Seizing The Digital Space With Content Strategist Sandra Tan

Aug 26, 2020

For content strategist and writer Sandra Tan, design is all about problem-solving. It's about aesthetic and functionality clicking seamlessly together, having a silent yet powerful impact—expressing that through design media, in collaboration with national design events like DENFAIR, is what Sandra does best.

But when COVID-19 pushed people to a digital lifestyle, it presented a new problem: how do you pivot a physical event to the online space? The answer was DENFAIR 2.0, an interactive virtual experience featuring Sandra's exclusive video interviews with the world's top designers and architects. Ahead of our Online Open Day industry panel this Saturday 29 August, Sandra shared her insights into navigating content in an over-saturated online landscape.


How has the design media field changed since you first started nearly 10 years ago?

Social media was already important, but it wasn't just a given that every entity would have its own Instagram, for example, whereas now that's obvious and that's par for the course. Social media has helped dissolve borders and create access for people who are looking to get a foot in the door in the industry.

When I first entered the industry, I didn't have the opportunity to just slide into someone's DM that I admire professionally. That was not available. It was a real cowboy landscape where you had to take shots in the dark; I remember cold-emailling or cold-calling studios to see if they might need an intern. Now you can actually look at the studio, look at what they do, get a good understanding of it and engage in a dialogue. That's a really useful tool I didn't have available to me, and I'd encourage anyone beginning their path in the industry to really capitalise on that opportunity to connect

With DENFAIR 2.0, you hosted the interviews over video calls. What was a key difference you found moving to online? 

One big difference is it's a difficult to have that instantaneous connection. So I think it's really useful to, before you get into the meaty part of the interview, to have a pre-chat. I think both people get a lot out of it, and that's something we did even before COVID but is especially important now. You need to be able to get to know each other, and how you speak, so that you don't interrupt each other during the call. All of those things are really important to nail before you have the real chat., and this can be applied to any professional interaction you might have, whether that's a job or internship interview, networking over the phone, etc. 

What about the benefits to an online interview?

Seeing people in their home environment is always mind-blowing. I hosted an interview with designer Sami Ruotsalainen who worked with Marimekko and is also based in Finland, and it was interesting to see how he designed his home space.

And to have the connection with someone overseas, that's something that we could never have done face-to-face. But it was so much easier to have that conversation online, with that person comfortable in their home. This comfort hopefully makes people more willing to share their insights, but also seeing someone's background reveals a bit about what they're like and makes that person more human, which is what I think we're all craving in this time. Even if they're in their office, it's enlightening to have a direct channel to someone's workspace.

And there's no one else around them, so they're at liberty too. There's an intimacy you can cultivate when you're just talking to one person on a screen versus if you were having the same conversation publicly, in an open forum with an audience. There is a hidden silver lining to connecting online that we don't think about too often.


How can people make sure their content is engaging during a time when everyone is online?

It's smart—and also just good practice—to be honest about what you're going through. It always looks funny when you can see a brand has clearly pre-planned the content and the human voice is lost. When you talk about engagement, it really means something that you as a person find something resonant in that content.

"Weirdly, the global pandemic has become an equaliser for all of us while we're all at home."

So without that connection, engagement is out the window. You can share beautiful content and inspirational images, but don't be tone deaf. To be on brand all the time is a little disingenuous if it's not reflective of what's going on in the world. Plus, people nowadays can sniff out content that's not coming from a genuine place quickly. You don't have to consistently be posting things to remind people that you exist either. Less communication can actually be much more effective—less but better.

When we return to face-to-face, do you think brands will completely pivot from digital content because they're sick of it, or are they going to realise there is value to the online space?

I think a bit of both will happen. Coming out of this, we are going to have so many more events. It will be a slow return, but people are going to be so excited to get amongst it, like a sensory overload. But what this lockdown has definitely taught us is that we weren't really using the online space to its full capacity before. People are going to refine this experience and find ways to make the online experience a lot more fun, and less corporate. I think we'll see the online world become a richer environment.

What should young creatives be taking advantage of right now while we're all digital?

Now is a good time, while the industry is trying to work out how it moves forward, to get a good grasp of what type of design avenue you want to pursue. To me, that's as simple as saving Instagram images to different folder, using Pinterest, funnelling details that you see online as we're scrolling all day into actual folders. If you get into the habit of it, you'll actually have a whole list of studios or businesses you like that can then form the basis of who you reach out to for an internship.

Now is also a fantastic time to reach out on social media: go for gold! People who you think will never consider being a part of your event probably will, because what else are they doing? Definitely take advantage of social media, but also don't be afraid to pick up the phone and go old-school. People are much more open to new conversations and left-field suggestions right now, and new opportunities are encouraged. Weirdly, the global pandemic has become an equaliser for all of us while we're all at home. 


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