It’s been a little while. I was starting to reconsider blogging at all, but recent events have made me think otherwise.
So, I have been freelancing a long time. I have had clients and projects come and go. Many different kinds of clients, and many different kinds of projects. I have done many things to stay abreast of the changing design aesthetics, process, software, and focus of the industry.
I’m here to tell you, that if you’re a designer reading this, I hope you do this too.
The great thing about where I am, and what I’ve done, is I can jump into just about any project now and understand the fundamentals of what’s happening and have my own ideas to contribute. I have seen many designers get employed at an agency, work in one niche for years, and then find it hard to find another job that fits that niche.
I guess I just feel like if you want flexibility, with the “what, when, how” of your career, it is time very well invested. Understand the mediums (all of them).
Despite a designer’s best efforts, at times, we might miss the mark. Usually a lot of this is handled before we even get to a visual stage by discussing the project in detail and then coming up with a design brief that we send to clients for approval so that we agree as to what our overall aim is and how we intend to accomplish it. However this doesn’t mean that what those words mean to one another will be the same and may require some finessing to get everyone to a place we’re all happy with.
1) Preventative Action is the best if you can manage it
Be clear about expectations. Don’t be afraid to show examples of things that you liked if you think that will help the designer. While on the one hand, we’re there to come up with the “big idea” if you’re thinking pink and we walk in with black, it’s gonna create some friction. And that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes we get locked into ideas prematurely and they aren’t the best solution for what we need. So what you need to do is share anything ahead of time which will help you in two ways: 1) If your designer agrees with your thinking, it saves time and energy to get you to that place where you go “Wow, I love it.” 2) If your designer doesn’t agree with you, it gives them the opportunity to put together the information to help you consider changing your mind with a different big idea. For example, if you want to do a pink baby website, the designer might suggest an alternate idea to set you apart. They can then also show you there’s already 10,000 pink baby websites, so can make the informed decision of whether or not you want to join the pack. Be open, be clear, and share. This applies before you’ve seen anything, and after you have.
2) Try to avoid getting overly emotional
Ok. Prevention didn’t work. You aren’t happy. It happens. Despite my best efforts with clients and thorough outlines of goals etc, some things just don’t really translate until their shown in a visual. My meaning of modern and your meaning of modern might end up being two different things. So what do we do?
Don’t panic or get overly emotional is my number one recommendation. While I don’t have it happen frequently as I’ve done as much as I can do (see my article on Foundations for Project Success) it does happen. Now we’ve got to deal with it. Panicking or getting angry unfortunately will not help the situation. While I appreciate the “oh my god it’s 2am and I just saw this and I totally hate it” email might seem like it’s necessary, it’s not really and only escalates the situation to another level. We’re all working to a common goal: to create a design that’s going to fit the parameters of your project, with the intent to give you a good return on investment. As such, it’s important that we all do our best to keep our heads cool and our goals and expectations clear.
3) Be respectful
True story. I was in a presentation where we were discussing some initial layouts for a web design. Everyone was pretty happy with what was in front of them and we were discussing how we might address a few changes. Then, an individual who hadn’t been saying a lot was asked what she thought: “I think this is whole area is garbage.” she said.
HMMMMM. Is this a respectful way to discuss something? Nope, sure isn’t.
As you are the client, I get it. You’re paying the bill, you want the best you can get. The bang for your buck. But I think sometimes I find that clients forget that I know this fact as well. I’m also aware, that everyone is different, and that we all might have a different opinion of what looks good. Having said that, it’s important to remember that despite that this is a subjective process to a certain extent, that we talk to each other about the details of what the “good” is in a polite respectful manner. No matter how unhappy we are. Period. Telling someone that what you’ve shown is garbage, or that you just don’t like it while raising your voice isn’t going to get you any closer to your end goal: a successful design. So talk about WHY you are unhappy. Is the image not something you agree with? Is the color too punchy? Be specific but polite. It’ll get you a lot farther in the end.
4) Speaking of being specific…
When you’re talking to your designer about a project, it’s important to try to break it down. A general “I just don’t care for it” isn’t going to work. If we were mind readers, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place now would we? So be prepared to talk about specifics with your designer. While we’re conscious of the fact that you may not have the full design lingo down, a good professional designer should be able to talk to you about what you do share. What does the font say to you? Is it too frilly? Does it have too many swirls? Is it hard to read? How about the images? Do you relate to them in the context of your project? Even negative feedback is good and helpful.
Being specific about your likes and dislikes will go a long long way to achieving a good end result. I’ve had clients say they really didn’t like a design and then once I peppered them with questions, it was apparent that they weren’t against the design, there were a few elements within the design that were making them unhappy. After a hearty discussion and a few changes to imagery and a color or two, often they are actually quite happy. So talk it out. It’s part of the process.
