Understanding your Design Needs

Designers are people; they are not mind readers. They have a skill which requires time and talent to execute as well as clear communication and understanding on any particular project. I realize this is not Earth-shattering news, but based on some things I have seen that others have asked designers to do, a little reminder can’t hurt.

Here’s how a request typically goes:

Client: “I need a brochure for my company.”
Designer: “Great, I can help with that. What are you thinking?”
Client: “I just need the info on the website put into a brochure that I can have printed and give to people at trade shows.”
Designer: “Ok, are you thinking a bi-fold, tri-fold, or rack card?”
Client: “I don’t know. I just need something that will fit in a folder and look nice.”

At this point, a savvy designer will drill deeper to get the answers she needs to move forward. And yet, there are so many different directions this project could turn. If you want to be effective with your interactions and frugal with your time and money, read these tips on how to work best with graphic designers.

Come to the table with ideas

In the example above, the client knew he wanted to use copy from his website. Great start. In the event you’re building a new website, share links to other sites that inspire you. You may like certain aspects of the home page at one site, the blog page of another, and the products page of a third. Collect information and explain what it is about the sites that you like or dislike.

Here is a perfect example. When I worked with designer Valerie Ward to create the Snowbird Creatives logo, I was very specific with what I wanted based on inspiration I dug up from my interweb travels.

feather logo research and feedback

This specific direction cut down on the amount of guesswork that Val had to do. Investing that time up front got me closer to what I really wanted more quickly.

Provide specific feedback

One of the worst things you can say to a designer is, “I’m not sure why, but I just don’t like it.” And so it bears repeating … designers are not mind readers. I feel sorry for some of my designer friends and the interactions they have experienced over the years.

Instead, say things like, “I don’t like this because … I really wanted a flying pig instead of a bird.” Or, “I love the blue but the hue of the yellow makes me cringe. Can we find a softer yellow?”

Copy always comes first. Always.

Never ever, ever, ever go to design without final copy. That is bad news. A good designer will insist but sometimes can get overruled. This is one of the biggest time wasters to ask of a designer. Because once the copy is laid out, depending on the format and program she used, it may not be easy to copy/paste and repaginate the copy into a new layout. It has the potential to be a source of project delay, added mistakes and overall frustration.


Design to the end game

Disclose your budget or other resource parameters. If unwilling to be that candid, ask for a quote before going to layout. In the sample of a print piece, the format will determine how much content will fit and it’s really critical to have this defined up front and design to it, rather than the other way around. Otherwise, it will lead to re-work and if you’re paying by the hour, extra charges.

Also, if you know you want a brochure but will also want an ebook, PowerPoint presentation and posters, let the designer know. This could affect image licensing and/or the programs used to design in.

Allow time for your project to be completed

It does require time to quite literally “think.” In the creative world, it is also called “ideation” and this requires time and effort. It’s not easy to flip a switch and simply “be creative.” Many times the ideas come at those in-between moments … in the shower, on the morning walk or in line at a coffee shop. Ideation is an important part of the creative process and time must be allotted for it to take place. In many cases, planting the idea several days or weeks in advance will allow the designer to marinate the idea in the in between time and develop an amazeball design.


Understand that a first round/comp/draft are initial stages not meant to be perfect

You may see things like blurry images (“For Placement Only” AKA “FPO”) or images with watermarks over them. This is because if you end up liking that particular image, the designer will download the hi-res (high resolution) image and in some cases, pay for it. This brings us to our next point.

Understand license usage

Some images must be purchased as in the case of some stock photography. Your designer can tell you where the images will be licensed from and the parameters of the license. Knowing where the deliverable(s) will be distributed is important because some licenses cap distribution and you can’t go over without suffering consequences.

Things to avoid

Whatever you do, don’t ask the designer to design in Word. (This is an inside joke. Not really.) Don’t say things like, “Can you make it pop” or “Can I see 10 versions?” I have to give props to Canva because this is spot on. Check out this great post on what not to say to designers.


With a little forethought on the client’s part and a stellar designer who knows how to ask the right questions, you’ll be well on your way to making things pop in no time.

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