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Communication Design 101: What it is and why we’re doing it

April 2, 2024

Headshot of Kyle Monson - Founding partner at Codeword

Kyle Monson

Founding partner at Codeword

For years, Codeword had a difficult time describing what we do. You’d think that would come easily to a bunch of writers and marketing pros, but our agency’s specialties are comms (sorta), and content (kinda), and community development (but not the normal kind). 

For us it’s always been more about inputs and outputs. What are we trying to say, and which of the thousand available distribution levers make sense to pull? Those include PR and content, sure, but in many cases we’re doing work for clients that doesn’t look much like PR, or content, or even marketing

Codeword’s weird cocktail of different comms specialties make us a great fit for those kinds of super strategic, super executional briefs, but they also make it really difficult to describe our work. We’ve resisted getting bucketed as a PR agency, or a content agency, or a digital shop because they all felt too limiting.

We’ve started calling ourselves a communication design agency instead, and ahhhhhh it feels so nice. It’s a broad enough term to encompass all of the work we do at Codeword, while being descriptive enough that you can understand what it means without needing to Google it. (Although if you do happen to Google it, there’s a great Wikipedia article that will make your heart sing.)

Communication design also directly addresses so many challenges faced by CMOs today. The biggest one of which might be how do I design all of my communications?

The world is drowning in inputs and outputs right now. There’s an overwhelming number of data streams, stakeholders, business priorities, and ideas for how to address them. And out in the world, there are so many audiences, niches, channels to reach them on, technologies that are supposed to make it easier to create, other technologies that make it easier to distribute, and a whole other tech stack for measurement and insight. 

Communication design is about making sense of messy, infinite inputs, to produce creative, effective outputs. It’s about designing programs with high-level intention, and then executing the day-to-day with in-the-weeds expertise.

Communication design also gives our team a better lens through which to see ourselves. Roughly 40% of our team members come from journalism, media, and publishing backgrounds. We have tech bloggers, editors, data visualizers, audience growth strategists, book authors, popular podcasters, learning-and-development gurus, and some of the most experienced speechwriters in the world.  

And they’re all communication designers. Taking a journalist out of the newsroom and telling them “you’re a content marketer now” is bad. It’s bad for them, it’s bad for the internet, hell, it’s bad for the world. Content marketing sucks to create, and it sucks to consume. What we can do instead is say “we’re going to aim so much higher than content marketing. Our work is going to deliver better results, but it’s going to take more strategy and more creativity to produce. So come with us and apply your skills to becoming a communication designer.”   

The difference is real. We’re already feeling it as an agency, and we’re bringing that energy, creativity, and smarts to our client work.

Mostly, we love communication design because it’s an accurate description of the work we’ve always done across comms, content, and community building,  and we’re happy to have the words for the work. If communication design speaks to you the same way, use it!

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