5) Know when it’s time to terminate the relationship
A designer/client relationship should be built on respectful discussion, trust and the willingness of both sides to work towards the end goal. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Personality can play a role, as well as professionalism with regards to how we treat one another. If you can’t ever get your designer on the phone, if the designer constantly misses the mark or is disrespectful to you, then it’s probably best to move on. When you feel as though you’ve reached the “threshold”, it’s time to terminate things. Getting nasty will not get you a good design, it most likely won’t get the designer to pick up the phone, and if you have a deadline, most likely it won’t help you make it. So don’t let things get to that point. It’s like any professional relationship, if the business is not providing the level of service you feel they should, then it isn’t a good fit.
In most cases it will not come to termination – especially if items 1-4 on this list are addressed. I’ve only had to fire 3 clients in my 13+ years as a designer (and yes, the designers can terminate the relationship as well – #3 on the list will play a very big role in that for me) so don’t fret too much. Talk about your needs and how they need to be met, and come up with a plan of action with your designer. Business relationships like any other relationship can take time and learning to fully prosper but can end up being some of your most indispensable.
Picking the right designer
I’ll be writing an article to go into depth on what I think should be the defining principles for choosing the right designer for a project, but I want to touch on it briefly here. Essentially, don’t let price alone be your deciding factor. If you have reached a stage where hiring a designer is a possibility, you should try to allocate enough to hire the best you can.
While cheap might sound like a good idea, it generally will only lead you to issues later on. For example, a logo you purchased for little on the internet-might later on be found to be a plagiaristic logo that will get you in hot copyright water. It might be delivered to you in a jpeg format only, which limits how much you can size it for different applications without getting pixelated. It might also only get you a designer who never seems to answer their email or phone and makes the entire process frustrating as most likely if they have skill, they will have over committed themselves to cheap projects making you just one of the herd of clients they are trying to take care of.
And let’s not forget skill: hiring a designer that knows how to use the programs and “draw some stuff” is not comparable to a designer that has been educated to understand design principles, understand usage in different applications (Like what if this logo was made into a sign? Will it still work?), and understands using design to market to different people. These are important elements to consider when you hire a designer.
Discuss, Discuss, Discuss, Design Brief
You and your designer should have some conversations about the project. While sending notes over that say “I need a logo” might work, you’ll need to be able to clarify this. The best way to avoid ending up unhappy is prevention. I use the phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” quite frequently. This is true in many elements of designing for logos, websites, brochures, etc. If you just went on a “new logo” note, you’re probably not going to be happy with the end result. What’s the market? Who are we reaching? How will it be used most often? What is it you’d like to say about your organization? Is it user friendly?
If this is your first time working with a designer, don’t be afraid to ask for a design brief. Any of my projects that are of a substantial size, I do this anyhow. What is a design brief? A design brief essentially outlines the problem you’re having with your current materials (be it brochure, website etc.), outlines the goals of what you hope to achieve with the redesign, and then explains at least in general terms what the designer intends to do in order to accomplish this. For smaller projects I’ll just send over an email with the information in it, and for larger projects, I’ll do a more formal document. Either option requires either an email “Yes, we’re on the same page. Let’s do it!”, or a signed version faxed/emailed.
Taking the time to discuss things at the outset is one of the absolute best ways to avoid ending up unhappy later. And for any designers reading this, by doing a design brief you’ve ensured that you have something to hold your clients to if they’ve changed the parameters of the project later on.
Know what you need, to the best of your ability
One thing that I as a designer have at times had issues with clients over is knowing what they need or want out of a project. I had a meeting several years ago that clearly illustrated this. I was told that they needed 2 brochures. One for one group of users, another for another group of users. We were instructed to not treat one as special and give it any sort of “flair” despite the fact that it was targeting a higher eschelon of users that would hopefully donate money. So that’s what we did. Then we were called into a meeting where the clients voiced a great deal of non-satisfaction with what we had come up with. Specifically, our lack of treating them differently and no “flair”.
What later came to light was the different stakeholders in the project hadn’t all weighed in when we were developing the design plan, and so when they were presented with non-flair, they were not happy. So you as a client need to do your best to get feedback from the parties that have enough weight to change the breadth of the design. This will go a long way to smoothing out the process overall. It will create a solid foundation for which the design brief can be built upon thereby preventing some uncomfortable situations later on.
Another element to consider is knowing who you want to accomplish with your design. If you’re looking to get more donations on a website, then that’s something that you need to convey to your designer. Even things that you think might not be important to communicate to your designer, might very well be. So don’t be afraid to tell your designer as much as you can about your overall plan for the site, but even your intentions down the road for your organization. We may very well have some additional solutions to make it happen or come up with even better solutions. So please share as much as you can. It really can make a difference.
#design #graphicdesign #successfuldesignproject
A number of clients that have come to me, it’s their first time working with a professional designer. Prior to that point, they had done things pretty much on their own using ready made websites and Microsoft templates for letterhead and business needs. But then their needs changed. They grew to a point where self implementation of these things in addition to their actual daily business dealings was physically almost impossible. And not only that, but they had reached a point where they wanted to use these avenues to grow their business, not just sustain it’s daily needs.
