What is a Communication Designer?

This is a yellow telephone image by
by Mike Meyers - sourced from Unslpash

What is a Communication Designer? And what makes me one?

A Communication Designer uses visuals that strategically express information. They work on developing the campaign strategy around the message's intent to ensure relevancy, consistency, and clarity across different mediums and contexts -- like real-life venues, virtual spaces in the metaverse, and the internet. In comparison, a visual designer would strategize how to maximize the impact of the message on a specific medium -- like a mobile phone. And the graphic designer could work on any part of the campaign, but their focus would not be on strategy but on the space and dimensions on which they can implement their skills to deliver the message's intent.

Communication design is not a specific skill set like graphic design and is slightly broader in scope than the similar strategic role of visual design. It's a creative and technical discipline requiring project management, design theory, marketing, copywriting, and data analytics skills.

One of the most outstanding communication professionals of our time is Dr. Frank Luntz. I'm fascinated by how he built a professional career researching, analyzing, and designing communication strategies for politicians, Fortune 500 companies, and CEOs around the globe. My first introduction to his work was the book "Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear." This book is a must-read for anyone in communication. The insights and data-driven tactics shared by Dr. Luntz are the product of over 20 years of field research across 24 countries and six continents. His passion and dedication to understanding communication and human behavior at such a high level has awarded him prestige as a communication professional. He has designed and directed communication initiatives for not only visual artists and graphic designers but entire communication and design teams for fortune 500 companies and political staff.

So if you asked me, what is a communication designer? I'd tell you to look up Dr. Frank I. Luntz and read his books. Because as a communication professional, he takes sound principles and good language and tests them. Data and research back his communication strategies, allowing writers and designers he collaborates with to implement his suggestions and directions confidently. The final product of his professional input on a team is a message that resonates with its intended audience. That, to me, is the epitome of a communication designer.

Clare Terry has an excellent article about Communication Design that you can find here. She gives excellent examples and fences in the concept beautifully in her intro. Out of the seven examples she listed as possible careers, I've taken on 6, the one missing is book design. Do you need a book design?

Jokes and experiences aside. I am a communication designer specifically because I always think about communication and design strategically.

For example, while working as a coffee consultant for Coffee for Peace. I designed a two-hour presentation to showcase specialty coffee to a group of 100+ farmers.

Before this, I had participated in a similar presentation a few years back, funded by the same organizations (USDA, ACDI/VOCA), which aimed to showcase quality coffee by introducing cupping forms and the entire cupping process to myself and a group of farmers. But the feedback from the farmers and myself included was that the presentation was overwhelming. Trying to articulate the nuanced differences between each of the six samples of specialty coffee using a flavor wheel index --that we just learned-- was difficult.

Wanting to do something more practical for my presentation, I brought in two more coffee experts that spoke the local language and collaborated with them on how we could best communicate these goals to our audience:

  • Resolve familiarity with specialty coffee
  • Resolve the interpretation of flavor sensory evaluation
  • Resolve understanding of coffee quality as a business advantage

Our presentation was a success! In two hours, the group of farmers we spoke to had an objective understanding of what coffee quality meant to the market. They also understood how the coffee would be evaluated, and best of all, they all left inspired by the economic opportunity that specialty coffee production offered.

I'll save the play-by-play of our tactics for another blog. The point I want to get across here is that as a communication designer, I recognized that the message I was being asked to deliver did not work in the past. I could have done the standard presentation and got paid either way, but because I'm passionate about communication and wanted this message to be understood by its intended audience, I decided to design something better. Knowing my limitations with the local language and culture, I reached out and collaborated with other professionals in my field. Being a communication designer doesn't mean you have to be the smartest in the room, but it requires you to be creative, humble, and have the technical know-how to influence those in the room to help you get your message heard.

This is a meeting by
by Jason Goodman - sourced from Unslpash