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Buffer is a pioneer in the remote work space, and in this episode you'll hear from Senior Marketing Designer Julia Jaskólska about how she gets her work done as Buffer's only marketing designer. As well as the processes for planning and designing effective sites, Julia also shares her philosophy on building a brand, collaborating with developers and setting the marketing team up for "self service" in their design needs.
0:00 - Introduction to Buffer
2:00 - The design team structure
4:00 - Work focus & responsibilities
8:00 - Project planning at Buffer
10:40 - Design process for the new homepage
15:30 - A/B testing & data
19:00 - Tools Buffer uses for the design process
23:15 - Web development
26:10 - Project management
29:00 - Collaborating with developers
32:55 - The Buffer brand
34:55 - Dealing with the workload as a solo designer
39:10 - Building a story brand
41:50 - "Self-service" design at Buffer
44:45 - What is Julia most proud of?
47:50 - Main takeaways & wrap up
Charli: Welcome back to Inside Marketing Design. I'm your host, Charli Marie, I'm the creative director at ConvertKit, and in this show, I'm giving you an in-depth look, at how brand and marketing design functions in a variety of different tech companies. We dive in to the brand principles, the processes, the projects, and how they get their work done. In today's episode, I'm speaking to Julia Jaskólska, who is the senior marketing designer at Buffer. Buffer is a software company that makes tools to help small businesses build their brands on social media. But, they're also well known for being one of the pioneers in the remote workspace. They are one of the first companies that I ever heard of with a fully distributed team, with transparent salaries, with four-day work weeks, I have a lot of respect for the way they run their business, and so, naturally, I was also very excited to dive in and learn more about the marketing design function of it specifically. In true Buffer fashion, Julia was very transparent throughout our conversation, and she had a lot of great insights about, how she gets work done as the solo marketing designer on a team of 80 people. You're gonna hear Julia talk about this more in the episode itself, but one of the tools that she uses to get her work done effectively as the solo marketing designer is our sponsor, Webflow. Webflow is a no-code platform for building websites that gives designers like us, the power to bring our ideas to life without needing separate development resources. It's very intuitive, It creates clean, production-ready code in the end, even though you're not actually hand-coding it yourself, I've been using it at ConvertKit on some projects, and I've been using it on my personal website for many years. In fact, the Inside Marketing Design website is built using Webflow, and it took me, just a few weekends to put it together. You can give it a try for yourself at insidemarketingdesign.co/webflow, but for now, let's get into the episode and take a look inside marketing design at Buffer.
Charli: Welcome Julia, really excited to have you on the show today, and to dive into marketing design at Buffer. I don't know if you know this, but I spent about half my career being the only designer on a team, and so, I know your situation well, but I also know that every designer, every solo marketing designer, it's different, right? Depending on the company that you work at. So I'm looking forward to learning about marketing design at Buffer today. Shall we start with you talking about the makeup of the team? So we know you're the only marketing designer, but where does your role fit within the company, How many other designers are on the team, talk us through that.
Julia: Yeah, sure. I'm excited. So, I am an only designer, but we have a design team, six designers at all, and the design team is divided for, for me as a marketing designer, and then the rest of designers there in the product, but the product of like, every designer works on the certain tool, It's more like in the areas, so there are some areas that are overlapping with marketing more, So that would be more like a group or onboarding,
Julia: On all of those areas. So I am at the design team, at the same time, I'm at the marketing, So technically, I report to Tyler, who is the VP of Design, and he's also like helping me with my career, and I have one-on-one with him, but then, when it comes to like, day-to-day work, I work at the marketing, and I mostly work with product marketers, and copywriters, and developers, so, they use it in the marketing.
Charli: So it's sort of like the marketing team, maybe, is where your work comes from, but your manager, and the person like, managing your career growth is the VP of design.
Julia: Yes, that's correct. We also have like, weekly meetings and we are all open for the feedback, so, I think it's always like super helpful to get some eyeballs from someone who is like a designer, even if not at the marketing, but I think this is like, super helpful to not to be like, completely alone at the team.
Charli: Yeah, that's good, that's really important, I think, for a long time at ConvertKit we didn't do design meetings, like I didn't meet with the product designers and get their feedback on my work, and I really miss that, I'm really glad we do now, and it's good to hear that, that you do that.
Julia: Yeah. This is something that's super valuable always, to hear other perspectives.
Charli: Yeah. Let's talk about your work and what you focus on. I find that usually what the marketing designer focuses on and their work is what the marketing team focuses on in like, the way they market the product, but not always, I don't know if that's true for you, and if so, what are the main types of projects that you work on?
