The ABCs of Working With a Graphic Designer
Have you ever hired a graphic designer to create a logo or brochure, a website or ad, only to be underwhelmed by the final results? Did you wonder if the designer was just incompetent or if you had miscommunicated (or even misrepresented) your expectations? Below are some guidelines for how to get the most from the person or company you hire to design, control, or represent your corporate identity.
A: Ask About Qualifications
Like all professions, graphic design has many niche divisions. Some excel at print media, others at web design, illustration, or typography. Most design shops will have someone to cover all these specialties, but if you are hiring an individual, it is very important to ask up front if what you want can be delivered. Ask to see samples of similar work, or referrals from past clients. It’s your money, time, and image, so it is important to ask these questions from the start.
Whether you are in the process of developing your brand or not, plan to sit down with your designer and talk about your products or services, the market you wish to penetrate, and the vibe you want to convey. You may even want to tell them about why you went into business in the first place, as well as summarize your short and long-term plans for the company. This kind of conversation can be invaluable for a designer to make sure he or she understands your vision. If you already have an established brand, make sure to show the designer samples—it will help immensely in creating a cohesive final design.
C: Color and Contrast
Color and contrast are probably my favorite subjects in this field. They convey the mood of a piece, and can solely evoke the right (or wrong!) emotions from your target market. Blue may be your personal favorite color, but it also may be horribly wrong for your message. When you talk to your designer, use descriptive adjectives like powerful, calm, healthy, fresh, edgy, or bright before you say “I like red!” But be mindful, sometimes it is impossible to put all the desired emotional impact into a single piece, and many of your adjectives may contradict each other or clash when converted to color. If you are having the right conversation with your designer, he or she will help you sort it all out.
D: Details, Details
You may wonder if there are any details left to talk about if you’ve already discussed your branding, messaging, desired emotional responses, and color and contrast. I assure you though, there are plenty! Equally as important as what you want is what you DO NOT want.
If you have a hard time putting this into words, bring examples that have caught your eye or may have made you cringe. Be as specific as you can, and be honest if you really want a particular image. I once had a client who hired me to design a logo and said “I want something powerful but feminine, with bold colors and clean lines.” I designed three options for her, per our contract, and she hated all of them. Why? Because she wanted a butterfly with gradients of pastel yellow, pink, and lavender. She hoped that her description of “powerful but feminine” would lead me to a butterfly (clearly it didn’t), but what she really should have just said is “I want a pastel butterfly.” Details. Be specific with your wants and “don’t wants.”
Finally, both sides of the conversation need to maintain reasonable expectations regarding deliverability, materials, and budget. Sometimes designers need more time to research a theme, era, or genre, or you need to gather more examples for them. When do you absolutely need to have a final rendition? Do you need files that are print ready and web ready? Will the designer be able to add the pieces to his or her portfolio after the project is completed? Is there a non-refundable deposit to cover discovery and initial design time? When is the final payment due: before or after the project pieces have been delivered? Sometimes these questions seem obvious, but it is imperative to document them in your contract. All parties will be happier when they know what to expect.
Working with a graphic designer doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult if you have the right conversations and manage expectations appropriately. If you follow these suggestions, there will be a higher chance you’ll end up with exactly the design you wanted right from the start. Plus, you and your designer can look forward to future projects together if the first one runs smoothly. Good luck!