Working with a Designer: 5 Essential Tips to Get the Best Results

Working with a designer can help you create a polished website or a visually appealing piece of marketing. But like the old joke about the United States and United Kingdom being two countries separated by a common language, you may find that you and your designer use slightly different terminology or you have divergent views on the importance of certain tasks.

So, what are the real benefits of working with a designer and why should you engage with one? Emmy-nominated art director Jill Fiore says, “A good designer is also a visual problem solver. They can prioritise things in an eye-catching “visual hierarchy of importance”, whether it is for a website, a promotional piece, an app, a presentation or a logo.”

Working with a talented designer can be a great experience — if you know what to do. To help make sure that your project comes in on time and on budget, here are some things you need to think about when you are working with a designer.

1. Choose your designer carefully.

Before choosing a designer for your project, it’s essential to understand and articulate what you need for your business. Once you have a good idea of your creative vision and some examples to work from, it’s time to speak to a designer who can help you create a logo or wordmark to represent your business. You might be updating your business identity and just need to make some edits to your existing design. Or perhaps you’d like someone to replicate and digitise a design you like based on a photo. Whatever your needs, a designer will be able to help you realise your creative ambition.

Do you love the look and feel of someone else’s print piece or website? Create an inspiration file you can share with your designer. Maybe you like the font here, the colour of this, the way this logo looks, the navigation bar on this website.

Megan Palicki, who has worked with dozens of designers at c|change inc. says, “In my experience, hiring a designer that truly thinks about the purpose and outcome of what you’re trying to accomplish with the design is key. The challenge is to know that yourself. Ask yourself what you would like the design to accomplish and make sure that is clearly communicated. Design that doesn’t accomplish a goal is futile.”

2. Communicate clearly.

You should schedule a formal kick-off meeting or call so that you can share your ideas with your designer. Ideally, you will send your ideas in writing first so that your designer has time to think about the project prior to the call.

The designer may have a creative brief or some sort of an intake form that they have clients fill in. Some typical questions they might ask include:

  • What is your objective?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What action do you want the viewer to take?
  • What is the timeframe for this project?
  • Who are your competitors?

Maintaining an open channel with your designer is very important. Making a point to stay on top of the draft cycle to ensure the designer is creating what you want is critical for the success of the project as well.

Try to give your designer concrete feedback. Saying “I just don’t like it” isn’t helpful. Commenting that the lines seem too thick or heavy, or that you don’t like that shade of red and are looking for something more orange is helpful.

Designers think in images and emotions. Don’t be afraid to say, “I want it to feel warmer.” Or “I want a very sleek and modern design aesthetic. I like Apple’s marketing.”

3. Know your story.

What is your company about? Why should someone care? Why should they buy your product or service? Who is your audience and what do you know about them? It’s important to know the story you want to tell with every piece of content.

Try to think about your brand/company as if it had a personality. Are you modern or traditional? Casual or sophisticated?

If you own a sweet shop, you may choose to have a playful brand personality. A legal consulting firm may need to be more formal. This will help the designer determine if the direction should be bold colours and casual fonts or more subdued with clean lines.

Fiore puts it this way: “The client has a story, and the designer tells that story visually. Ideally, the client communicates a vision to the best of their ability. For instance, if I’m designing a website, I’ll ask the client to show me sites that they like and I’ll point out pieces that can or cannot be used for their needs, and I’ll also direct them to examples and styles that are more fitting.”

4. Tap into an emotion.

How do you want someone to feel when they see or read your content? Do not underestimate the power of emotion. Often, people buy from an emotional reaction and then justify their decision with logic.

Don’t believe it? Think about one of your favourite brands of jeans. Now think about one of their competitors who makes a virtually identical product. Or even an inexpensive no-name brand that fits great. Why did you pick one over the other? Most likely, because the brand made you feel something, or you just liked it and can’t exactly explain why. It took some designer (or a creative team) a lot of time to make you feel that.

5. Delegate, don’t abdicate.

Ted Ressler of Ted Ressler Graphics says, “One thing that I find takes the most amount of time is that people come to me without any vision of a final product. They may want a menu or a wine label or a Christmas card. What they want is for me to come up with designs and slogans, colours, images, etc. They want me to hand them a proof and let them tweak it from there to close in on a final product. It’s not a problem to work that way if you have enough time — and budget.”

Sharing your vision is fine, but don’t expect your designer to just take your vision and run with it. You need to be actively involved in the process.

When working with your designer, you will want to stay on top of timing and map out a plan to stay on schedule.

Ask to see ideas and concepts sooner rather than later. You want to be able to give feedback throughout the process so that you minimise the amount of rework needed.

It is incredibly frustrating for everyone involved to get to what you think is the end, only to have to (literally) go back to the drawing board. Unnecessary rework can blow your budget.

You should also add in a cushion of time. These types of projects always take longer than anyone — client or designer — thinks they will.

Tips from a Designer’s POV

So, here is how a designer thinks that you should hire and work with a designer. Palicki shares her four tips for success:

  • Make sure they have a similar aesthetic and some examples you would like emulated in your design.
  • Articulate what it is you’re trying to accomplish and not just how you want it to look.
  • Be descriptive and conversational when kicking off the project. You never know which words a designer could pick up on that may be the launching point to an amazing discovery.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell them what you don’t want, in addition to what you do. Sometimes people find that easier to communicate.

If you keep these points in mind, you will get great results from working with a designer. And both of you may even enjoy the process.

Catherine Morgan is a business consultant to consultants and a career transition expert through her company Point A to Point B Transitions Inc. She speaks and writes on topics related to small business, productivity and career transition.