Julia: Yeah, I think it's kind of similar because we are like, fully digital product. I think this is kind of obvious that, most of the projects are also digital. So it's mostly about like, website, or like product launches, there are a bit of social media assets that we need for, say, timeline just to have the most impact for each of the reward, but it happens that we also have like some prints, I'm always super excited about those because my background is actually, like, printmaking. So this is from what I graduated so it's always super excited, and it's also super exciting for everyone because we were like, fully remote team, digital and everything, So, if we produce something that you actually can touch, like everybody's always so excited about it. And so we had the beginning of Q1, I think, we had like a pretty big campaign, it was about the engagement with the customer, and we created like, swag boxes. There was like a bathrobe. And then when people that my team noticed that we produced like, bathrobe, because it was about like difficult times, COVID and so on, we wanted them to be like, okay, you have to just, chill out and we have everything covered, and you just let go and rest in the Buffer bathrobe, and then, folks at my team noticed that and they were like, "oh, why do I don't have that one?" And that was like, okay, okay, so we have to produce more of the prints.
Charli: For the team.
Julia: For the team too, Yeah. And it was great. But I think for me, like, no matter if this is digital or print, I spent most of my time on invisible parts, which I call, so this is like planning, thinking about the success metrics, like, what actually is the problem that we solve, so I think the most important work, no matter if this is print or digital, this is always like, Dropbox paper, and then thinking about, like, what you're actually trying to do, because it often happens at the end of the day, when you work on something, without having the success metric set, or things like that, or actually the problem defined, then at the end of the day, you find out that you actually have like a detour, and you're doing completely different things.
Charli: Yes. I definitely want to dig into success metrics and all of that. 'Cause I love when a designer is especially focused on those things, but maybe before we get into that, can we talk about the things you're responsible for? So it sounds like you are responsible for some success metrics. Are you also responsible for like, the Buffer marketing site, for example, what are your main responsibilities?
Julia: Okay. That's interesting. One, because it really depends on the project. I think that our structure is pretty flat, so currently, I'm also an owner of the website, so I'm responsible for success metrics of the projects too, and I'm also responsible for verifying their work. So, it really depends on the project, so if I'm an owner, I'm responsible for the metrics and also for making the work done, so yeah, I would say it really depends, but yeah. success metrics are included in that.
Charli: So you, might there be projects where someone else is the owner of like a landing page or something like that, and you're the person like doing the design work for it, but they are owning the success metrics and the delivery.
Julia: Yeah, exactly, and then they prepare mostly the briefs and I'm helping them, I am on the owner, it's mostly me preparing the briefs and writing down what are the problems we are trying to solve and why this is important, and yeah, so it really depends on who is the owner, but it's really like a collection.
Charli: Okay, cool. Yeah, let's dig into that a little more, then. how does a project, first of all, how does it get decided? Which projects get worked on at Buffer? And then, how does it get decided who's gonna be the owner of each?
Julia: Oh. Yeah. So we have the OKRs, it's a framework for the entire company, so, this is super helpful for us to know what is the priority for the rest of work. We have, the one metric for the entire company, and then it spreads down to certain areas. So we treat that as the, I don't know, like, north star for our work.
Julia: And then we also think about what are the product launches, and what is the timeline for the product, and then we try to see what we should work first, what would be the most impactful, what campaigns we can do around the product launch to maximize its impact. Then when it comes to who works on what, I think that everyone has some, like interests, and I think this just happens automatically, I don't know, like, for instance, Ash is great in the content and he loves podcasts, so he always, tackles that, and, yeah, Then Mike gets more into the product marketing. So it just happens like that, and then, me and the website...
Charli: So there's not like, there's one person being a program manager or something like, I don't know, deciding what gets worked on, and like assigning it to people, it's more like you meet as a group and have this discussion. I'm guessing that maybe the head of marketing or someone like that would have the final say, right? In what happens.
Julia: Yeah. Yeah, that's for sure. But we are now in this like, tricky situation, that's we are hiring a new VP of marketing because we don't have now, we are like, now, the boss for ourselves, which is like, we have to,
Charli:- Right, right. And you make it happen.
Julia: Yeah, Yeah.
Charli: That's good. That's good. I like that.
Julia: It's like, all of the group helps, and you know, when you're in the area that you're not super fluent in, so that's great, and I think we are doing great.
Charli: Yeah, yeah. That's really good to hear with OKRs, do you set them, more like work on a quarterly cadence, then? Are you sort of planning what work we're gonna do over the next three months, And then who's going to own what, and making it happen?
Julia: Yeah, exactly. So every quarter we work on the new ones, and then they are mostly online with the product first, because we are a product-driven company. And then we set hours, Yeah, and then we think about the projects, we usually list them down, and then we pick like, okay, I think that this project will be more impactful for the certain key results, and based on that we prioritize which one should we work, and then the order of the projects.
Charli: Can we talk through maybe, I don't know, like a recent project that you worked on, or maybe it was a recent product launch, and about what marketing went into it. I would just love to hear, sort of start to finish, Okay, this thing came up for the product and we decided to do this, and how you got it done. We want to get nerdy and into the details. So don't feel like you're going too deep because I mean that doesn't exist on this show.