So talking to a designer is a completely new experience! Prior to hiring a designer they spent hours working on something to get it right. Now, the challenge was different. What they are looking for and what they need require discussion outside the confines of their heads.
Who are you and who is your market?
One of the first things I always ask my clients is who they are, and who their market is. It is crucial that you as a business person are able to answer that question. And don’t be afraid to be specific, in fact, BE specific. While we all think we’re targeting “anyone with a checkbook” we aren’t really.
Take AGC for example. My market is primarily local. My prospects are almost entirely businesses – either other larger marketing and design groups that need to bring in a little design muscle to catch up on the current workload, as well as businesses of varying sizes that view branding and design as an important element of their business. They have realized they need assistance with projects ranging from identity and logo design to full overhauls of corporate websites that are dated, non responsive, and tend to have a lot of disorganized content.
So why is being able to answer who you are who your market is important? Well there are some that think graphic design is merely “making things look pretty”. But in truth, that’s just a side effect. Why does it look attractive? Because it encompasses the visual elements of the business, it has appeal to the market, and it’s organized to maximize the vehicle it’s using to reach them.
What design elements (if any) have been established to date?
Do you have a logo, or other branding elements that you’ve been using? How about a color palette that you consider important to your brand marketing? These kinds of things should be communicated to your designer at the outset so plans can either be made to use them, or a strategy can be implemented to modify or improve them without damaging your brand identity with your customers.
And here’s another thing to consider: your logo should be in formats that the designer can use no matter the media. Logos in jpeg, gif or other low resolution formats will work in some situations, but if you’re planning to do a big print job for example, these formats will not be of a quality that will allow for a good end result. So be prepared if your logo is not in one of these formats to pay a little extra to have your design created in an .eps vector format. This format can be sized to infinity and will ensure excellent results no matter the media.
Imagery is another one that sometimes comes up. Please be prepared to tell your designer where you got an image, and whether you have the rights the use it. I once had a client tell me that it was not problem to get some images for their project, I just had to find them on the internet and “right click”. I had to educate my client on the imperative need to be allowed to use the image. Intellectual property rights can be an ugly business and so I encourage clients to be sure they know where the image came from and if they have the rights to use it.
What goals do you have for this project?
Why do I think this is an important consideration? For a couple of reasons. One, it will help with the strategy of what we’re planning to do. For example, if we’re looking to redesign your website, and your goal is to get more donations from users, than we’ll need to make sure that making donations is easy, and that the place to do it is obvious. If we skip this, than we’ve missed the goal for your site entirely. So our strategy for our market and our goals for the project require discussion (preferably at the outset) so as to be successful.
The other reason I ask this question is that I want to make sure that my clients expectation for a project (especially when it’s their first run with a professional designer) are realistic. If what the client hopes to happen is outside the realm of possibility for a project, then it’s doomed to fail. While I wish I had a magic wand and could make things all things happen for my client, if their goal is something like to gain 80% of the market with a one time postcard mailer, they probably aren’t going to be very happy when that doesn’t happen. Since I want the project to be a success for their business, and their view of my part of that being a good one, it’s my job to discuss what we can do and what might be a realistic end result. So I really like to talk about that with my clients.
How might you measure success?
Earlier in this article I mentioned the donations element of a site being a crucial part of a hypothetical website redesign. So our measure of success in this regard will be if people actually do make more donations. Provided we’ve done our jobs of making the process user friendly and easy to find on the website, then this should be our end result. Some just want their site users to be happier during the experience. If it is a niche membership site for example, we want users to be coming back more often and using the site! So we might use surveys or just using website analytics be able to tell that we get return users who spend more time on the site, thereby proving the site (and therefore the membership to the site) invaluable.
There will surely be more questions that will come up to make your project a success. But I feel as though these questions should be at the core of any project, no matter the media, and require some thought by the client to provide to their designer at the outset of a project.
Every so often I take a couple hours to go to a *gasp* retail bookstore and sit and read, as well as pick up some new materials. On a recent trip, I came across “The Strategic Designer” by David Holston. A more cerebral investigation of what makes a good designer, particularly with regard to process.
I would be the first to admit that process has not always been my forte. I had to do a tremendous amount of reading on the subject as after I decided to go out on my own process became even more important. I no longer had the advantage of an art director, or creative director walking me through the stages of the project and keeping me on point, I now was the person responsible for keeping me on point.
Clients benefit from our industry being on point with process in a number of ways. First off, we really do need a schedule and deadlines. This not only aides us in arranging our work days, but also does three things directly for the client: gives them accountability for the deadlines they’ll need to adhere to, eases anxiety about “when” they’ll be seeing the layouts, changes, etc. and keeps the end game in mind. Like when we’ll be done, done. This is a key element in small business process.