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How to talk to a graphic designer to get what you need

Working on designs can be really satisfying, but it can also be very hard to come up with something from scratch, especially when you’re new to working with graphic designers.

author: Olgierd Gawroński

.09 February 2016

how to talk to a designer

Whether you’re a digital agency project manager or a marketing team member, the rules of working with a graphic designer are the same. I’ve gathered them for you here, you can use this as a cheat sheet in your future work.
You can’t just hand an idea over to the designer and expect that she’ll come up with a final project on the spot. Anyone who’s worked on any design before knows this, but not everyone gets this. You must get involved in the process and guide the designer to get what you want. Sometimes you are the only source of information for the designer. You need to know what you want and communicate it effectively.

Make rules

When you find a designer for your project, the first thing you need to do is set a list of basic rules for managing the designing process.

You can either set one fixed deadline for the whole project, e.g. three weeks from the date of signing the contract or divide it into milestones, like “homepage design – 3 working days”. From my experience, dividing the project into smaller phases makes it easier to manage. You work on one thing at a time and you avoid the situation when you realize that your designer hadn’t started working on your project until two days before deadline.

Always keep track of deadlines. Make sure that the designer understands what needs to be done, and when you need it delivered. If deadlines are missed regularly, it’s a very bad sign. You just have to let that designer go. To ensure that deadlines are kept, you can add a paragraph to the deal about a contractual penalty for not delivering work on time.

Tip #1
Set deadlines with the designer a day or two before the deadlines you agreed on with your boss or your client. This way you can make sure that even if the designer misses the deadline  by a day, you will still be able to deliver on time. Besides, you can always use this time to make additional small changes.

The second thing you need to discuss is how to give feedback to the designer. The best idea is to have short chats after sending every list of fixes. You can make sure that you both understand them the same way, and explain any misunderstandings that arise.

It’s good to agree upon a certain number of fixes for each page template. Also, ask the designer to tell you how much time she needs to make them. You can then demand delivery, but you will also become better at estimating the time needed for such fixes in the future.

When the rules are clear, you and the designer both benefit from this. You can demand certain amount of fixes that won’t make the designer feel exploited or pushed.

Prepare yourself

Before you get down to work, you need to gather all the necessary information. At Lama Media we work mostly on websites, so let me tell you what I always provide our web designer with.

The basic information includes what has to be created and how much time there is. If it’s a website, you need to state the number of page templates, whether it should be RWD (responsive web design), client info, such as:

  • market
  • size
  • competitors
  • short history
  • services offered,

as well as a short project summary, e.g. “The project includes a new website as well as logo refresh”. I also send a link to the existing website if the client has one.
Next up – all the benchmarks and inspirations for the project. Though sometimes ignored, they’re some of the most important things to do before starting a project. While presenting these to the designer, remember to always point out the elements you or the client value the most. Be it the color of a menu, shape of icons or style of images – these are all gold for the designer. They help see the general direction of the project.

Tip #2
Find out who the decision maker is. Here in Lama, all the designs have to go through our CEO before they can be sent to the client. I know his taste and sense of style, so I’m able to get the design accepted with (almost) no changes. Find out who that person is in your case (boss, client, etc.) and what that person likes and you’ll be closer to getting projects accepted and delivered quickly.

Last, but not least – resources. If you want to save time, you need to deliver resources. Images, infographics, logos, copy, product descriptions – all of these can be used to create new designs. The designer has the right to demand them and you need to deliver. Otherwise she’d have to spend hours searching for this stuff on the Internet instead of working on the project.

To make sure the designer knows the direction she should head for, you should think of preparing aids, such as mockups and mood boards.

Mockups are very helpful when working on a website. You don’t need to be artistically gifted. What really matters here is to show the designer which elements are more important and which ones should be higher on the layout. Mockups are a great tool to start thinking about user experience on the website. Which button leads where, which user action leads to what – it’s all vital when creating a website. The mockup can be as simple as a couple of rectangles with additional comments next to them. If you want to skip drawing,  simply list all the important elements for each of the pages. Thanks to this, the designer knows what should be included on each page and can focus on putting it all in the right layout and form.

Moodboards, to be blunt, are documents with different screenshots, images and illustrations, all of which share a common narrative. It is a very effective way of showing what style the design should be done in.

The most important thing, however, is to list all the “business requirements” of the project. This means all the goals it has to achieve. Typical business requirements for an e-commerce website will be:

  1. It has to be focused on selling.
  2. Product offer page has to be well structured and easy to browse.
  3. Checkout page should be simple and helpful.
  4. “Add to cart” buttons should be clearly visible.
  5. The client should be able to finish his checkout process in no more than four clicks.

No matter how hip or modern looking the website is, it won’t satisfy the client unless the above requirements are fulfilled. “The client comes first” is the most important lesson you’ll learn.

Understand feedback

When it comes to working with feedback, there are three rules to follow.
First – prioritize feedback. Not everybody’s opinion on the design matters. You need to know who the decision makers are. It’s hard to get consistent feedback when there’s more than one contact person. Couple of months ago we worked for a client who provided us with feedback from three different employees, and all of them wanted contradicting changes to the design.

Secondly, keep track of feedback. Make a list of changes the client asked for to make sure you get them done. It will help you manage the project and check if all requests have been fulfilled.

Thirdly, understand feedback. Comments such as „I don’t like it” are useless to the designer. You have every right not to like something, but you need to know why. What makes you reject it? Is it the colors? The layout? Which elements are the worst? Which could still be useful?

Take notes, write down all the things you don’t like about the design. Then confront them with the designer and make sure that you both see the project the same way. Send a list of changes you would like to make.

Feedback is what helps keep the project going in the right direction. What I’ve learned when working as a project manager in Lama Media, is that you can’t just send or forward emails with lists of fixes, there’s much more to it if you want to work effectively.

Get it done and get it done right

If you want to get what you need and the project to be delivered on time, you must be engaged in the creative process. You need to point towards the right direction and articulate your needs. Get organized, get feedback and get the project done!

Olgierd Gawroński

author

Project manager who’s been with Lama Media since 2014. Coordinates projects for multiple international clients. Likes to keep things tight when it comes to time and money.

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