Design in the workplace can be hard. We know, because we asked.
Recently, we’ve been speaking to a number of different businesses about the challenges they face in their workplace. We’re going to be sharing these with you over the next couple of weeks, but we wanted to start with one of the most colorful topics we covered: communication between designers and departments or clients.
Believe me, we get it. Graphic designers can be hard to communicate with.
They have their design jargon and special software — and you might have no idea what it all means or how it all works. So if you work with designers, it helps to ask the right kind of questions that will move your project along and create a final product that everyone will be happy with — rather than questions that bring the project to a crashing halt with incorrect assumptions about the design process.
What might those be? Check out these 20 examples of questions that designers wish they didn’t hear. It’s the first taste of some awesome plans we have in the pipeline to make design in the workplace amazingly simple.
01. Don’t say: “We haven’t finished writing the copy, but can you design a draft?”
Why? You’ll often hear marketing experts say that “Content is king.” A design should be built around the content, not vice versa. Presenting content to its best advantage will always look better and get better results than trying to squeeze all the content into an existing design. Plus, going back and trying to re-arrange the design to fit the copy can be time-consuming for a designer and increases the turn-around time for you or your company. Next time? Get the copy as close to its final version as you can before asking your designer to get started — it’s better for everyone.
02. Don’t say: “Can I get you to do something really quick?”
Why? Are you sure it will be quick? Do you know what’s involved? Your designer is more than likely happy to accommodate an extra task or an adjustment here and there, but will definitely appreciate your consideration in asking how much time it will take (rather than if you just assume it’s a quick fix). Designers are good at giving estimates and will let you know how much time they need if you ask.
03. Don’t say: “Can you put it in a format that we can edit?”
Why? If you request an editable source file, you’ll likely need specialized design software and risk changing your carefully crafted project for the worse if you don’t have any design knowledge yourself. If you want a professional-quality design but will need to make edits regularly, you might consider a DIY option like Canva, where you can have access to templates created by designers that you can customize or tweak at anytime without compromising design quality.
04. Don’t say: “Can you do lots of different versions? I think I’ll know what I want when I see it.”
Why? Let’s say you’re buying an expensive, tailor-made suit or a fancy, custom dress. Would you say to the seamstress, “Can you make me six versions of the outfit? When I see them, I’ll choose the one I like best and pay for just that one.” Of course not. Just because graphic design is often a digital rather than physical/tangible product doesn’t mean that the designer puts any less time and care into the work. The design process will go more smoothly for both you and the designer if you first spend some time developing a detailed creative brief that helps the designer understand exactly what you’re looking for and are trying to achieve with the design — including information like your intended audience, preferred tone or aesthetic, budget, etc.
05. Don’t say: “Can you Photoshop it…?”
Why? Yes, Photoshop and other advanced design software can do some amazing things. But it can’t do everything; sometimes designers receive requests that really are technically impossible. And just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Some of the more extreme or outlandish effects and treatments that are possible are not necessarily the best choice from a design perspective — plus, we’ve all seen Photoshop choices backfire, such as a model with an oddly angled arm or leg or impossibly thin proportions. So ask your designer to give you some feedback and constructive criticism; she’ll usually have a pretty good idea of what will or won’t work for your design.
06. Don’t say: “Can I make just one more change? I promise it’s the last one.”
Why? You know and your designer knows that there will probably be other changes after this one. After all, you’ve asked for multiple tweaks already. So let’s just be upfront about it and nicely, apologetically say something like: “I’m so sorry to keep taking up your time like this, but I found another change I’d like to make. Can you change this [word / font / graphic / color]? Feel free to add the extra time for these edits to your invoice.” Graphic designers are short on time just like you are, and although they do want to help you make sure the design fits your needs, they also appreciate the acknowledgement that their time is valuable. So next time, try compiling a list of all the changes you’d like to make and hand them over to the designer to do all at once, which is more efficient for everyone.