Julia: Yeah. So maybe I will talk about, the new homepage that we launched some time ago, but this I think, is a great example to show
Julia: Buffer is a social media platform, We have currently three main tools, which is like publishing, analytics, and engagement, but we are kind of positioned in the past that we are only like a scheduling tool and we wanted to change this perception of Buffer, But it was hard because our homepage was still the publish page. And so people didn't see, that we have also analytics and engagement tools. It was a bit tricky because also, because of the conversion, and we were afraid of changing it, but we knew that this is needed. So we, we defined like, what's the problem, because that was like, purely the perception problem, also the problem of the UX, because it's just like the navigation, on the website was just like, off, and so we wrote down all of the problems, and then, we also said like, success metrics, and we set the A/B test. And then we had Spencer, who was like a website manager and he helped with writing the copy, But my collaboration with him was always like, super close. We are like, brainstorming both on the copy and on the design, and also like, on the success metrics too. So we put together to the design, it was like a few iterations, and then we shape it to test. And then of course, it wasn't like a closed case because we were thing still for the day that come and and see if this actually was a success for the program that we set, if the solutions told that, and also if the success metric was okay. And we saw that it was a success, because we saw over 20% increase in monthly recurring revenue.
Charli: That is definitely a success. Like, to know as well, that, how cool as a designer to know that your work played a big part in that?
Charli: I just, I love that. And that's why I like getting into the data as a designer, I think it's really validating, on your work and on the value of design.
Julia: Yeah, it resonates.
Charli: How long of a timeframe did you have to work on this homepage? How long did it take?
Julia: So I think for design itself, it was about two weeks, but it included all of the conversation, because I really try to avoid the waterfall ethic that they have copying, then I just like, create, based on the copy, of course I'm inspired.
Charli: You want to help these people.
Julia: Yeah. So there was like, a lot of back and forth, and it takes time too, so I would say like two weeks, and then before that, I think, Spencer also had like, one, two weeks to think through the messaging and the general direction.
Charli: Mmhmm. So around a month for this, like, the design of the new homepage.
Julia: Yeah, but it was a big project, so we didn't want to hurry at this one.
Charli: That's funny, though, that you think that a month is like, not a hurry because I've heard from other people, of things taking much longer than that, and like, we've had projects at ConvertKit and they take much longer than that, too. So I think a month to get a new homepage is a really good timeline, honestly.
Julia: Okay. That's good to hear from other perspective.
Charli: You mentioned that this project came about because there was perception that you were only a publishing tool, right? Where did that come from? Did it come from user research, did it come from what you were hearing, people saying about Buffer? I'm just curious to know more about that.
Julia: Yeah, it was mostly from user research. And so we we'd run some surveys, mostly our product marketers talk pretty often with our customers and they ask like, how do you see this or that? And also this comes from the tickets, in the support team.
Julia: We can also just see like, people ask for certain things, and we were like, "Oh, but did we have that." And then we're like, "Okay, something is wrong."
Charli: Isn't that funny, right? How you have to like repeat things so often to get people to understand. We launched a free plan at ConvertKit, like, oh, I don't even know how long ago now, over a year ago. And we still have people being like, "Oh, I guess I'll start with Mailchimp because it's free," And we're like, "No, but, wait, we have a free plan too, and you could start here too,"
Julia: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Charli: We still need to get it into people's minds, 'cause we didn't have one for so long.
Charli: So I hear you on that.
Julia: Yeah, that's really true.
Charli: It sounds like it worked, though. And you said you ran this as an A/B test, so it was the new design, versus the old one. Is what you were testing, right?
Julia: Yes, exactly. Buffer published as a homepage, versus, like, all the products shown on the homepage, mmhmm.
Charli: Is that something that you do often? Test a new design versus an old one? To like, validate it, I guess, Or only for big important things like the homepage.
Julia: We do try to do that because I think it's like, kinda, sometimes because test the entire page or the entire flow, most recently we changed the entire flow. So skipped the pricing because now, we have the funnel, like, sign up, you click the CTA, then it goes to pricing page, and then from the pricing page, you pick the plan and then you start the trial or free, in certain plans, and so we wanted to skip this and push everyone to free. So this was definitely an A/B test because it was like huge change for everything. So we did test that. When we have some like smaller changes to, okay, I will update, I don't know, the image somewhere, We usually don't test it because this is time-consuming and it's not always, but then, we plan more changes later this year and we definitely want to A/B test something because it's not even like, reducing the risk, but also knowing that the direction you take, it's right.
Julia: This is super helpful for me, to, for instance, learn which design works better, And if my hypothesis that I say, okay, I will draw "X" that is actually the right height, but does this is maybe, an issue, draw "Y."
