Inside Design

A Look Inside the Design Team at Sprout Social

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We’re tracking down InVision users inside the world’s most amazing companies to discover their favorite tools, inspirations, workspace must-haves and the philosophy behind what makes them so awesome.

Laura Lozano followed an interesting path to design: starting out as an account executive at an ad agency, she later dropped it all to pursue her passion in design, ultimately leading her to Sprout Social, a Chicago-based company dedicated to forging relationships between brands and customers through social media.

We chatted to Laura about sculpture, blurring the boundaries between business and design objectives, and getting a formal education in design.

Hi Laura, thanks for taking time to chat with us! Tell us a little bit about Sprout Social, and your role there.

Sure, Sprout Social is a social media management and engagement platform – we really focus on helping businesses better connect with their customers on social media. Whether that is to resolve a customer issue, publish marketing messages or even analyze social success, we know every social interaction is a chance to surprise and delight customers and our app enables brands to do just that.

I’m a Senior Marketing Designer here at Sprout Social – I work on everything from the website to HTML e-mails to sales collateral. I get to work with pretty much every department within Sprout: sales, marketing, engineering – everything. I love that about my job: I get to be involved with all aspects of the business.

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How did you get into design? Walk us through the path that led to you being a marketing designer.

I kind of had a non-traditional start to design. In my past life, I worked as an assistant account executive. When I was picking my career path and deciding which college to go to, I never really considered a creative career – I just didn’t think it was a viable career option, so I decided to study English and minor in Business instead.

Design is simply addressing a business problem visually – It’s important to remember that before you get lost in the nitty-gritty of color options and grid systems.

Right after graduating, I started at an ad agency and after, like, a week and a half, it was clear that I was not in the right career path: It just wasn’t the right fit for me. But I was sort of stuck there, because you need a portfolio to get a job in design and I had no idea how to go about that process. After about a year and a half of talking to all of the designers at the ad agency, I eventually just took the plunge and quit to go back to school: I just wanted to see if I could follow this crazy dream of becoming a designer.

So you went back to school for design – how important is a formal education in design, do you feel? Do you need a degree to succeed within design?

Not necessarily. One of the great things about design is that people look more at your portfolio than at your education history. Design isn’t about who you know, or where you went to school: it’s about what you can do. It doesn’t matter where you gather that skill set. I opted to go back to school as a chance to build out my portfolio, and just to learn more about design in general – I felt like I needed a good foundation before I could start looking for jobs.

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As somebody coming from a business background, to what extent do you feel designers need to consider the business objectives of a project?

Business objectives are what separate designers from artists. Design is all about addressing a communication issue, so if a designer isn’t willing to consider what the communication issue is, they’re leaving out a key part of the puzzle.

I sit near a lot of the marketing team, so I get to kick ideas around with them, and talk through something if I feel it doesn’t make sense: That makes a huge difference. Maybe I’m biased, because I was in account management, but I still think that designers need to care about the business goals as much as the aesthetic.

To what extent has your work as an account executive carried over into your design work? Has it helped you, do you feel?

It definitely helped me a lot – many of the skills carried over into design. Great design comes from a methodical thought process. It’s also about paying attention to details, being organised, and managing your own projects: That set of skills was hammered into me during my time as an account executive. The best designers are those with lots of experience outside of design.

If you’re telling the wrong story, even the best design isn’t going to be effective.

Do you have any creative projects, outside of work, that you currently are working on?

I’ve been doing sculpting since, oh gosh, the 8th grade or something: I became kinda obsessed. I do wax sculpture, with wire armatures underneath – I find it really therapeutic to step away from the 2D world and think about how something physically occupies a space.

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Tell us about a little bit about the process behind your work at Sprout Social.

Before I start a project I really like to get a good idea of what the business objective is, so I can keep that in mind the whole time. After all, design is simply addressing a business problem visually – It’s important to remember that before you get lost in the nitty-gritty of color options and grid systems.

From there, we think about how we’re going to tell our story, through content and layout. It’s essential to get the flow of the story right before diving into the design. I find that a wireframe is really helpful there, so that people don’t get lost in the details and announce “I don’t like green” or “I don’t like purple.” Well, somebody who doesn’t like green would be particularly troublesome here: it’s Sprout, so we use it a lot!

Great design comes from a methodical thought process.

After that is my favorite part of the process, where I get to sit in front of Illustrator and throw ideas around for a while, or go talk to the marketing team and get their thoughts on the visual language that we’re creating.

Obviously, the process varies, depending on size and scope, but that’s the general process that I go through.

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What would you say is the most challenging part of that process for you?

I find that getting the story right is a very time-consuming process. If you’re telling the wrong story, even the best design isn’t going to be effective. It’s really just a matter of articulating what we want to say to the team, and getting everybody on board. It can be a painful process at times, but it’s so rewarding if you get it right.

The entire feedback process can happen in InVision, which makes everything so much easier for us.

What role does InVision play in your process at Sprout Social?

We love InVision – It’s really helped us streamline the whole review process. When I was working at the ad agency, I used to send out PDFs to everyone, get their feedback via email, retype all of the feedback, send it out to all of the various people, get their responses, retype that again and send it back to the client. Now the entire feedback process can happen in InVision, which makes everything so much easier for us. It’s essential that everybody is on the same page at every point in the design process.

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Is there a particular conversation going on in the design industry right now that you are really interested in?

Maybe I’m just hyper-aware of this because I’m both a designer and a developer, but something that’s been cropping up a lot these days is the notion of a jack-of-all-trades: Someone who has a good understanding of multiple aspects of the process. As a web designer, I think it’s really important to have a basic understanding of how your design is ultimately going to be implemented.

To take a very specific example, I know when I’m designing HTML emails not to use a background image, because that isn’t supported in certain versions of Outlook. You just can’t create a design like that. I would imagine that a designer who knew nothing about CSS support across email clients would find it very difficult to create an effective design. You need to understand the technologies if you want your designs to live within them.

What, in your opinion, makes a great designer?

The best designers are tuned in to the minutiae of their work. There is this stereotype that designers are flakey and have their heads in the clouds and are just off in their own world, but I feel like some of the best designers are very Type-A and are focused on those little details.

Design is about creating a visual system – That’s a very methodical process that has to happen. It’s all about creating a language that carries across everything you’re working on: Something robust, that doesn’t break apart when you create a new project. This isn’t always something the end user is fully aware of, but when something is off, they definitely know.

And finally, what advice would you give to designers that are starting out?

This is something that I really struggled with in design school, but it’s important to have a lot of patience as a designer – especially as a junior designer. There are going to be a lot of people who tell you that they don’t like what you’ve done – that it’s bad, or that you should redo it. That can be really frustrating and demoralising. It’s important to remember that feedback is a chance to grow stronger as a designer: everyone has off-days. Really good designers don’t give up: they keep practicing and keep building up that design muscle. If you’re not willing to get a little frustrated, you’re not challenging yourself enough.

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Author

Amanda Hackwith
Writer, editor, and lover of words, stories, games, and adventure. Tweets on @ajhackwith and at Google+.

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