How to Work With a Designer
You’ve hired someone to help with your marketing. Wondering how to work with a designer? For many business owners, working with a creative of any sort – graphic, web, copywriter, marketing agency, etc. can be a bit scary and overwhelming. Many have never worked with someone else on their marketing and it’s not always clear how the process should work. Some creative professionals have a tendency to be unclear about their process and communication can be complicated.
To achieve the best results in your marketing, a relationship with a creative professional should be collaborative. It’s amazing how much better the result is when the work is truly a partnership, versus when the designer or client sees themselves as the one driving the project. It’s important to realize that the most important factor of success for your design is the way you work with your designer! If you are a bad client, it’s likely the finished piece will suffer. If you do your part, and do it well, you can achieve great things and see amazing results for your business!
Given the lack of experience most business owners have in working with marketing peeps, there are some simple things to know and keep in mind:
- Choose carefully.
I’m often exasperated when some clients bring a website to me from a previous designer. I have to refrain from asking, “were you under the influence of drugs when you chose this designer?” The truth is that most people don’t have a clue when it comes to choosing a designer or agency to work with. Creative professionals come in all different skill levels and styles, so be sure to choose one who is a good fit with you and your company. The sign of a great designer is one who isn’t afraid to tell you someone else might be a better option.
More specifically, it’s important to evaluate the following things:
- Check their portfolio. Be sure to look at more than one piece, because a designer can get lucky with one fantastic project that can hide their lack of design ability. Also, it’s important to be sure the designer can create a style that is complimentary to your business. Designers should have a wide variety of styles, but make sure they can be flexible and are skilled in the style that works for your business. Evaluating good design is largely based on opinion, but there are basic principles that set the foundation. Ask the designer to explain why a design works or doesn’t and make sure they have a good answer. Hint: “Because it’s pretty” isn’t a good answer!
- Check their testimonials and referrals. What do their past clients say about them? Don’t be fooled by design awards – they usually focus on the art of the design, not the effectiveness for the client.
- Evaluate their communication style. How well do they respond to your initial questions? Do they respond quickly and answer in detail? Do they guide you through the process of working with them, or are they simply interested in how much you can pay and how hard the work will be? Keep in mind that after the sale, their communication may get worse, as they’ve already won your business.
- Can they actually do what you are asking them to do? I’m shocked by the number of people who hire web designers, only to find out when the project’s nearly complete, their designer doesn’t have the technical skill to create the right functionality. You don’t want to get burned.
- You get what you pay for…sometimes
Find out what design costs and have an idea before you start working with anyone. It’s ok to start inquiring, but realize you’ll get prices that are high and low. A rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for. Don’t set a budget before you really do some research and compare apples to apples. If something seems really cheap, find out why. Design has an extreme value. That doesn’t mean you have to go broke to get it, but it’s a vital part of your marketing and it’s worth the investment. Remember, you’re paying someone for their expertise. If all you want is to play puppet master, don’t expect a great result. You may get it for cheap, but in my opinion, you’ve wasted your money if you’re not hiring someone who can bring some expertise outside operating a computer program for you.
However, I have seen pricing work the opposite way. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find a rock-star diamond in the rough who isn’t charging what they should charge, or offers a discount because they really want to work on your project. Don’t search for this – you’ll think you’re getting such a deal and you’ll get burned. If you accidentally find it, consider yourself lucky. Likewise, there are some designers who charge exorbitant amounts that really aren’t worth what you’re getting. Just because someone tells you a website costs $25,000, doesn’t mean it has to. Find out how the costs are calculated and make sure you’re getting exactly what you need – not less and not more.
- Establish a plan and set expectations
Once you’ve been lucky enough to find a fabulous designer and you’ve entered the mindset that you’re now a collaborative team, it’s time to plan before the project begins. So often, people get excited about seeing something come to life that they forget to take the time to plan. This goes for designers too. The designer should do some initial planning, but if they don’t, it’s your duty to speak up and lay out the blueprint for the project.