Charli: Yeah. Yeah, totally. I mean, I love learning from A/B tests as the designer. Yeah. It's one of my favorite things to take learnings as well and apply it to other things. Or like, I feel like every piece of data you get can help. You make better decisions for projects in the future as well. Which is cool. Yeah. And, do you have a data team or someone that you're working with on this, like, who is the one running this test and like, looking at the data and making a call and, you know, on when it reaches statistical significance and all of that. How does that work for you?
- Yeah. Yeah. Good question. We have Matt who helps with data and he's responsible for the website, and also like seeing the impact on the funnel that I mentioned, So definitely, it's not like the designer is alone there. It's great that we have access to Mixpanel where we can see all of the changes, but it's not like, we have to really fully understand everything that happens there.
Julia: So for instance, I like to to take a peek in there and see like how this performs, but it doesn't mean that I have to really understand everything, and know everything about data.
Charli: Yeah. Yeah. Cool, that makes sense. I love that you have access to it, though, because it's getting you close to the data, that's cool. What service do you use to run these A/B tests?
Julia: So I think we have, we have some internal tool, I think that our engineering team built.
Julia: So we called it, "Albert," but this is not any name for, for the tool that you can call.
Charli: I love it, you just, gave it a name, like a person's name.
Charli: That's great, yeah. I'm hearing from a lot of people, when I ask about A/B testing, that internal tools is generally what happens. And I don't know, I think that might be what we need to do at ConvertKit as well, because we've not had much success with, you know, tools like Google Optimize, or something like that, It just, we're not getting the right data from it, or that they don't seem to be running correctly, so, I'm hearing that we might need to build our own internal tool. Speaking of tools, though, let's go into a little more about what tools are involved as part of your marketing design process. Drop some names.
Julia: Yeah. Okay, so, Dropbox. Yeah.
Charli: Dropbox. Okay. And you said Dropbox Paper before as well. So is that your main, like, documentation tool that you're used to, rather than Google Docs, for example?
Julia: Yeah, exactly, so Dropbox Paper is a tool that, where everything actually happens, we start from design briefs and then the design briefs actually includes everything. All of the napkin notes, all of the research, all of the explorations, all of the feedback that we find, and then, really quickly, it becomes like another select channel, because people go there, and command and write in line…
Julia: And so this is like, it's really interesting to see how this paper look then evolves. So I would say this is the place where the invisible design happens. And then when it comes to like moving pixels, which I call, so like the design tool, I like to use Affinity Designer. This is the tool that is magical for me, I was looking for the tool that gives me this freedom of actually having, rosters and vectors and then, everything at once. So it's like having Photoshop and Illustration in one tool, but the same time, I can just do whatever that I can draw there. And this is like super important for me. I know that there are some designers that use Figma entirely. I don't know how you do that…
Charli: Mmhmm. I'm one them.
Julia: Okay so, kudos for you. I think that it's mostly because of my background, I like to have illustrations that I can, directly on the web layout. Like, I can just directly change because I see the composition off, and I can just like, predict that it will work when I have this on iPad. And also Affinity Designer has like a great app for the iPad, so I usually, draw out there the illustration, and then it's all like, work really seamlessly. And it also has like a huge downside, which is, of course, collaboration. And we are a fully, remote company. And, this is, difficult because, yeah, it's not like you have just, you know, that you're clicking on the link and everything opens in there. I think like, Figma made us all lazy, because in the past it was normal that you're like, passing the file to someone, and someone was opening there, and we had like a Dropbox folders, and everything was tidy, and it wasn't a problem. And now I noticed that everything that isn't a link, it's already a problem. You have to download something. There is something that is like, kind of worrying me in this, because I certainly believe that, everything should be the easiest possible, but at the same time, I don't know, there's something off in this level, you know, like it's always a problem when I send someone, a Dropbox link, for instance, even if they have the tool, like they, they won't open it. And I don't know, like I have some theory that it's just like, Figma is great, but, it just create some bad habits, too.
Charli: Interesting. I love it, coming in with a hot take. Do the product designers on the Buffer team use Affinity Designer as well? Like, are you able to share files with them, if needed?
Julia: No, they only have Figma. So I think this is also, what complicates stuff.
Julia: And so, now I'm working on creating a library with all of the elements, even like some blocks that we can build, quickly, the website. So maybe this is my hypothesis, that maybe then I can still keep working in Affinity Designer, and also have people able to move the blocks, and maybe even like some non-designer people to build simple layouts from ready-made blocks, so they don't have to open the Affinity Designer.
Charli: Hmm. Interesting. I like hearing this. I like that it's different as well. 'Cause usually I do hear Figma in response to like, "What tools do you use?" So I really appreciate your hot take on it, Julia. What about the website itself? Do you have a developer on the team that you work with on building that? Do you build it? What system does that use? Talk us through that.
