Xactware was the first employer into my ’second career’. I came from freelancing for 5+ years and I was excited to invest into a single brand. What thrilled me the most was to see ideas germinate and then nurture them with feedback, measurement, and collaboration. Being part of a team, both in the marketing department and as part of the company, I enjoyed the relationships and vulnerability of a ‘permanent’ relationship that I committed myself to.
The challenge I found at Xactware was what can happen when you are the top dog in the industry – stagnation. They had 80% of the North American market and they were growing in international areas. “If it ain’t broke…” had served them in the conservative property insurance market, but times were changing and a fresh outlook on their “Simply Innovative” tagline was coming. There were three areas they struggled with that I can honestly say I helped with: design-thinking as a profitable, measurable asset, exploring texture, color, and shape to communicate a brand that is rich with opportunity (I was literally told “It can be any color as long as it’s blue”. We worked through that), and the integration of multiple media approaches to serve the customer’s needs in the best vehicle possible.
I had a lot to give and Xactware had a lot of needs. It worked out well.
The first project I was handed was a much-ignored workbook that consisted of a word document typeset in Arial and a single-column layout. This felt like low-hanging fruit as simply adding proper typefaces and visual hierarchy would transform this from corporate drudgery to fresh and functional. Still, I did my research and found other places where best practices could be applied to the presentation as well as thoughtful print and binding for frequent usage – learners like to place the book on the desk and flip back and forth. You know, use it.
The small wins with this project launched my reputation as a successful design-thinking contributor and it became a product instead of its previous perception as a department burden. It still enjoys praise and produces a profit for the company since it is much easier to update and a better learning experience.
Coming off the success of the workbook, I was given the opportunity to do a complete overhaul on the product brochures. This included 3 products and a services overview. The goal was to once again build a structure and visual system that would allow for better flow, storytelling, and maintenance. I wanted to take a dense, predictable presentation and introduce entry points into the content that didn’t overwhelm the reader. So, I introduced styles and elements that became a part of the Xactware visual library we could pull from in future projects.
The result was a beautiful grid where the product stories could be hung like art in a flow that engaged the reader. We took screenshots and gave them context and purpose. The typographical hierarchy allowed for readability (hello line length!) and diversity. I also brought a color pallet of relatable tones that added a sophisticated look and softened the edges of a stark presentation. Curb appeal for collateral.
One of my favorite expressions of design is in three-dimensional applications. Trade show booths are a wonderful opportunity to create engaging presentations and draw people in. Sadly, most corporate booths are typically pretty dull and feel like brochures glued onto panels. When assigned to freshen up the Xactware booth design, I wanted to bring some drama and storytelling. I made sure to employ the “50/5/5” rule (provide interest at 50 feet, 5 feet, and 5 inches).
Generally, we wanted people to know we were the 800-pound gorilla.
I borrowed from the elements generated in the brochure process and applied a heroic, illustrative feel to the panels and then combined that with video presentations for each station that reflected the same style. Information design was the lead component as we proffered data as the hero of the customer’s work (Property insurance. It’s all about the numbers). It was rewarding to hear of the positive response and extended booth occupancy.
Boom. Cubed. Yeah.
It was about this time that I was promoted to art director/design manager. I had not expected it but welcomed the opportunity to be a voice for the designers that would give us opportunities to grow and provide the company with better, faster work. Designer outings became a thing and were nerdtastic!
My team was asked to collaborate with the writing and strategy teams to help launch ‘Big Blue’ (The other big blue) in a few new territories including the UK. We began with advertisements coinciding with paid articles in industry magazines. This ‘in-series’ focused on key areas the industry struggled and where the strengths of our products could help. The ads directed readers to landing pages where lead magnets awaited to provide value and capture. We also incorporated web ads at the same time to make the spread complete. It was a successful soft launch that resulted in the foundational contacts for the international sales team to get started with their work.
One of my key roles at Xactware was the integration of various media in campaigns like above and video was a key component. I produced documentaries, video ads, testimonials, training, and more during my time there. In most cases, there would be companion materials in either print or web to sit alongside. This is just the reality of what we do now, but then it was innovative (There’s that word again).
One example of this approach was our customer testimonials/case studies. We were constantly producing testimonials that were sometimes elevated to case studies when the story was relatable to a persona (before that was what it was called). The basic testimonial included a 2-page slick, but the case study added video and a landing page.
The videos were shot all over the world and since financial constraints were tight, I hired production companies in those locations to capture the raw footage and ship it to me for post-production. The flow was efficient and the results consistent. It gave the company a cosmopolitan feel on a conservative budget.
We incorporated video into every communication we could to help tell the Xactware story. From charity events to employee profiles for recruiting, we kept the video channel full. We particularly utilized it in our User Conference…
The “Pièce de résistance” of the year was the inaugural user conference we produced. Featuring a large number of industry presenters and thousands of attendees, it was an ‘all hands on deck’ effort and the design team was responsible for a lot. We generated the look and feel of the event, its many pieces of collateral, environmental elements, and enabled digital communications (website, email campaigns, etc.). We started working on it in the fall and the conference affected the following February.
I served as art director, content producer, and setup grunt alongside the rest of the team. My favorite part of the project was meeting the users and getting first-hand feedback and insight about the industry. The information was invaluable and the customers felt part of a larger family.
My time with Xactware was formative and productive. There were many challenges that helped me see the power of design to make small and large changes in a companies’ direction.