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 sales collateral. But like the old joke about the United States and England 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 prioritize things in an eye-catching optical 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 through when you are working with a designer.

1. Choose your designer carefully

Choosing a designer is like choosing a partner for your project: you want to be very careful. To start, you can try asking other small business owners you trust for recommendations or do some online research through graphic designer marketplaces like Crowdspring or 99designs.

Know exactly what you want and have very close examples of what you like. Everybody’s design aesthetic is different. Make sure you look at their work and like what they have done for others. If you don’t, find someone else.

Do you love the look and feel of someone else’s print piece or website? Create a file and make sure you share that with your designer. Maybe you like the font here, the color 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 kickoff 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 out. 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 color 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 dog walking service, you may choose to have a playful brand personality. A consulting firm may need to be more formal and buttoned up. This will help the designer determine if the direction should be bold colors 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 favorite 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, colors, 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 minimize 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 example collateral 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.

About the Author

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.

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