Julia: Yeah, sure. So, our main website. So all of the important pages that are impactful for conversion, a lot of the business metrics are built by a developer. So we have a developer at the team. But we also use Webflow for quick campaigns. And these are usually built, so we have like, those both directions. We also try to implement Prismic for headless CMS. So, this will be something between Webflow and a static page. I have some high hopes for this tool, because I'm sometimes afraid of letting people into Webflow, into the designer because it's like, super easy to just like change the class, and so, I think,
Charli: And then everything's screwed up...
Julia: So even if I have all of the guidelines written in Notion, like how to do it, I still can't sleep when I share the credential with someone, It's not that I trust, but it's just like, yeah, it's just easy just to do it by accident, also happens to me that I changed something, and then I see something floating in the other place, So yeah, so we will build more and more in Prismic because we use Prismic for the CMS, but not for the layouts that non-technical teammates can build from, so, that will be something new.
Charli: Gotcha. Can you give me an example of something you might build in Webflow versus having the developer build on the main site?
Julia: When there are like, campaigns, because something happens in the world, I don't know, like with the COVID, or Black Lives Matter movement, so those are campaigns that we have to ship fast, so then I want to avoid like, all of the hand-off, I want to like give something quickly, and then I even don't use any actual tool, because I design directly in Webflow, maybe just like the a logo or just like an illustration, so this is just like super, super quick for us to build. And then for the developer, those are all of the pages that we know that will stay with us for longer, that we maybe we'll run some A/B tests in there, so this is like the difference, we have like the entire flowchart to know, like if someone wants to build some new project, which tool you should use, and we also have there in Prismic, and we just know, some use case to start exploring this one.
Charli: I love that. Okay. So when someone wants to kick off a project, there's this flowchart, they can work down to decide, okay, this is going to be part of the main site, if you will gonna build it in Webflow, are we going to implement the headless CMS.
Julia: Yeah. Exactly
Charli: Cool. I like that. Sounds like a good system for a remote company to have as well, avoids a meeting, right? To discuss it, they can just go through the flowchart and decide for themselves.
Julia: Yeah exactly, you knew.
Charli: I feel like I heard, you mentioned Notion before, that you had some documentation in Notion about using Webflow. That's interesting to me to hear you that you use Notion and Dropbox Paper, where do those two tools come in for you, and like, what do you use each on for?
Julia: Mmhmm. Notion actually has two use cases. And the first one is like the Wiki for the entire company, you can find,
Charli: Ah. Okay.
Julia: All the information about everything. Actually, it's like a huge library that, you know, you go from one article to the other article, and there is, there is no end. The other one is for making project visible. So it's kinda like maybe, Asana, maybe Jira. So you can see every single project that everyone, the company works currently, And then Paper is more for communication, more for like, planning certain things, but all of the papers should be linked into the Notion. So if someone is like, "Okay, I'm curious what Julia is working now," So they can go there and check, And also they should find a way to find the brief and all of the conversation that happens around certain project.
Charli: So it sounds like Notion is more like the hub and it links out to Paper docs or files and things like that. And it also sounds like Notion is the project management tool, which was another thing I was going to ask about, is like, how do you manage projects? How do you stay on track? And I don't know, assign tasks and work together. So yeah, Notion answers that, I guess, anything more to say on that?
Julia: Yeah. We also have Jira of course, for more like, development work, just for the developer to make it all easier. Like, okay, those are only my projects, and this also links to the product engineers because they also work in Jira. So we still have some tools that are outside of Notion, more for, I think, planning for the individual, not for that company visibility.
Charli: Yeah, that's a good way to describe the split. When there's a new page to build for the main marketing site, one that is going to be part of the flow, you know, so it's gonna stick around, maybe it's when you want to A/B test, you will put it in Jira for the developer to work on it from there?
Julia: Yes, exactly. Exactly. Sometimes it happens that they do that on their own, they put it to Jira, because when, actually, the new page is coming, it's usually a bigger project, it's not like a tiny thing, so this is mostly visible. And then, oftentimes it happens to me that, okay, I see something is off, and so then I place it in Jira, so I don't have to like message them every time, It's just like, easy for everyone.
Charli: Gotcha. Yeah, yeah. Yep. Submit a ticket for the change that needs to happen. That makes a lot of sense. Going back to the, like, this homepage design, as an example of a project, you said you worked really closely with, the person who is writing the copy, right? And you would both feed off each other to determine the structure of the page and the messaging, and they gave you feedback on the design as well. Who else is a stakeholder in a project like that, that you made sure you got feedback from and, and how do that process work?
Julia: Mmhmm. So for sure that would be VP of design. Actually, all of the conversation happens like, transparently so,
Charli: Anyone could give a feedback.
Julia: Yeah, anyone. Exactly. We oftentimes also ask the advocacy team, so they are aware that the changes are coming, and if they can see something, might cause more tickets, because we don't want that, so everything is like, transparent. So when it comes to the main stakeholder, that would be VP of marketing mostly.
