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8 Best Tips for Working With Graphic Designers

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Every small business needs to work with a graphic designer from time to time to create marketing materials and if its not managed well it can be a very time consuming process and in some cases unsuccessful. From working extensively on both sides of the fence I have 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

Agree with the designer on the timeline for the project, and be clear on when you need things like the first draft, the final proof, and the print-ready piece. Understand, however, that some things in graphic design can be more time-consuming than you think. (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.

2. Provide Examples

Providing examples of design work that you like is probably the single best way to fast track the design process. A picture really is worth a 1000 words. You may not think that this is your "job" but its important to understand that the graphic design process is a collaboration and the clearer you can communicate your vision (regardless of how refined it may be) the better. The designer can, and should, still come up with original work, but the examples give them a great starting point.

3. Don't Expect Perfection on the First Draft

There's a reason it's called "a first draft." It's a starting point. Think of it as the first step on the path to a finished piece. This is where your input is crucial, and a good designer will appreciate your suggestions and constructive criticism.

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.

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 a space for the graphic designers 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 micro manage 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.

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.

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.

8. Know When to Say When

It's never going to be perfect. 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.

Logo design is by far the most sensitive graphic design project simply because your logo is a such a defining representation of your business. If you ever get a new logo designed this is a must read: The 4 Fundamentals of Good Logo Design.