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How Intercom Brand Studio keeps things weird, online and in print

Interview with Ryan Hubbard, senior designer at Intercom Brand Studio, about the Inside Intercom newspaper

More than 500,000,000 conversations happen every month with help from Intercom, the customer messaging platform. Beyond the company's cutting-edge software – used by the likes of Spotify, Microsoft and Shopify – there's some seriously delightful design supporting all their content thanks to Intercom Brand Studio.

The team of 16 designers, writers and producers is tasked with "keeping things weird" on projects across the company – from marketing to products to events, like the worldwide Inside Intercom tour.

Below, we talk to Ryan Hubbard, a senior designer at Intercom Brand Studio, about why they replaced slides with newspapers at this year's tour and how Intercom communicates big ideas through friendly design.

Inside Intercom Tour London 2017. Photo by Justin Gitlin, cacheflow.com

Inside Intercom 2017 tour in London. Image: cacheflow.com
What's the Inside Intercom tour about and how did a newspaper fit into the event?

The tour was primarily our chance to be very honest and open about our successes and failures from the past couple of years and discuss the lessons that we learned the hard way in that span of time. Putting those lessons down on paper as a keepsake for our attendees is something we knew we wanted to do from the start.

We thought that using newsprint as our medium made sense because it provided a really big canvas that could provide a lot of visual impact all while not feeling too precious. The tour was about being imperfect, and a one-color newsprint fits that vibe really nicely.

Interview with Ryan Hubbard, senior designer at Intercom Brand Studio, about the Inside Intercom newspaper

Why did you want to publish in print?

There were a couple of reasons, the first being that we thought having some kind of keepsake for our attendees would be a nice touch from an overall experience standpoint.

The second reason was because we had decided to not produce traditional slides with lot of text for our each of our talks on the tour, instead leaning more on conceptual illustration, data visualization and video to visually support what the speakers were saying.

The print piece was our way of providing notes and information that typically would be crammed on to a slide to our attendees for them to take home. Hopefully it allowed them to be more fully immersed in the talks and to be able to sit back and enjoy the evening.

Interview with Ryan Hubbard, senior designer at Intercom Brand Studio, about the Inside Intercom newspaper

The theme of the newspaper is "lessons learned". What's the #1 lesson you've learned as a designer at Intercom?

I think the #1 lesson I’ve learned in my time at Intercom is that nothing is ever finished. There are always ways to improve and learn from the work that you’re doing, and when you get too comfortable or stuck in your ways, you’re probably not learning or getting better.


Can you run us through the design process for this project? Was it very collaborative?

The newspaper was one of the last things we did on this project, actually. We did a lot of work up front to establish a general look and feel for the tour, so by the time we got to creating the newspaper, most of the decisions on the visual direction had been made.

Most of the work came in collaborating with our contributors and a couple of design partners to establish the best ways of telling the stories that we wanted to tell. We worked with contributors from all across the company – from product research to marketing  to product engineering to customer support and on down the line. It was for sure a pretty collaborative project.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered when making the newspaper and how did you solve it?

The biggest challenge we faced in producing the newspaper was simply corralling content from all of our contributors. We were working with people in several time zones, all of whom had a ton of non-tour related things on their plates at the same time.

Having a little patience and understanding that they were all working their hardest (plus a few pretty late nights spent designing, in true newspaper fashion) went a long ways in helping that situation.

Interview with Ryan Hubbard, senior designer at Intercom Brand Studio, about the Inside Intercom newspaper

When did the Intercom Brand Studio form? What's the role of the team within Intercom?

We’re a relatively young part of the company, only really getting our footing about 2 years ago. In that time we’ve grown from 3 people to a group 16 designers, writers and producers that work on projects across the company: marketing, content, events, product – you name it.

What would say are the defining features of Intercom's visual style?

The defining features that come to my mind are variety, exploration, and feeling personal or human.

Outside of our very core marketing material (i.e. anything on our marketing site), things usually look a little different from instance to instance. The exact style that we work in is secondary to the ideas that we’re communicating, so long as it always feels like it’s coming from the same place or building on a common foundation.

Again, we try not to get too comfortable doing one thing, and are always looking for new and better ways to communicate the things that Intercom values.


What are the values you want to come through in your designs for Intercom?

First and foremost is that it looks like was made by a human being. It needs to feel personal.

We are technically a technology company, but at our core we’re a company that cares about people and finding ways to make modern communication between businesses and their customers more about those people. Everything we do needs to communicate that personal and human nature.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects that you're excited about?

There are always a ton of things going on and I really can’t talk in detail about many of them! I will just say that 2018 promises to be a big year for Intercom and the Brand Studio is set to play a big part in that.

Interview with Ryan Hubbard, senior designer at Intercom Brand Studio, about the Inside Intercom newspaper

And last but not least: Where's your favourite place to read a newspaper?

Some place where I can really spread out and be comfortable, I think. Maybe a quiet Sunday morning at home on the couch, or the rare moment when you’re able to get a whole table to yourself at a coffee shop at a random time in the middle of the afternoon. A cup of black coffee is present in either of those situations, obviously.

All photos of Lessons Learned newspaper courtesy of Intercom Brand Studio.

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