10 HUGE TIPS to communicating more clearly with graphics designers.
- Do you struggle to make great looking designs?
- Do you feel like graphic designers never manage to create exactly what you want?
- Are you frustrated that your designer always makes better stuff for other clients than for you?
There’s a good chance you suck at speaking to designers in their terms! I can help you with that. Not only will you get beautiful designers, but you’ll probably fall in love with being an art director.
My growth with designers
I’ve had to go through this journey myself. Hiring out and also working alongside graphics designers throughout a good chunk of my life. I used to be known as “that crazy guy with crazy requests”. (LOL, I’m still known as that guy but in a much better way now.) Designers used to dread working with me. They felt I was always asking for difficult things, followed by 100 adjustment requests, and sometimes I didn’t even use their work…I just ended up hiring an inferior designer to screw up the masterpiece they already created for me.
Naturally, this didn’t make me a favored-client among web designers. They never seemed available for me…and even when I paid big money, my projects never felt like they were prioritized. More than anything, it seemed like the designers only took on my projects for money. They were never truly excited or personally invested in the outcome of their work. My projects also never made it into their design portfolio.
It also didn’t help that I had that attitude of demanding perfection just because I paid. I took no personal responsibility on the outcome of the designs because I believed it was the designer’s responsibility to create everything! Well that’s not how things work! Graphics design communication is a 2-way street.
What makes graphic design so hard?
It’s usually communication more than anything. When designers don’t understand what their clients want. They take random guesses. And quite often, their mockups are never what you want.
But here’s the thing. I [now] blame clients more than anything. Most clients don’t know what they want. Maybe it’s clear in their head but not clear in how they explain it. They also want to see finished drafts on the first try, because that’s how they’re used to seeing things.
The proper way to design is to design in unfinished drafts. You produce some concepts. Client chooses one, and you continue further with it. There’s no point in wasting time finishing a design a concept that a client didn’t like in the first place. The problem of course is that clients don’t know how to visualize through design concepts. They don’t know whether they like a concept or not because they can’t imagine what it’ll look like in when it’s finished. It’s the whole chicken or the egg thing. Which comes first?
So how did I become a favored client?
I changed my attitude. Experience will teach you that real quick. I stopped trying to haggle for the lowest rates. Stopped trying to demand my designers to do everything. I was much more involved in the design process. Whenever there were little kinks to be worked out, I tried to do as much of the legwork as I could myself. I also learned how to use their tools… like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Sketch, etc…so that I could play with their originals and test ideas myself before wasting their time asking for 101 revisions.
The more I tried to do myself, the more I realize how hard it was to be a designer. I really appreciated the ones that were so patient with me. I tried to pay them all that I could (even more than they asked). I helped them find more clients.
I got better at communicating, too. I can now reach a final-grade design within a few dozen mockups whereas it used to take hundreds. Not only that but before I used to spend so much time creating crap. Now within 2 weeks, I can create 5-6 different designs that are all useable. I have more fun. The designer has more fun. Everything we do is so much more play, doesn’t even feel like work. What we do is exciting and awesome, always pushing the boundaries of design.
It wasn’t long after that I became “the best design client ever”. Most love working with me now. They give me price breaks even when I don’t ask for it. Some even randomly give me free designs out of nowhere (“Hey, I thought of you the other day and made a new business card for you!”) or contact me with a massive price discount during slow periods. They’ll do rush jobs without even asking for pay upfront.
I think the best compliment I ever got was when designers started telling me they liked working with me because they felt I had an eye for design and that I made them better designers. Hahahaha…that’s very flattering now, but I don’t think I can ever take credit for that. I’m just a really cool client who appreciate talent, skills, and hard work.
In any case, here are my best tips to help you sort tough design projects…
1. Always DRAW concrete visuals
One of the best ways to waste time going back and forth is to try to explain a picture with words. I don’t care how good you are describing, don’t bother. Just draw it.
Instead of, “I want a simple, clean, professional looking site with header on top and some images on right and text in the middle. Nice but not too flashy.”…
…you should instead draw the layout of what you want.
And if you can’t even draw what it is that you want, there’s a good chance you don’t have a clear enough vision. So there’s a big takeaway right there; have a clear vision in the first place so you don’t drag your graphic designer through hell to create an image that you didn’t even have in your head!
Oh, and if you’re too lazy to even come up with your vision…then you better just let your designer do what they think is best, and not argue with them or ask for a million revisions.
2. Choosing lookalikes
A common request from designers is to ask you for examples of what you like. What other designs and sites you like out there. Most clients screw this part up in 2 ways:
- They send over multiple examples of the same exact generic look – and they get a generic look in return that doesn’t have any unique personality.
- They send over a wide range of examples – but aren’t clear which aspects they like and don’t like about each. So they get a design that indeed has elements from each…but none that they wanted.
Here’s my suggestion…be clear what you like and don’t like about each site. This one is for FONTS, and TEXT SPACING. This other one is for COLORS. This other one is for LAYOUT. Be super clear.
Want a HUGE tip?
Don’t show only sites in your industry. Quite often, the best web designs out there are sites that aren’t even in your industry. I often reference Apple or car sites (BMW, Mercedes) or fashion sites (Gucci, Louboutin, etc) when doing designs. There are so many incredible brands out there that are way more design-forward than other industries. This is especially helpful when designing for a small niche that doesn’t have many big players. Don’t limit yourself, ok?
3. Explain things in pop culture references
Quite often, clients are unhappy with designs because while they check off every requirement, still don’t elicit the desired mood.
In moments like this, your best bet is to explain the mood using pop culture references:
- “This font feels like truck driver MANLY. Can we try James Bond MANLY?”