Charli: And how does it work with the developer? First of all, what team do they sit on in the company? Are they part of the marketing team? The overall engineering?
Julia: Yeah. This is a good question. So the situation is similar to mine, they are in engineering, so they have engineering manager, for sure they have their own meeting, of front-end engineers that they can share the learnings and feedbacks and, and code reviews, But at the same time, day-to-day, they work with marketing, and with me. So it's like, kinda similar to mine.
Charli: Yeah, yeah. It is. That makes sense that you were both are in a similar situation there. And what is your collaboration process look like together? How do you work with the developer and what have you found to be some, I don't know, useful ways of getting, 'cause something we always struggle with, as designers, right, is taking the design from our design software to the web. And like, I don't know, there's always something that looks different, but things that you do to minimize any of those differences.
Julia: Yeah. I actually think that, our relation with web developer is super important and this is something that we, as designers should always work. I'm actually in the group that thinks we are designers, we don't have to code, actually, maybe we shouldn't.
Charli: Another hot take.
Julia: But I think that it's important for us to know the power and limitation of certain solutions that we come up. So actually for me, Webflow is a great tool. It's a good tool, but I know what we can do.
Julia: I know what is time consuming. I try to loop developers early, so they also can come up with your own ideas, Like I want a developer to be partially a designer, and I also want me, to be partially a developer. So it doesn't mean like I have to code, but I,
Charli: You understand them.
Julia: Yeah, there has to be like some overlap. So I tried to loop them early. I don't want to have like a waterfall effect that, okay, this is ready design, this is a package, there you go. Because, then the developer, they don't know what they are building, why they're building. And I think this is important that developer is not only like, the constructor of something that we do. They should know what problem we are solving, because they have completely different mindset, at least from mine. And they have brand new ideas. They are super creative people, they know the problems. So yeah, I think this relation is super important to be open and not be treated like designers, developers like cats and dogs...
Charli: Yep, yep.
Julia: It shouldn't be that.
Charli: Yeah, I totally agree with you on that. I think that it's been super valuable for me to work closely with our developer, to understand if something I'm designing is going to add to the build time, then I can be like, well, it's not really that important. We'll take that bit out. Or, you know, just, it makes a lot of sense, it helps you be more efficient to the design professional. understanding that, I think. I totally agree there. You mentioned to me earlier, when we were talking off-interview, that something that you quite like, or like find interesting about Buffer is balancing the personality of the brand with the business needs as well. Can you tell us a little bit, like, how would you describe the Buffer brand? First off, and then, talk about that balance a little bit.
Julia: Yeah. So when we created a new identity for Buffer, it was like, over three years ago or so, We wanted something that is professional. I mean, that it builds trust, but at the same time, it's kind of low key, it's like, something that is fun, That is like, I don't know, like you can play with, something that you can spend time with, and I think like, back then we were targeting mostly the social media managers. So they spent a lot of time on social media, so we wanted something that is fun for them, so they are not like tired, bored, and wanted to have some funny illustration.
Julia: But at the same time, we didn't want this to be like, childish or something. So we wanted to find the right balance of colorful, fun stuff, with something that builds trust. I would say when there is like a chart, or on here you have, something super professional, that maybe suits for banks, and then you have something super fun, I think we would be somewhere in the middle on this chart.
Charli: I see as I look at the Buffer website, maybe I'm seeing some of the, like, how with Affinity Designer, you were able to draw in the same app that you're designing, moving the pixels around in. 'cause we do see some cool illustrative elements around the place. And, I don't know, just from hearing you talk about why you like Affinity Designer, I can see that, coming through on the site, like, I can see that you've maybe able to include more of that stuff, which is really cool.
Julia: Great. That's great to hear that it's visible, thank you.
Charli: Yeah, of course. It's looking cool. I'm curious to know this, so as a solo designer, something that I always found to be a challenge was just, like, there's always more work than I have time available to do it. I don't know, Is that something that you've found as well?
Julia: Absolutely. Yes.
Charli: Yeah. Okay. So what are some ways that you get around that? Like, have you implemented, I don't know, templates, where people can self-serve. Is there some sort of process for people to request your help? Talk to us a little bit about that, 'cause I know any other solo designers listening would love advice in this area.
Julia: Yeah. Yeah. So I think that OKRs are super-helpful because you have certain goals, and you all work towards the same goals. So it's not like, everyone is, "Okay. I have this awesome idea and I will work on that."
Julia: If that happens, I always ask why. Like, why you actually want to do that? Does it impact the metrics we all work towards? Or what problems does it solve? That would be my advice, to ask why always, when you start the project or someone asks you, like, I don't know, move this image somewhere, but just actually, "Why they want me to move it there?" It's not like, I don't want to do that, but just like, tell me why, so maybe we can find another solution for the problem you're trying to solve.
