Pixels, white space, focal points and sans-serif. Designers have their own language, and it’s baffling if you’re not used to it.
It’s almost like we have a “secret code,” and we reserve our best work for the clients who know it. When you speak with us, you might feel like you need a translator to communicate what you want and get marketing materials that stand out.
But the good news is it’s simpler than it sounds.
In the end, you don’t need to know the difference between points and pixels to get the best work from your designer. You just need to know a few secret code phrases to help you describe what you want and avoid the red flags that set graphic designers on edge.
Code Phrases to Avoid:
Say the phrases below at your peril.
When we hear these come out of your mouth, we immediately start either formulating how we can say “no” to working with you, or calculating how much more we should charge for the project so that we can cover the additional time it will take to deal with you.
1. “I’ll know it when I see it.” When you say this, we have visions of parading design after design by you as you sit passively and observe. Design is a two-way process. Your participation and guidance are key to coming up with a final product that meets your needs.
2.”Here, I made a layout for you.” On the other hand, we don’t want you to do our work for us. Tell us about your conversion goals and the market you want to reach, let us know if there is a certain mood you want to create or an image you want to convey, and then step back so we can do what we do best: solve communication problems visually. When you try to do our work for us, you limit our ability to deliver the best solution.
3. “I had a huge falling out with my last designer.” This one puts us on edge. We wonder why? Was it them, or was it you? Were you impossible to work with? Did you not pay your bills?
4. “I don’t have much to spend now, but there’s more work coming.” Whenever you don’t have money set aside for design, it’s like telling a designer that you don’t value good design or well-planned marketing, and you won’t appreciate the impact it will have on sales. It’s a red flag that you’ll be hard to deal with, won’t pay invoices on time, and might even be out of business within a few months or years — none of which are qualities top designers are looking for.
5. “How much does <hideously complicated project> cost?” Designers sometimes have standard prices for projects that have a tight description and don’t vary much. These could include website headers, HTML emails of a particular length, and even logos. But for any project that’s complex, such as a free report, corporate website, or product packaging, we need to gather information before we can give you a price. Experienced business people know this, so asking for a “ballpark figure” before giving details just makes you look like a beginner.
6. “I want to show this to my <spouse/friend/child>.” There is nothing wrong with asking for feedback, but this one still makes designers nervous, and here’s why: none of these people are inside your business. If you want to talk with a marketing director or your business partner, that’s fine, because they probably understand your business and marketing goals, but when you go outside of your company for feedback, what it really tells us is that you can’t make a decision on your own.
Code Phrases to Use:
The phrases below are music to our ears. Clients who understand the value a designer brings to the table and know the importance of well-planned marketing say things like this:
7. “What do you recommend we do?” The simplest way to get inspired work out of anyone is to make it clear that you value their opinion. Graphic designers are no exception. Instead of starting a project with your deliverables set in stone, give us a chance to think about it and make recommendations. Sure, it might take an extra day or two, but you’ll often be amazed at the ideas top designers give you. It can be the difference between a mediocre marketing campaign and one that makes you millions.
8. “How much time do you need?” This question tells us you know good work takes time, especially for new clients. First projects always take the longest because we are inventing the “look” of your company from scratch. It takes a lot of thought, back-and-forth, and revisions, all of which take time. But if you’re willing to be patient, it’s worth it.
9. “What’s the best way to communicate?” Some graphic designers are impossible to reach by phone, while others prefer it. Some are happy to talk with you at 10 PM, while others can’t. Before you start your project, it’s important to know how your graphic designer prefers to communicate, and then do your best to accommodate it. You’ll have less mixups, more fun, and a designer who loves working with you — all of which lead to higher-quality work.
10. “Here’s the information you need. Here’s the target market. Here’s how we’ll approve your proposals. Go to work!” The ultimate designers’ fantasy: a client who has all of their text and photos organized; who knows their target market and overall goal for the piece; who has a clear approval process in place; and who is willing to give us the time and authority to do our work. If you learn nothing else from this article, learn these phrases, because they cover everything we want to hear.
The biggest secret of all?
Clients who are easy to work with and use the secret code phrases on a regular basis don’t just get our best work. They also get the lowest invoices, because we can work efficiently and don’t have to fight our way through the process.
How about you? Do you have a good working relationship with a designer? What makes it work? Or have you had nightmare experiences?
Tell us about it in the comments.
About the Author: Pamela Wilson is an award-winning graphic designer and author of the Big Brand System.
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