what needs to be re-written. Or another part of the plan might include, how are all of the goals of the content strategy going to be outlined. Those types of things.
Gary:
Do you happen to have a resource for where you found that? Can you suggest one?
Dana:
I was introduced to the concept of content strategy frameworks when I attended Confab in May. In a few of the keynotes, the speakers would show what their approach to content strategy was. In the opening keynote, we were introduced to a variety of different frameworks and the take-away from that was definitely that there’s no one-size-fits-all process: it’s all about making a decision within the context of a team or that team’s process.
Gary:
Yeah, but it is also…I like the idea that it does make it, whether it’s not a one-size-fit-all, but the fact that it does, it kind of highlights that it is a process. I think that can help me figure out where I can fit in a process into the whole grand scheme of things about what I do in the classroom. Yeah, go ahead.
Dana:
And Kristina Halvorson’s opening keynote, she went over a ton of different content strategy frameworks and those were all very helpful for me, especially as someone who’s a designer and not a content strategist so this was just a really cool way of, for me, being able to see if something visual was much easier for me to digest than tacitly explained because I guess I’m a very visual person, but they’re good…
Gary:
That’s perfect, and I’ll make sure I put that in the show notes. So, Dana, before I let you go, is there anything that you are working on personally that you’d like to share, or is there something that you want to promote or talk about?
Dana:
I’m usually working on little illustrations just for myself or for publications but I’m not working on anything at the moment, so, nothing at the moment, but thank you.
Gary:
Good. And I do love your illustrations, by the way.
Dana:
Thank you.
Gary:
How do you keep up that practice? What do you…OK, let me go back all the way to this: I don’t think designers draw enough, do things like that enough. Is there something that you would suggest for me to pass on to my students to suggest an easy way to get into starting the habit?
Dana:
A thing that my High School art teacher did and I wrote about it on Cognition.
Gary:
Oh, yeah, I’ll dig it out.
Dana:
I’ll put a link. But my High School art teacher had this assignment for all of our art classes where we had to draw and fill up one page in a sketchbook every single day and it didn’t matter what it was, we weren’t judged on how good it was or what it was; it could probably have even been notes from a class or with some drawings in it: it could have been anything and you were supposed to do that every day, so once a week we’d just put our notebooks on her desk and she would just flip through and make sure we had seven new pages and then it was complete…and that started this idea of first off, that the sketchbook is not a precious thing; they’re there to use every page of and it’s important to be able to just get your ideas out because when you’re not trying to make something that’s perfect, and I think that was the key, that’s when you come up with some really cool stuff and it can help you in other projects later on, it can help you when you’re not even realizing that you’re making connections.
Gary:
Perfect! Well, that’s all we have time for today on Episode 27 of Design Edu Today. I want to thank today’s guest, Dana Pavlichko for being so generous with her time. I want to thank the audience for listening and I want to thank the Design Edu Today hosting sponsor Digital Ocean and CDN sponsor Fastly for making the hosting and distribution of these podcasts possible. Finally, I want to thank the AIGA and the AIGA Design Educators’ Community for their generous support of my research that lead to this podcast series.

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