As someone who’s been on both sides (designer & client), design projects can be really fun or really frustrating. One reason they can be frustrating is that aesthetics are subjective. Sometimes you can feel like you’re fighting against the other party in order to make your project look the way you want it to. Unfortunately, what looks good to two different people may be totally different.
“Design is the relationship of content and form.” – Paul Rand.
As a client, here are some tips that will help you get the most value from your designer:
1. Hire an expert you trust.
If you are going to commission a professional for your project, make sure that you like their past work. Every designer has different specialties and styles. Don’t hire a designer that you’re going to have to coerce into creating a style that you like. See if they have been able to solve similar problems for other clients. Can they explain the process and reasoning behind their decisions?
By doing some research, you can prevent situations where you’ve invested a lot of money and later realize that the designer isn’t going to be able to meet your objectives.
Some clients want to design vicariously through someone who knows how to use the tools. For these people, I recommend just learning the tools themselves or hiring a student with no experience. This will save money and frustration. When you hire a good designer, you are commissioning their expertise to solve your problems.
You don’t want your financial advisor to tell you what you want to hear. You are relying on them to use their expertise to help you. A good designer shouldn’t just strive to create something that looks good to you. They should strive to solve the problem in the best way they know how. You will get the most value from leaning on their expertise.
Attributes of a designer you can trust:
- Has a portfolio that shows how they’ve effectively solved real-world problems.
- Specializes in your industry or a particular style you would like.
- Is not the cheapest. Like any professional service, you usually get the quality you pay for.
- Works to understand the underlying goals of the project.
Okay, you’ve found a designer that you can trust. What’s next?
2. Start the project off right.
Give all of the direction up front. Don’t leave out any details. There have been times in the past when, as the designer, I didn’t get all of the necessary details. Sometimes because I didn’t ask the right questions and sometimes because the client had changed their mind midway through the project without telling me. It can be really frustrating and wasteful when your designer has spent weeks on a design concept only to find out that they were going off of inaccurate information. It won’t be possible to answer every question up front, so stay in touch throughout the process for anything that may arise.
- Provide every piece of content they will need before getting started.
- Share the style or direction you envision for the design. Creative solutions thrive within restraints.
- Explain the specific business goals behind starting a design project.
3. Give the right kind of feedback.
On this point, some of the best advice I have seen came from Rob Williams from letsworkshop.com.
What to do:
- DO feel free to go negative about things you don’t like. If you don’t tell us what you think isn’t working, we’ll show you the same thing again and again.
- DO point out and go into as much detail as possible as to why you feel something is not working. More than anything, your reasoning is critical to solving the problem.
- DO speak to your goals and priorities for the project.
- DO tell us why we’re wrong about certain design and development decisions we’ve made. Part of the process is finding those holes.
- DO limit the amount of people participating in the review cycle to as small as possible – for faster, more succinct feedback.
What not to do:
- DON’T mock up designs or alterations to our designs or code in photoshop, word, or any other program. Doing so is counter-productive because we then must reverse engineer the whole thing to find out what you were trying to solve. This results in lost time, and budget.
- DON’T prescribe solutions, because prescriptive feedback also needs to be unpacked, and reverse engineered to get to the real issue.
Bad → “Move the twitter button to the left”
Better → “We want more importance placed on the social media sharing tools.”
- DON’T forget that you hired design experts and your job is to be the business expert.
Working with a designer on your project can and should be a fun and exciting process that leads to a great result. Following these ground rules will help your designer have the freedom needed to meet your objectives.