- “This design feels more like KIDS birthday party fun. Can we do more like KIDS art class?”
- “This spacing feels like crowded Walmart. Can we try more like Apple store?”
- “These colors feel more like Superman RED. Can we try more like a wine RED?”
- “I want HI-TECH like Batmobile gadget car, not like HI-TECH sterile medical environment.”
- “I want forest, trees, nature RELAX. Not home couch, sauna, jacuzzi, RELAX.”
- “I want PREMIUM as in high value (many benefits). Not PREMIUM as in exclusive (nobody has it).”
Again, you have to make it super clear. Paint some expressive visuals with your words. (I’m not asking you to be poetic with your words, btw. The goal is to be clear!) Quite often, people just throw random words around without knowing the various ways they could be interpreted.
4. Constructive feedback
I think many people just have no business sense at all when dealing with graphics designers. They get all caught up in their emotions and frustrated when things don’t come out exactly like they wanted. In moments like these, I can tell you that being super nice and appreciative will get you sooooooooo much more than being critical.
Remember, graphic designers are human! And they are artists! Be nice to them and their heart will open to your project. They will design with more passion, grind out more mockups for you. Maybe even throw in freebies like business cards, or that “one extra social media image” request. They’ll stay up late to push out that last-minute project so you can launch a new promotion on time.
You are not BUYING GRAPHICS! You are paying for DESIGN CONSULTATION. Please learn the difference. Whatever you do, don’t yell at them like you would at some lowly fast food employee who messes up your order (not that that’s any excuse either). Remember…graphics design is a skill. And designers WILL get better in time. And they may eventually grow into the designer you’ve always wanted. So don’t be an ass!!
Instead of, “I hate this concept. It looks nothing like what I asked.”
- “This looks interesting, it’s not bad. But can we try this instead…”
Instead of, “I don’t like any of your concepts. They don’t look professional.”
- “This isn’t far off from what we wanted. What can we do to make it feel more premium?”
Instead of, “I don’t like that that extra page you did. Just get rid of it!”
- “I don’t need that extra concept right now but it’s nice. Can we save it for later?”
5. Set revision sessions
You should never do the 1-day turnaround cycle (where client request emails, and designer adjustments are traded back and forth in 1-day intervals)…especially if you’re new at this. In some cases it’s even longer than one day (can be two, or three).
Those long cycles eat up lots of time and lose creative flow. You should set a time when both of you are available so you can get instant adjustments and instant feedback. A whole months worth of back and forth could be easily done within an hour. More revisions for you, less work for the designer.
6. Trust your designer
It’s absolutely crazy but many clients truly think they know more than their designer. They want to argue for such and such elements and other visual effects. The problem is, they only THINK they know what they want. Or they THINK they know what looks good. Well, they don’t. And many don’t realize it until it’s too late.
Perhaps what your designer presented you with was not quite what you wanted. It’s fine. Give some good feedback and let them find ways to make things work.
7. Don’t be a perfectionist
Each element gets 2 or 3 adjustment tops and you move on. If you can’t decide between two things….that means they don’t differentiate enough and either is fine. Just move on, so you can finish your design and start working on your business! Or better yet, just ask your designer for their professional opinion and defer to them.
You may also have non-critical places in your design that aren’t anywhere near as important as other parts…please don’t fret over there. Just let the designer do whatever and close out the project.
8. Have other projects available
It’s kind of funny but if you want a quick tip on how to get the best work out of your designer. It’s to have other work readily available. It’s a great incentive for them to quickly finish out the current project so they can get started (and get deposited) for the new one. Designers will also tend to charge you less, and also do better quality work, if they know you’re a repeat customer.
Don’t have another project available? Ha, you can set a revision date for the current one. The best designs are usually the ones that are changed often, anyways. You should set a date about 3-12 months from now to revisit the current project and do little tweaks to make it better. It’s always much later after you’ve used and interacted with your design that you realize how it can be made better.
9. Pay your designer (really) well
I think this is almost unheard of in the design world. I NEVER HAGGLE! Whatever they ask is what I pay. Do you want to be your designer’s “favorite client”?! Well then you better not be a stingy son-of-a-gun!
Want to do what I do? I even like to tip my designers, or give bonus pay. Sometimes what I asked for was a $1k logo…but the designer smashed it out of the park with a logo that looked like a million dollars. I don’t know about you…but I put an extra $500 in my final payment and thank them profusely a million times over.
Whatever pay they want, I happily pay it. I want them to know that if they spend extra on my projects, I’ll gladly pay them for it. We are friends, not business people. I don’t punish my designers for doing extra work, ok?
Of course…I don’t offer this arrangement to all designers. Only ones that I’ve worked with for some time and built up lots of trust.
10. Learn how to design
Seriously. Want to learn how to become a great design client? Then you need to learn about design. Learn about the process. Learn how it’s done. Read books, watch videos. Study all the design principles out there. It wasn’t until I did that I really learned how to communicate my concepts and ideas to designers…and especially in their language!
Go on Dribbble or Behance and look at all the billion designs. Sign up for design newsletters. Really get yourself familiar with that world. The lingo, terminology, trends, etc. Not only will this help you learn how to communicate, but also how to hire. You’ll have a much more accurate pulse of which designers are good, and more importantly…which designers are good for you!
It also helps to play bug-on-the-wall or bird-on-the-shoulder of a designer when they’re working. I got to do that at my old marketing firm job. But maybe you have a roommate or someone you can look at. It’s fun to see how designers solve visual problems. Fun to see how they judge different concepts and what looks better to them (AND WHY).