Dealing With Designers: 11 Tips For Communicating With Creatives

how to communicate with graphic and web designers

Many of you are champions at communication. If you’re in marketing, you may even have a degree to show for it.

But as any good leader knows, it takes months or even years for a vision to go from concept to launch. So why, when we’re dealing with designers, do we assume what we want can be instantly understood and executed?

The very best web and graphic designers are artists as well as businesspeople. When hiring a designer as a full-time or temporary part of your marketing team, it’s vital that you communicate specifically and effectively.

As a marketing director and consultant, I’ve managed many website builds, redesigns, and the creation of every type of collateral. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.

*And for designers, build these tips into your projects to make your process run smoothly and avoid misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and other sticky situations.

1. Your Designer is Not a Mind Reader

“I want our website to be better” is not an actionable directive. What is “better?” If you’ve chosen an experienced designer and the first design iteration is nothing like what you envisioned, you must take responsibility for miscommunication about your brand and goals.

2. Design for Your Audience

Who will be using the site? Who will be reading that brochure? What action do you want to take? Ideally, you will select your designer with your audience in mind. At Pressler Collaborative, we select the design team for each client based on audience, aesthetic, and budget – but we can do this because we already have a database of designers we know well. If you don’t, consider a creative staffing agency that can back up its creatives and their work.

3. Know What You’re Paying For

Are you paying for the project or the hours worked? Expertise or execution? What happens if either side can’t honor the timeline or you end up wanting ten revisions instead of two? Make sure you have an honest conversation about this in the beginning so that you don’t end up with an astronomical bill or designer who decides she’d rather move on to another client than mock up Design Version #42.

4. You Have Work To Do, Too

You can’t just drop a design project in someone’s lap and check out until the day before launch. Before we begin a website project, our clients must go through a creative briefing process asking design and strategy questions they may have never considered before. The more you prep and actively bring ideas to the table early in the process, the better the entire project will flow.

5. Design is Proprietary

Love another piece of creative design? Definitely use it as inspiration, but never cut and paste. Respect that it is someone else’s art and hard work, and was paid for by another entity. Ripping off another design is as disrespectful and unethical as plagiarizing any other creative work.

6. Get Organized

Once the designer has started creating design options, it’s too late to assess your strategic position in the market. Before you even begin, you should have done your competitor research, brand analysis, audience demographic prioritization, and for websites, drafted your sitemap. (See my article Start with Strategy.)

7. Use Specific, Objective Examples

This may be the most important tip, whether for creative design or directing any artist. Any adjective that’s open to interpretation is not specific enough. Here are a few examples of concepts that mean very different things to different people:

Upscale
Fresh
Modern
Creative
Urban
Sophisticated
Edgy
Professional

For example, “blue” has infinite shades. “Royal blue”… okay, better. “Obama ’08 Campaign blue”… now we’re talking. “Pantone 3015″… bullseye.

8. Avoid Too Many Cooks

Chances are, many people have a stake in your website. But get any more than two decision makers in one creative meeting and your process is guaranteed to be muddled. The most effective, efficient website redesign I ever witnessed was one that stood to be the messiest… until the organization’s digital strategy director decided to drive the process with input only from the CEO. The result: a gorgeous, functional website, and a team that understood exactly which sections were theirs to manage after launch.

9. Be Selective About Your Feedback Team

Unless she’s representative of your target audience, your mom doesn’t know what makes a good website. Plus, she’s probably too close to be sufficiently objective. Many of us instinctually know what we like but are dismal about breaking down precisely why we like it.

10. Be Crystal Clear on the Timeline

It’s not enough to choose a launch date. You must co-create a specific timeline including due dates for each element and – this is the key part – by when you will supply elements or give feedback, so as not to throw future milestones off schedule.

11. Manage Expectations

One piece of marketing cannot singlehandedly sell out your inventory. Know where your website, brochure, digital video, print ads, and everything in between, stand in your marketing mix, and how they will function as part of your big picture — both from a strategy and budgetary perspective.

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