Charli: Yeah. And, I mean, is it you, the one who's weighing up? Okay, is this project that someone's asked me to work on? Is it going to have more impact on our OKRs than this one over here that I'm already worked on with the marketing team? Are you sort of weighing that up and deciding where your priorities should be?
Julia: I think this happens to me, kind of naturally, because we as marketing designers are in this interesting position that we're touching all of the areas around. So that is like a product, it's data, it's development, it's brand design, or brand marketing. And me jumping from one area to another area. I just noticed that we have huge gaps, and I just started to communicate that something is off because I was in the situation, like, I am the one designer and I should work on everything, so I just started noticing that, maybe this project is important for this area, but maybe if we take this resources and move them to the other project that is there, that would be more impactful and efficient for everyone. So it wasn't me deciding like, "Hey, let's not work on this." I always communicate that with the owner of the projects...
Julia: But also with the managers, like maybe they should take a look at this because maybe we are focusing on the wrong areas and, then the OKRs came and we still are working on this to make it better and better. I think it happens, but it also needs time.
Charli: I like that. I like that you're making use of the fact that, like you said, you are very connected across the company to a lot of different teams and a lot different projects and maybe you have more visibility of what's happening than people who are only needing to focus on what's happening in their stream of work. So yeah, I think that's great to actually make use of that as well. It makes the whole company better, I think. And this is why marketing designers are important, you know?
Julia: Yes. We are so very important.
Charli: What are some of the other challenges that you face as the solo marketing designer on the team at Buffer? So we talked about things like the stream of work and making connections, is there anything else you want to call out as a challenge? Maybe something you've overcome, something you're still working on.
Julia: Yeah, so definitely, that was, filling those gaps, was a big problem for me, because I think, I as designers, we should be curious and interested in the areas that are around us, but at the same time...
Julia: It's super hard, and it was for me, to not take too much on my plate because I dunno, I was like, okay, I understand that, and actually, this is fun. I can grow in there, but then I actually was taking too much responsibilities because then I took too much on the management, too much on the messaging, and I just wanted to fix everything, so everyone is happy at work, because of working in certain areas, I could see more, maybe, that someone who is like just gets down on the one area. So we had also like the situation like this with new positioning. We started to be more focused on small businesses and we wanted to change the entire messaging.
Julia: But, I just didn't know what it means, small business, like small-medium business. Because, when you think about small business, or small-medium business, it is up to, I think, 500 people, or something like,
Charli: Oof. Which I would not consider small
Julia: Yeah, but, you like, Google what small businesses is, this is it. And so I think, like, this is not small for me either. So I didn't know actually what the messaging should be and how we, as Buffer solve the problems, because before we were social media company and we were helping the social media managers, so that was like a big change for me.
Charli: Right, that is quite a change.
Julia: And then I didn't know, actually what I should design, how the new page should be structured, how the copy should be changed, I was reading a lot how to just like, ask enough of “why” to understand what is the value proposition of Buffer within your positioning. And I found this book, StoryBrand, by Donald Miller, and there's like a great framework for writing this messaging, And it's based on like a story that you have always a hero and you have also a guide and there is something that happening and the guide is helping you, and then, the author is showing that actually every movie in Hollywood is based on this story. And this is just like a hook for someone who watches that or reads that, so I was thinking, I will try that, And so I ran a few workshops with my teammates and also I included stakeholders to explain what they mean by, we are helping small businesses. And so we started to write the new messages for the homepages, and for the pricing pages based on that. And this is great because this applies actually, to everything. It's great, because then, you can have like, one cohesive story, across not only the website, but also all the channels that you can imagine.
Charli: Yeah. And I love that you were the one leading out on that as well. You know, identifying it as a problem and making it happen. Like, what I'm hearing is basically, you do a lot of things that aren't moving pixels around on the screen.
Julia: Yeah, a lot of invisible design.
Charli: You're bringing impact in a lot of ways. Invisible design. I like it. Invisible details. So it sounds like the work you do, obviously, has a big impact on Buffer. And, you know, that's not only from the way you contribute across teams, but also from the success metrics as well. You know, like you said about the homepage, a 20% increase in the MRR is amazing from your homepage. What is the general attitude towards marketing design in the business at Buffer?
Julia: We touch everything. Because we touch MRR, but we also touch, I think employer branding too, and also like the branding. And I think that employer branding is something that, it's actually not that obvious, if you think of the role, but we notice that, for instance, we created a new Buffer identity. I have had many folks reaching out to me, "Julia, I finally can share with my family where I work, because like, I am finally proud of this, where I work."
Julia: And so people started to really be proud that they are contributing to something that is great, and it's really impacted that. And also like, creating,
Charli: That's good.
Julia: The right guidelines, or the resources, so they can build like, basic elements, And then you actually contribute to something that you're not working on, I mean, right, "How?"
