Let’s face it: online meetings can be awkward, especially when you don’t know anyone in the video call. You might still be waking up with your first cup of coffee while someone else is bouncing with energy in a later time zone.
Working Visually at McBeard -- Interview with Kailey Howell
McBeard is not your average media marketing company. Their clients include names like Coca Cola, Universal Studios, Netflix, Disney and more. Astonishingly, though, their 150-person company is mostly remote.
So how do they stay creative? It turns out that MURAL plays an important role.
In their early stages, teams at McBeard had been dropping material into an IM box. Even when the company was small, this was tedious -- so much so that it would have prevented them from growing.
MURAL changed that. It allowed them to collaborate upon large quantities of material quickly and at scale. Now, they can share lots of materials visually, communicate on ideas quicker, and show work with clients easier -- even with a distributed team.
Kailey Howell, Creative Director at McBeard, was an early adopter of MURAL and a remains a power user to this day. In this interview, she discusses how working remotely can still include working visually, such as creating moodboards online.
JIM: Tell us a little bit McBeard and what makes you special? What are you all about, and what's your secret sauce?
KAILEY: I think what makes McBeard special is that we're all about creating content people love for brands that love people. This means creating the right piece of content for the right audience on the right platform at the right time.
For me, it is similar to coming across a rare item that you know would be the perfect gift for your close friend or loved one. That same type of intentional gift-giving is what we do on a daily basis by creating content people love and want to claim as their own.
JIM: So what does a typical week look like for you? What do you spend your time doing?
KAILEY: The best way to describe it is probably "there is no typical week." :)
The majority of my time is spent creating the pitches that bring in new business -- working with a team to develop the strategy and creative vision for a brand's presence (or specific campaign) on social. Some days I'm thick in the weeds working with designers and animators, and other days I'm deep into keynotes making sure that our presentation is cohesively painting the right narrative for our client.
And almost every day, I'm doing some sort of moodboarding -- whether it's to showcase a specific art direction envisioned for a brand, or images that represent a segment of a brand's target audience. I'm a visual communicator, so finding the right image to depict an emotion, a message, or a concept speaks volumes.
Oh man — I don’t know how people create moodboards offline these days!
JIM: Sounds like a lot of visual, creative work. How does that work with a distributed team? How do you keep the creative juices flowing and momentum going even when your team is not in the same place at the same time?
KAILEY: To be honest, it hasn't always been easy. When there were just a handful of us in the company, we used instant messenger to communicate with designers -- dropping files and revision notes back and forth and back and forth. It was a slow and unreliable system, so I started spending every spare hour of my week and weekend searching for a tool that would help us to communicate in real time, and stumbled across MURAL.
At that time, it was still in beta mode and still had a bit of development to go, but it served the function I needed. Fast forward a couple years and now it's one of the foundational tools of our company, enabling us to work with designers in real time remotely.
When we're not using MURAL, then it's usually some sort of audio or video conferencing or screen sharing, which also imitate that 'co-located' feel, keeping the juices flowing in real time.
Kailey, showing off MURAL at the Office Optional 2014 Conference
JIM: Is working visually with MURAL important to the type of work your team engages in? If so, when what are the situations in which you need to use MURAL and when is it less important?
KAILEY: Yes, mural is almost essential to the type of work we engage in. We use it for collective moodboarding and many design-oriented projects, but it becomes most important when we need to work in realtime with designers -- it's how we visually communicate and collaborate with them.
Moodboards are a key collaboration tool at McBeard
JIM: Tell me a little more about moodboarding with MURAL. Typically that's done offline on real boards. So how do you manage to do it digitally? What do you have to do differently to create moodboards online?
KAILEY: Oh man -- I don't know how people create moodboards offline these days! It seems like it'd take forever to slowly curate a collection of imagery if all manual. I can understand it for something like interior design where textures and fabric swatches are needed, but for our line of work, virtual moodboards are essential.
I'm a visual communicator, so just like you use body language to position an emotion or objective, my moodboard also differs depending on how I am wanting to position it. Sometimes I might create one to demonstrate art direction or tonality, whereas other times I may be creating a visual representation of a specific type of person.
That said, my 'search terms' may shift a little depending on what types of images I am looking for, but overall the process remains the same -- I scour the web for images and graphics that convey the message I am trying to communicate. Sometimes it's photography-centric, other times it is message-focused. I always pull way more than I'll be including on the final moodboard, but that makes it much easier to find (or create) the best collection of visuals for the board.
Another example of a moodboard created at McBeard
JIM: Many people struggle working all digitally and/or remotely. What 2-3 pieces of advice would you give someone confronted with the challenges of remote collaboration?
KAILEY: In co-located workplaces, people often communicate without realizing it -- their body language, door position, and visible computer monitor all say something about their workload and status. When working remotely, you have to work extra hard, communicating these things often -- whether via email, instant messenger, MURAL, or phone -- in order stay in sync with your team.
JIM: Thanks Kailey!
Jim Kalbach is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in customer experience, experience design, digital transformation, and strategy.
January, 11 2016