Working with a Graphic Designer

I love being a graphic designer. I enjoy getting lost in a project, surprised when six hours has gone by in what felt like a few mouse clicks. I enjoy taking exciting ideas and turning them into a visual reality. I enjoy all the challenges of the hundreds of different projects I have worked on…

Well, maybe I don’t enjoy ALL the challenges of my work. To be honest, a few of those hurdles could quite easily be avoided—if people who hired me knew a few things about how to work with designers.

If you do or plan to outsource your designs, please don’t leave this page before reading these tips! You’ll have happier designers, save precious time, and save even-more-precious money in do-overs and revisions.

1. Remember that design and copywriting are 2 different skills

I’m trained in graphic design; I have studied various approaches to design and been certified in the Adobe Suite. Like most designers, I am NOT trained in copywriting. When you ask me to design a postcard, I’ll do a much better job if you give me the copy (text) to work with. Giving me the copy frees me to enter a visual creative mode. If you expect me to come up with the copy myself, my design sense will be affected, leaving you with worse copy and worse design than if you hired a professional writer.

2. Give examples

When talking about design, there is a LOT of room for misinterpretation. Words can be understood differently, and tastes can clash. One solution? Give concrete examples. Send 4-5 examples of designs you like to give your designer a clear idea of what you are attracted to. Bonus points for explaining what you like about each one!

3. Encourage feedback on your own ideas

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been given instructions like, “I want something really simple and earthy, like this image.” [Enter image with a multi-colored background, 4 different fonts, and elaborate styling.]

These comments give me the greatest headaches, because I can’t tell if I should (1) confront the client about the inconsistency, (2) create something simple and earthy which is totally unlike the image they showed me, or (3) create something like the cluttered image which is anything but simple and basic. Some designers will tell you that you don’t make sense. Many will simply give it their best shot. Prevent the issue entirely by asking for their expert feedback on your visual ideas.

4. Do not think the world is ending when you see a first draft

A designer cannot read your mind. They don’t know the vision of a perfect postcard that you’ve been brewing in your mind for the past 4 months (especially if you didn’t tell them about it). They don’t know that you HATE orange. They don’t know that you HATE anything in all caps. So when they show you a first draft of an orange postcard and a heading in all caps—don’t freak out. Just hit reply, say thank you for the first draft. Explain that you prefer blue to orange, and that you need all the text to be in sentence case. Most designers delight in making their clients happy, but it takes work. With time, feedback, and calm responses, we will get there.

5. Give feedback using specific language

In a future installment of this series, I will offer tips for articulating design elements so your conversations with designers can be more accurate and meaningful. But you can start using everyday language right now to give feedback that’s more objective and clear.

For example, avoid using sentences like “I want it to be more classic” or “Can you make it more modern”? Those kinds of adjectives are highly subjective. My version of “classic” could, unfortunately, be someone else’s version of “boring.” Instead, try making specific suggestions on the design elements, such as, “Could we just have blue and white on the image and try something like the Garamond font?” or, “Could we try creating very simple animations instead of using real-life photos?”

Great collaboration tends to spring from great communication. Armed with these simple tips—let your next collaboration with a graphic designer bear great fruit!

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