Design Terminology – Communicating Effectively With Designers

As a Graphic Designer, I have dealt with clients that exist on every end of the spectrum—clients who fully understand the design process and know how to handle creative people, clients who have not a clue about design but are excellent at communicating thoughts and ideas and giving great feedback, and clients who know nothing about design, don’t value it, don’t respect your work and don’t know how to communicate professionally or helpfully.

It’s true that when the client and designer are able to work together smoothly, the outcome is faster, better, and less painful. Trust me, you do not want to be that client that makes your designer want to stab a fork in his own eye.

Let’s take a look at the following 8 ways you can build a more healthy working relationship with your designer.

1. Time spent up front defining what you (the client) wants makes everyone’s job easier.

Make sure you spend time developing what you want from your team before giving a designer the reins. Even if your team is not creative, everyone knows how to brainstorm. Think of moods, first and lasting impressions, have a “word storm.” Do you want to be seen as fun, serious, trendy, retro, cartoony, stylish? …etc.  If your designer is within your company or available for some sort of interactive communication, why not even include them in your brainstorming session? They can listen in and get a feel for where you see the project going and can point out “designy things” you may not naturally think of.

2. Set reasonable deadlines.

shutterstock_83032528We get it, some projects need to be done immediately and have incredibly short deadlines. This is part of the business we’ve all come to expect. But expect great design to take time. The creative process is just that—a process. And design inspiration, the very fuel that graphic designers run off of, can come right away or 24 hours later. It’s not accounting, there’s no mathematical equation to make inspiration appear. What does make it come quicker, however, is having more direction from you, the client. We feed off of your ideas, your wants, and needs.

What makes a designer faster than others after that initial inspiration? Execution. Once a design spark is born, how quickly they can work out their idea and make it come to life is variable. Of course, the more complex the idea, the longer it will take. And the more content we have from you, the longer will it take.

The longest span of time a designer should have in your timeline is that initial creation period. Edits and updates can be done within a few hours (unless you’re talking about a design overhaul). Some designers, however, may work better under the pressure of a tight deadline. Have an open discussion with your designer and work out a schedule that works the both of you and stick to that schedule, but be open for flexibility as things can change suddenly.

And always leave room at the end of your schedule. Schedule to be done a day or two, maybe even a week before you actually need the final project. There are always last minute things that pop up.

3. You don’t need to know design terminology to be a great communicator.

speakingNaturally, we don’t expect everyone to know all the fancy design lingo (and really, it’s not that fancy). However, try to avoid vague phrases without offering further explanation. For instance: Saying, “It doesn’t feel right” or “We don’t like this” or “We need it to be more (insert any vague adjective here)”. Instead, tell us why it doesn’t “feel right” to you, why you don’t like something, and what do you see when you think of said adjective. There are so many answers a designer could surmise from vague direction, and you want to avoid having your designer feel like he or she is taking a shot in the dark. That is just a waste of everyone’s time.

4. Try visual examples.

If you find you cannot verbally articulate an idea, try doodling or sketching, (we’re not asking for a Rembrandt. Even if it’s chicken scratch, stick figures, or ugly, it’s helpful!) Or looking up examples of designs that are articulating it for you. We’re very visual people, so that works in everyone’s favor and will actually get you the results you want, faster.

5. If you don’t have a QA team or person, assign one!

No one wants to play the blame game, but when there’s a misspelling or a grammatical goof-up or an erroneous extra period floating somewhere after a project is wrapped up, everyone starts pointing fingers. Instead of this high-stress catastrophe, utilize your most detailed oriented colleague(s) by assigning them this responsibility. It will save everyone a future headache and make it clear who is responsible for what.

6. Other than what you may think, we love constructive feedback.

I firmly believe clients have great things to say that can really help move along a project in the right direction. Having an extra set of eyes that isn’t coming from a design perspective does assist in upping the quality of the work. However, for this machine of feedback to work, it must be delivered in the right manner. Meaning it’s not mean or offensive, but professional and helpful, something that will spark ideas in the mind of your talented designer.

For example, the right and wrong ways are:

“I laughed when I saw this! I couldn’t believe how childish it looked. This is not at all what I wanted. A piggy bank? Really? You used a piggy bank? It looks like such a cop out, did you even think about it?”

Vs.

“You know I don’t really think the piggy bank is working. It comes off as friendly but we were thinking something more institutional, something less curvy but with more angular and powerful lines. I would suggest darkening the colors as well, the brightness makes it appear fun and light when we want something that says trustworthy and serious. Perhaps try some other imagery, like a flag, or a building. We may like the piggy bank still, but maybe only show a silhouette or something more simple.“

During all five years of design school, I had my work critiqued more than praised. Graduated designers should have some thick skin by now. I’ve even had a teacher rip up a project of mine to demonstrate how not to attach your feelings so closely to your work. Well-trained designers know that a critique is not a personal attack and can handle constructive feedback maturely.

7. Organize an efficient way to deliver feedback.

feedbackGather everyone’s opinion on your end but make sure you have a team leader who will shuffle through the feedback to assure there are no conflicting directions. There is always the person who will just give plain, rotten feedback; be the filter for these types of bad communicators and make an executive decision based on whether you think the changes would actually improve the overall design.

8. If you have a talented designer, trust them.

This is the most important step of them all. The number one thing that frustrates designers is when clients try to “design” things they hired a designer for. Let me explain further by saying there’s a difference between helpful feedback and frustrating feedback. As seen below:

“The text here looks too small and squished beside that circle, is there a way to make the type bigger and arrange the objects differently?”

Vs.

“Make the text 14pt and move the circle to the upper left corner and have the text overlapping it slightly and right justify the whole thing.”

The difference here is the first person respects and trusts their designer to make the right visual choices to accomplish what they (the client) needs. Otherwise, we’re nothing more than your personal robot pushing keys around and our years of blood, sweat, and tears in design school just seems useless. Let’s put it another way, it’s like hiring a plumber but standing behind him the entire time telling him how you would fix the toilet. Why even hire a plumber?

However, if you really do have a genuine suggestion for how to arrange something or there are templates or other extenuating circumstances, then this is not something that is completely off limits. We understand that only in a perfect world we can have creative freedom 100% of the time. As said before, it’s all about delivery and intent and being upfront about what you looking for in the beginning.

Also, you should try not to let one bad designer or one bad experience ruin your impression of creative people. Just like in any profession, there are talented and not so talented individuals out there. There are also designers with varying talents, so make sure you are selective in finding the right one who can meet your needs and rises to the standard of quality you expect.

Good luck!