I love being a graphic and web designer! It allows me to dwell at the intersection of art and business in a way I find deeply satisfying. I get to flex my creative muscles and provide a service that many small businesses are desperately in need of, all at the same time.
For most businesses, I know that time is money, and that arriving at a brand that “feels right” is essential to the future success of that brand. However, the businesses I work with don’t necessarily spend a lot of time with creative types. Sometimes, even if they have a clear vision of what they want, they have trouble communicating that vision to the designer, often simply because they don’t know the right kind of information to provide, or the right questions to ask. Occasionally, they know they need “something better,” but their vision of what that means specifically for them is murky.
That “feels right” quality I mentioned earlier is a highly subjective thing. Even if you are communicating clearly, it can take time to hone in on what’s best, as your designer adjusts what “feels right” to them in order to meet what “feels right” to you. And if you aren’t sure what you want, then finding the right feel is difficult at best.
The good news is, whether you know what you want yet or not, you can cut down on how many revisions are necessary in order to achieve your desired result by carefully considering what you are looking for in advance, providing appropriate info when you begin working with a designer and remaining open to the iterative process that the back-and-forth nature of design entails.
Start With the Bad
As a designer, it helps to know right off the bat what things you hate. Take color scheme, for instance. There are millions of colors in the world for your designer to choose from. You tell them you like burnt orange, dark grey and sky blue. When they submit a mockup to you, sure enough, they’ve used burnt orange, dark grey, sky blue and…HOT PINK?! You hate hot pink. But the designer didn’t know that, and when they decided they needed a fourth color, they chose what felt good to them. If you are clear about what you don’t like at the beginning, you insure the designer won’t return anything that has elements you despise, whether they be colors, layout or anything else related to your design.
A great way to hone in on what you don’t want is to look at work that has been done for your business in the past. Find previous problematic pieces and give them a hard stare. What about them was the issue? What missteps do you want to avoid in the future?
Go Find Some Good
Ok, so you’re clear on what you don’t want. Fantastic! Now we need the flip side. There is still a vast ocean of possibility in front of your designer, from which they will pluck whichever ideas resonate with them as they are creating. The more you can help them dial in to your specific vision, the better. If you are designing a website, go look at websites and pay attention to the elements you see that appeal to you. If you are building a brand, look at other brands you like. Make sure that you don’t let your opinion of the businesses you are looking at color your opinion of their design. Many admirable businesses have poorly designed sites, and vice versa. Focus in on the specific elements of the designs that you like — fonts, colors, layout, that sort of thing.
It can be especially helpful to look at the businesses you compete with, not only for inspiration, but to see what they aren’t doing well. If your website and your brand can outstrip the competition in both presentation and usability, then you will have given yourself an immediate leg up.
Provide Lots of Specific Examples
Good. You’ve done the thought work necessary to provide your designer with usable information on what you want and don’t want. Now you need to communicate those likes and dislikes to them. Don’t worry if you aren’t the artistic type and you are relying on your designer for creative direction. The truth is, even the most left-brained of us are aware of our tastes. The important thing is to document your reaction to things as you are exploring for information. If you use Pinterest, that can be a great way to curate things that you like/dislike as you prepare for your meeting with a designer, but even a Word document with links and images pasted in will do. Don’t worry about overloading them with too much info, even if the designer only uses a fraction of what you provide as inspiration for the design, every bit helps to clarify your vision a little further.
Another integral area of information to convey at this stage is the history and culture of your business and its clients. What are your goals? Who do you serve and what are their demographics? What kinds of things do they like and dislike? The more of this type of info you can give, the more your designer can tailor their design to perform well for the people you intend it for.
Remain Flexible But Honest
Congratulations! You’ve successfully handed your vision over to the designer, complete with a bevy of inspirational images, websites to look at and info about your company and its clients. Remember that when they deliver their first draft, it is likely that it won’t be exactly as you envisioned it. You are collaborating with an artist, and it is important to allow them freedom and space to be creative. Remember that they have training and experience in communicating visually, and some of their choices might not make sense to you initially. When you meet with them again, ask them questions, and allow them to explain their decisions. You’ll often find that their reasoning makes sense, even if it didn’t produce a desirable outcome, and it might even change your mind!
It’s important that you remain honest during this exchange. You don’t want to tell them you like something in order to avoid hurting their feelings, for example. But it is important to sit with your emotional response a moment and think about what it is exactly that is bothering you, rather than reacting immediately. Try to return with specific and constructive criticism that is focused on moving the design closer towards the ideal, instead of tearing the design apart.
The design process is a dialogue between you and the designer, but if you allow that dialogue to take place under optimal circumstances by doing your research ahead of time, providing plenty of specific examples and info and remaining open and flexible during the revision stages, then you will find that working with a creative professional is joyful exploration of you, your business and what makes both great!
Want your experience working with a designer to be as smooth as possible? Give the design team at Solamar a shout, and we’ll take good care of you!