Zach Grosser and Sam Verdile on how designers can work with a non-designer

Zach Grosser and Sam Verdile from Square

Working with non-designers can sometimes feel like the other person is not only on a different page than you, they’re reading and speaking a different language, too.

Laurie and Aimee, a creative team at Pinterest come from different creative experiences and sometimes have very different opinions, but they’ve managed to carve out an ideal situation. Laurie says, “I definitely work with Aimee as I would work with a friend. I can be honest with questions and brave with ideas, no matter how random they might seem. I’m very glad to have such a relaxed, creative and collaborative working relationship!” Desk placement in the office helps, too. Aimee says, “We sit right across from each other, so it’s easy to read her mind!”

We sat down with two designer and non-designer teams at Square and Pinterest to learn about how they’ve found common ground.

Zach Grosser + Sam Verdile from Square

This pair works on the corporate communications team, which in their world, requires the creation of investor relations materials, internal and public presentations, and infographics.

Zach joined the office experience team at Square four and a half years ago but put in hard work when he saw a spot open up for a presentation designer. Until a year ago, he was the sole designer handling everything that went through the comms team, including all the decks necessary to bring Square through its IPO.

Sam graduated with a journalism degree and went from financial communications and investor relations to a boutique agency that specialized in corporate communications to Alibaba before joining Square last summer. At Square, she’s expanded her skills to include communication for executives, culture and inclusion, and engineering.

Though Zach and Sam get to work on casual projects from time to time (like memes for social), a lot of what they do is taking complicated data and translating it for many different audiences. Here they talk about what they’ve taught each other and that time that time they migrated five years of blog posts to Medium in just two weeks.

Zach, how does Sam help shape your designs even though she’s not a designer?

Zach: Sam’s work on the comms team is story-based. She helps keep me focused on the key messages and the audiences that we’re trying to reach. That consistently pushes me to either rethink how we’re visually communicating or provides additional—and interesting—constraints.

Sam, what about from a communications perspective? How does Zach influence you?

Sam: First of all, Zach is a great writer! He’s also been at Square for four-and-a-half years, so he knows the Square voice extremely well. If I’m writing an executive blog post or Square statement, he’s the perfect person to provide feedback on how to ensure our written communications still sound and feel very Square. His institutional knowledge is invaluable. Most importantly, he was the first person to inform me that Square cares a lot about the Oxford comma.

What lessons have you learned working with someone who’s coming from a different perspective, but who still wants to meet the same goal that you do?

Zach: This is my favorite part of being a designer. I love, and often prefer, working with non-designers: getting different perspectives, hearing from people with different experiences, and working with people that have different goals for a project. It helps me clarify my work, too. If someone else doesn’t “get it,” then my design is obviously not being successful, and now that’s caught much earlier in the process.

Sam: Zach and I are both trying to tell a story. We’re all doing the same job. When you keep that in mind, the intricacies of the process become irrelevant, and everyone can focus on what needs to be done to create the strongest possible product for the intended audience.

Zach, has there been an instance where you’ve had to compromise for something Sam felt strongly about?

Zach: I think this is the nature of working in design. Everything is always going to change, and you have to be flexible to it. Think of it as an additional constraint or challenge. The copy will always change. The audience will likely stay the same, but the goals may be drastically different at the end of a project than they were at the beginning. Especially when working on financial documents, the numbers will change as the accounting is being checked and rechecked.

Is there a particular project you can tell us about where you felt like the two of you were working together like a well-oiled machine?

Zach: Sam and I recently worked on a rebrand and relaunch of Square’s engineering and developer blog, The Corner. We were trying to take the existing engineering blog that had been built years ago and not maintained, and add a developers’ component to it. We didn’t have anyone who could help with code, so Sam and I migrated five years of blog posts to Medium and rebranded the Square Engineering’s social media identity.

Sam: Zach proposed moving it to Medium for aesthetic reasons; upon further research, we found that there were myriad benefits in changing platforms, not the least of which was reducing barriers to entry for Squares (Square employees) to contribute blog content. It was a huge plus from the Comms perspective, as my main concern is ensuring we have a continuing stream of high-caliber blog posts. Because Zach and I work casually, but efficiently, we ran the process through approval channels and finished migrating five years of posts in less than two weeks.  

Laurie Berger + Aimee Rancer from Pinterest

This creative duo works in tandem as a designer/copywriter team at Pinterest working for their in-house creative studio, The Pin Factory, which specializes in removing creative barriers for Pinterest Partners.

Laurie Berger and Aimee Rancer

Laurie’s been a graphic designer for eight years, but a visual artist for as long as she can remember. As a designer at Pinterest, she enjoys “being involved in every step of an ad campaign, from brainstorming pitch ideas with creative strategists, to concepting with Aimee and other copywriters, to executing the finished design.

Aimee has a similar background, but all on the writing side. She’s written professionally for six years, starting in PR for tech, then making her way agency-side before joining Pinterest as a content manager.

These two talented women work closely together for a variety of projects big and small. We spent some time with them digging in on how a designer and copywriter can forge a healthy, collaborative working relationship:

Laurie, how is Aimee able to help push your designs even though she isn’t a designer?

Laurie: Aimee is excellent at laying the foundation for a concept, and she gives me a lot of freedom to bring her ideas to life through design.

And Aimee, from a writing perspective, how does Laurie push you?

Aimee: Laurie forces me to consolidate my thoughts and only showcase the most important information. Since Pinterest has design limitations, it’s super important to be succinct.

Let’s talk compromise. How does that come into play?

Laurie: We both really respect each other’s creative opinions, and if a design or idea of mine gets vetoed it has never been in a hurtful way. Sometimes we are aiming to please both a client and their agency, and not everyone’s ideas can make the final cut.

Aimee: Compromise is expected, but it should always come with patience!

Laurie, what are the challenges working with someone who doesn’t deal with design at the level you do?

Laurie: I’m fortunate to have a copywriting partner who is always helpful and not ego-driven. We go with the best idea, not necessarily our own idea. When working with clients, occasionally a client might question the design layout, and not understand why there is white space when their product or logo could be larger. Aimee understands that negative space is essential to a compelling design and backs me up in my explanation of the design, which I appreciate. If Pinterest’s home feed were full of in-your-face products with big logos overhead, it would not be the inspiring destination it is.

What lessons have you learned working with someone who’s coming from a different perspective, but who still wants to meet the same goal that you do?

Laurie: Since the end-product will be a visual design, I find it super helpful for both of us to cite visual examples whenever possible when working through the concepts. This helps everyone to envision the look and feel, and can also help demonstrate from the get-go if a concept is going to work visually or not.

Aimee: It’s taught me patience and above all, over-communication. A lot of things can get lost in translation when it comes to writing, conceptualizing and design so ensuring you and your partner are on the same page is essential.

Whether it’s arguing for the design when your copywriting partner insists on long copy, or a developer looking at your sketch and telling you it’s not going to happen, pairing up with someone outside of your expertise requires a special type of patience, understanding, and compromise.

Thanks to Zach, Sam, Laurie, and Aimee for sharing their insights about design and collaboration with us!