Be clear about your deadlines and check to be sure they are realistic. Add buffer time. Projects ALWAYS get delayed and things ALWAYS take longer than you hope they do. Life will be so much better for everyone if you’re not asking to overnight the final product at the last minute. Determine exactly what parts of the project will be done by the designer, and what the requirements will be of you – will you provide the text, will they be writing it? Do you need to hire a copywriter or will they be editing your text? Will they find photos, do you need to provide photos? What other tasks need to be done before the project launches? Make sure there are no gaps anywhere. If it isn’t included in an estimate, it’s not going to be included in the project and sometimes clients don’t think through all the details until the end. They wind up surprised that they’re missing something they thought should have been included.
- Provide direction
No one knows your business better than you. One of the sure-fire ways to assure your project isn’t going to align with your business is to give little or no direction in telling the designer what you want to see. You should give your designer a “brand brief”, which is simply a document that describes your company, gives a description of your products and services, unique things about your company, a description of your ideal customer, some samples of logos and colors that match your branding, and samples of text you’ve written so they can get a feel for the tone of voice you use when talking to your customers.
It’s also a very good idea to give examples of what your competitors are doing and what you like and don’t like about what they’re doing. Show other design examples and thoroughly explain what you like and don’t like. Don’t expect a designer to read your mind. It is a collaborative effort, but he or she needs to know exactly where you’re coming from to help create a vision for your marketing.
- Be consistent
Most business owners don’t even realize when they’re giving conflicting information to their designers. Avoid using buzz words just to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Don’t be afraid to use plain, everyday language to describe things. Your designers don’t expect you to know the appropriate words for things – that’s why you hired them. In trying to sound chic, people often contradict themselves. For example, one client asked us for quirky, chic, sophisticated, clean, modern design. This left us puzzled because we would have designed something completely different for each one of those styles. Convey ideas through examples and avoid using terms if you can’t really break down what they mean.
If you’re indecisive, tell your designer. Ask for feedback on consistency because most often, you don’t even know when you’re being inconsistent.
- Trust them
There are many business owners who hire creative professionals and then micromanage them. This really hinders the creative process and the resulting project isn’t nearly as effective as it could be. You’ve hired a designer for their expertise, so why aren’t you trusting it? The first way to place your trust in them is to find the right person. Assuming you’ve done that, it should be easy to step back and let them work their magic.
I see this all the time: When designing a flyer, for example, after my team searches for the most appropriate stock photography images for the project, the client spends a ridiculous amount of time searching for a different image. They often send back a half-dozen other possibilities, none of which fit the piece, or the target audience well. In the end, we usually end up using the original image my team finds. Both our time and the client’s are wasted and there is so much over-analysis and debate about minor details. When you hire the right professionals, it’s important to remember that they are trained to know which images work best and how to design effectively, so force yourself to take a step back and listen to their guidance.
- Give clear feedback
It can be very frustrating for a designer when a client isn’t clear enough with their feedback. Don’t just say, “I don’t like it,” or, “I like purple instead of red, what do you think?” For one thing, the designer chose the color they thought was best the first time around, so that question is pointless. But, my point is that you need to provide more feedback than saying what you like and dislike about a piece. Try to make a convincing argument for your feedback, rather than just stating your preferences. For example, “I’m trying to convey a feeling of energy and excitement. I think that muted colors give it a calm feeling, I’d like to see something with a little more energy.”
In this example, you’re not telling the designer what to do, you’re simply pointing out your intention for what emotion the piece should convey.
- Focus on your customers
More often than not, design ends up being a reflection of what the business owner likes. There’s nothing wrong with injecting your preferences into a design, after all, you have to look at it more often than anyone else. However, those preferences should only exist to the point that they mirror the preferences of your target customer. Get inside the mind of someone who you think is a perfect customer for your business. What style will they like? What words will speak to them? What imagery will evoke emotion and make them intrigued and interested in learning more about your business? It doesn’t really matter if you like photos of nature with Fall colors. Will your customer be able to connect with those ideas? Otherwise, the piece is ineffective.
It’s such a shame when business owners spend time and money on design and then don’t utilize the services in a way that will lend the best results. It’s not just a simple exchange of money for services. Everyone has to do their part, which includes knowing when to step in and when to step back.
What are some of your best and worst experiences in hiring creative professionals? Leave a comment below!
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