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Tips on working with a Graphic Designer

Every small, medium and large business needs to work with a graphic designer or creative agency, from time to time, to create marketing and branding materials. If it’s not managed well it can be a very time-consuming process and in some cases, unsuccessful. It can become challenging for the creative person or team to deliver their best work and achieves the results that both the client and creative person/team are looking for.

I’ve put together the following eight tips to help make the process a lot smoother and to give the client insight into how they can contribute to a successful outcome.

1. Be Realistic When Establishing Time Frames

Work with the creative person or team to create a timeline. Be clear if there are any dates that need to be met based on external factors like the launch of a product or some other event. Some parts of the process can be more time-consuming than others. For example, it only takes you a second to say “clean up that background,” but it could take the designer hours to do it depending on the image. Remember that there’s a lot of specialized skill and knowledge that goes into a professionally-designed piece. Lastly, be clear on what the deliverables are. If it’s a website, the deliverables might be wireframes, static comps (designs), a style guide and perhaps a functioning prototype. This list of deliverables can vary from project to project, but you should agree on what the deliverables are before the project begins.

2. Provide Examples

A picture really is worth a 1000 words. Providing examples of design work that you like is probably the single best way to fast track the design process. You may not think that this is your “job” but it’s important to understand that the graphic design process is a collaboration between you and your designer. The clearer you can communicate your vision (regardless of how refined it may be) the better. If you’re unable to find examples, sometimes the designer will come up with found examples for you to react to. This sometimes gets the ball rolling and inspires the clint to find examples, themselves. Either way, your designer can, and should, still come up with original work, but the examples give them a great starting point.

The better the communication, the easier it is for the designer to know what you’re looking for or to “see through your mind’s eyes”. And most importantly, these are just examples. They should provide direction, but not dictation. Leave room for the designer to create. Often times they’ll surprise you and come up with something wonderful that you may never have thought of.

3. Don’t Expect Perfection on the First Draft

There’s a reason it’s called “a first draft.” It’s a starting point. It’s something for you to react to. This is where your input is crucial, and a good designer will appreciate your suggestions and constructive criticism. Again, give feedback, but not dictation. Let the designer use their experience and creative capabilities to interpret the feedback.

4. Avoid Generalized Feedback

Unfortunately, there is nothing very constructive about “make it pop.” What, exactly does that mean? And what is a “wow factor?” Specific examples or descriptions are much more useful, and your designer will appreciate this input far more. It is one thing to give them creative freedom, it’s quite another to expect them to read your mind. And try to avoid the phrase “I’ll know what I like when I see it.” This is the best way to destroy a schedule and budget and cause the designer to “take shots, in the dark” as they try to guess at what’s in your mind’s eye. If this is happening at this point in the process, it’s best to go back to tip number 2 and look at more examples.

5. Consider the Components

There are five main components to graphic design. Commenting on them individually when giving feedback can be very helpful in narrowing down what you’d like to see in the finished piece. Sometimes, as the client, it can be hard to know exactly what you do and don’t like about that the design work. But just saying “I don’t like it” isn’t going to be very constructive. So breaking the design down into its components can make it easier for you to identify what you do and don’t like and it also makes it more constructive if you do say “I don’t like…the colors.” Here the five main components of graphic design:

  • Color
  • Fonts
  • Images
  • Layout
  • Overall Aesthetic

6. Don’t be Too Controlling

Always allow space for the graphic designer’s input and creativity. One dynamic that can happen if the client is very particular or if they lose faith in the designer is that they start to direct every little design change and start to micromanage the designer. The designer slowly gets excluded from the creative process and at some point, they may eventually give up artistic input altogether. When this happens the job can start to slide down a very precarious path. If you micromanage a designer too much, you turn them into a “pixel pusher”. In other words, the only thing stopping you from doing it yourself is either not knowing how to use the software and tools or lack of time. This also alienates good designers. They might choose to not work with you on future projects or even worse, they might give up on the project they are working on, with you.

Usually in a situation like this what has happened is that the designer doesn’t know exactly what you want, you have mistaken that for them being a bad designer and you have felt that you need to take control. A good designer will know how to remedy this. But if you feel this is happening the best thing to do is step back, get some altitude, talk to the designer and try to clarify with visual examples exactly what you want. Then the project can get back on track. This resets the roles and the spirit of collaboration.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

You are paying the designer for a creative process and point of view, but you’re the boss. If the image they selected confuses you, ask them to explain it. Rein them in if necessary. If it confused you it may confuse your audience as well. A good designer will be more than happy to explain their thinking.

8. Know When to Say When

It’s easy to obsess and lose perspective when you are too close to something. Step back, take a deep breath, and always try to view it from the point of view of your target audience. If you are very close but just can’t seem to get exactly what you’re looking for perhaps it’s time to embrace what’s good about it and move on.

Design is a subjective process and there is no set-in-stone “right-way” to go about it. But it is a collaborative process and understanding that process, having realistic expectations, patience and excellent communication will go a long way towards a successful outcome.