Julia: But this is like, great, this is so fulfilling When I see someone use some of the components that I prepared earlier, and they're using it, and following the guidelines, and this is really on-brand and this is super fulfilling. And also like the engagement of the customers, of course, this also builds trust for our customers and for new customers as well.
Charli: I love that. I love that you can, like, technically have designed something without actually designing it yourself.
Julia: Yeah, it's magic.
Charli: What sort of things do people build for themselves? Are they building out full landing pages? like social media assets? I don't know, what have you allowed people to self-service?
Julia: I would love for people to build simple landing pages, and I'm sure that the crew will get there soon, but it's not yet,
Charli: No yet. Yup.
Julia: I let them build like a simple promo assets for advocacy team, for social media too, they have like, a basic template. Sometimes if we have like, a new campaign. They create just one graphic, and then they would duplicate it, for other resolutions and other stuff.
Charli: That's great, that they can do that. Are you creating those in Affinity Designer, or are they using Affinity Designer for that?
Julia: No. Then I use Figma, so, I usually just like,
Charli: Okay. you’re forced to use Figma.
Julia: Yes. No, this is like a great use case of Figma, and I agree, but it's just like, hard me through to produce my work from the start to finish.
Charli: Yep. You feel like you're cheating on Affinity Designer in a way. When you have to use Figma. Let's end by talking about something you're most proud of, from your time working in marketing design at Buffer.
Julia: Yes, so for sure that was the new Buffer's identity, because it was huge, it was, yeah, we had like really weird website back then, Like, every single page looked differently, We didn't have, actually show all on what we do, that was also, in a different repository, so you could just see everything was different. The messaging was different, everything. So that was a big project, first to ship that, then to see if they perform well. And then to update all of the other channels that are out there, then to prepare all of the assets and,
Charli: It's a big project.
Julia: Yeah, and to teach people how they should use it. So that was big, and for sure, like, yeah, this increase in monthly recurring revenue was, big, but also we could see it in the survey, it comes to like, more, fresh projects, we are working on a video explainer for a new Buffer and that is coming up. That was great, this was something for me to grow as a designer, and maybe a bit like an art director, because again, I used the framework of Donald Miller and the entire, was a bit above one minute, animation/video. And so I created the storyboard, then I had product marketing market that helped me with that, and we created a copy, and then we outsourced all of the ready illustrations and all of the storyboards to be animated. And this was like a huge project as well, because it was new to us. And I think the outcome was,
Julia: Was pretty good, I mean, I'm super satisfied and I see what I could improve next time, but I think that was definitely great, thinking that we did that almost entirely in-house.
Charli: Yeah. That's awesome to just to have you involved in that, that level of things as well, you know, in not just the illustrations for the video, but the messaging behind it as well, and the storyboard, and all that. That's a fun skill.
Julia: Because we saw that the engagement of the video is over 75%, And so we will try also, this on the homepage and see if after watching the video conversion rate increases or something like that.
Charli: Nice. Okay, well, we're going to have to like, hear you report back on that, I think, to tell us how it went, but that's awesome. This has been really great Julia, love hearing about and how a fellow solo designer, you know, gets their work done. And I love hearing about how involved you are in the whole company as well. So thank you for everything you've shared and thanks for being on the show.
Julia: Thank you it was a pleasure, and thanks for having me.
Charli: Hope you enjoyed the episode, everyone. Julia, to me, is just like the embodiment of everything you need to be successful as the solo designer on a team. She's got this curiosity and willingness to learn new skillsets and jump in on things that are going to help make her design work better and fill in gaps. She can think about strategy and not just the pixels that she's putting on the page. Of course, she has a ton of passion for what she does as well. I hope you found it useful to hear about marketing design at Buffer. I would love to hear about any key takeaways that you had from this episode, and you can feel free to tweet them to me. I am @charliprangley on Twitter, or leave a comment in the comment section on the YouTube video, because, in case you didn't know, Inside Marketing Design is a show available in both video and audio forms. And you can find both by searching for, Inside Marketing Design on YouTube, or on the podcast app of your choice. If you use Apple Podcasts to listen to the show, or, I mean, quite frankly, even if you don't, I really appreciate it if you would leave us a rating and a review. I think there is a severe lack of content around marketing design around this, like, "non-product" side of design and tech. And if you leave a rating and review of the show, helps us get in front of more people, and hopefully, it can help us find more designers, like us, who are in need of this type of content. I wanna say a huge thank you to our sponsor, Webflow, They make the process of designing, building, and launching websites super simple. Whether you're making landing pages like Julia is at Buffer, or using it for personal projects, side projects, your portfolio, check it out at InsideMarketingDesign.co/webflow and give it a try for yourself. You'll find that link in the description/show notes, along with links too, where you can find Julia and check out some of her work at Buffer as well. All right. Thanks for tuning in, and I'll see you next week for another nerdy deep dive into marketing design.
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