Elena Nazzaro
By Elena Nazzaro |
IN Design |

Improve Communication with Your Designer and Get Results


Tag, you’re it. You are the one who is charged to work with a graphic designer to produce, well almost anything. And guess what? You know nothing about what information is required. However, you can expect that there will be some things the designer will need to know. Here we discuss what questions you're likely to hear.

It would be so easy if we were all mind readers. You’d just put your hand on your designer’s head, concentrate hard, and two minutes later, the designer’s face would be suffused with enlightenment. “Aha!” she’d cry as she ran to the computer to start work on your project, knowing precisely what you want.

For those not gifted in the art of the mind-meld, there are other ways of making your thoughts heard. But really, there’s no need to shout about it. You can communicate by keeping a couple of key things in mind:

  1. Provide the designer with what she needs to know
  2. Determine how you can work together to be efficient and on target

Nail Down the Concrete Specifications

There are questions that have definite answers. They are easy to figure out, and will help the designer save lots of time (and therefore, your money) working on the project.

  • What colors/how many colors will be in the finished piece? (very important for printed work)
  • What is the final size? (mostly needed for print jobs like ads)
  • When is the project due?
  • Establishing final approvals. Do you have a contact person to whom the final art needs to be sent? Many times your designer can call your contact and get vital specs using all sorts of fun terms like “FTP,” “trim size,” and “fonts saved as outlines” that you don’t ever need to know.
  • How is the final work being distributed? For example, will it be mailed in an envelope, or is it a self-mailer? Is it an HTML email? All three?
  • Will this job be used for other applications? Will this brochure become a website? Should the designer be purchasing images in hi-resolution since you envision enlarging them to poster size for another marketing piece in the future? A little early planning can save lots of time, effort, and money later on.

Communicate Your Preferences with Examples

These have to do with your particular preferences for the job.

  • Should this job match previous work? Is this brochure supposed to match your new website, or does it stand alone?
  • What colors do you like/hate in general? Does your company have a color palette they like to use? Conversely, if your job is NOT supposed to use the palette, let the designer know as well. And if you just plain hate green, let them know that too.
  • Do you have any samples of jobs you like? Send the designer any hints you can. Even “I like the way the GAP website has their navigation” speaks volumes to a designer. Or if you send links to five sites with tabbed interfaces, they’ll get the picture. Ripping pages out of magazines, sending other brochures you've received in the mail and liked—there are no wrong kinds of samples as long you can point out what you like about them.
  • Does your company logo or information have to be displayed in a certain way? If your company has a guide for branding standards, make sure the designer gets a copy early on in the game.
  • Ask yourself: What is the focus in this piece? What impression do you want to give? What’s the most important piece of information on the page? And most of all, what do you want people to do once they see it?

Make Your Changes Clear with Specific Comments

Once you’ve seen a rough version, be specific when it comes to alterations.

  • If this is for a website, what are the specifications of your monitor? What browser version/resolution do you use? What version of Adobe Acrobat are you using? This can avoid a lot of confusion to make sure your designer and you are actually seeing the same thing.
  • Be as specific as possible when noting changes. A phrase like “This background is too dark” is unspecific, but “I am having a hard time reading the text on this page because the background is too dark” is much clearer.
  • If you’re dying to use some flashy new technology on your site, ask yourself why. If it’s just for an intro because your competitor has one, listen carefully to your designer’s reasons for trying to steer you away from it. Likewise, if your designer is pushing to try out a new technology you don’t feel your job needs, don’t be afraid to say no to it.

When You Just Don’t Know What You Want

Sometimes there’s nothing you can put a finger on, but something about the design isn’t working.

Convey those thoughts to your designer, and try these tips:

  • Show the job to others in your company. They may be able to put into words the effect you’re going for. Or, they may love it. You might find you don’t want to change anything after all.
  • Take another look at the pieces you sent as samples to the designer. What is the common thread? If this is a companion piece to other company pieces, is it possible that your piece may need to stray from the path a little to make a statement?
  • Convey your ideas with kindness. (This goes for the designer too!) Use of words like “ugly” or describing a color as “barf-colored” (okay, nobody’s ever said that to me, but it’s an example) erodes the relationship between you and your designer. You’re both working toward the same goal.
  • Listen to your designer’s reason for using a certain design. As you build a good relationship a mutual trust emerges, and know they won’t steer you wrong. Sometimes our initial reactions to a design change as we become familiar with them and better understand the underlying logic.

By trying to be as specific as possible when you can, and open to opinion will assist you and your designer to come up with the best way to deliver your message. Good communication with your designer will get you great results, every time.


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