07. Don’t say: Can you do something that looks exactly like [this other designer’s work]?”
Why? Aside from copyright issues (and possible legal consequences), this should be a matter of ethics. No designer should be okay with copying another artist’s work outright, and you shouldn’t expect them to. Instead, try pointing out what you like about the design specifically, and ask your designer to do their own take on the style or try certain elements inspired by the work, like a color scheme, basic layout, or general aesthetic (clean, vintage, bold, etc.).
08. Don’t say: “Can you use this image I found online?”
Why? Turning to Google or other search engines for images can backfire in a number of ways. For one, like the previous point, you could run into legal trouble for using a copyrighted image — one that’s not licensed for personal or commercial use. Additionally, it’s likely that the image won’t even look good in your design because the resolution is too low. If you’re looking for an alternative to paying for stock photos, there is an increasing number of sources where you can find quality, free stock photos. We’ve complied and rated a selection of resources here.
09. Don’t say: “Can you have this done by tomorrow?”
Why? Graphic design isn’t an instant process that is done with a few clicks of a mouse. Every project will have its own process and time requirements. Realistically, some designs can be whipped out in a day, while others will take much, much longer. It completely depends on the project (and the designer’s creative process). If you’ve found a designer you’d like to hire, let him or her know about your time constraints and ask for a realistic estimate on how long the design will take.
10. Don’t say: “I know someone who works for half that. Could you lower your rate to match?”
Why? Designers set their prices based on multiple components: geography, cost of living, style, skill, experience, and many more. Every designer will have a different combination of strengths and abilities to offer, and there’s no special formula for determining if a designer’s rate is competitive or “fair.” Generally, though, you get what you pay for — so you need to decide what characteristics are most valuable to you in a designer (speed? quality? originality? reputation? personality?). That’s not to say price negotiation is not an option, but if your first encounter with a designer is an effort to “lowball” his rate — suggesting a rate much lower than normal, while expecting the same quality of work — that will be an immediate turnoff and feel disrespectful to the designer. Design studio Hensher Creative offers a detailed guide to the subject, “Graphic Design Pricing: What’s a Good Designer Worth These Days?”, including what goes into pricing and some industry averages for different types of design projects.
11. Don’t say: [in the middle of a project] “By the way, I’ll need these other related items in addition to the initial design. Can you do that?”
Why? Expanding the scope of your design project in the middle of that project, after agreeing upon a certain arrangement (e.g., you’ve agreed on a logo package, and now you’re asking for business cards and a letterhead design in addition), is one of the worst things you can do from a designer’s perspective — especially if you expect those additions to be included in the original price. This is where a creative brief comes in handy (again). Including the full scope of the project within the brief ensures that you and your designer are on the same page and can plan your budget and timeline accordingly, preventing unnecessary frustration. If you do run into extra, unexpected needs during the course of the project, you’ll need to work out a new budget and timeline for those additions.
12. Don’t say: “Can you make it pop?”
Why? Designers, unfortunately, can’t read your mind. So when you’re giving guidance or feedback on a design, try to be as specific as possible. Your designer won’t know what vague descriptors like “make it pop,” “edgy,” “modern,” or “fancy” mean unless you make it clear what they mean to you by being more detailed or showing examples that are similar to what you’re looking for.
13. Don’t say: “Can you just get the logo off our website?”
Why? Saving or taking a screenshot of a logo from your company website, Facebook page, or any other online source just won’t cut it quality-wise, especially for print projects. Logos need to have a certain resolution to look sharp and clear in your design; there are different requirements for print and web. The failsafe format to hand over your logo is a vector file, which means that it can be resized larger or smaller to suit any design without loss of quality. Common vector files types are AI (an Adobe Illustrator source file) and EPS. The original designer of your logo should be able to provide you with an appropriate file if you don’t have one.
14. Don’t say: “How about we just go back to your original concept?”
Why? Designers are designers because they have the artistic and technical ability to do their job well. Sometimes instead of asking for multiple iterations of a design concept, it’s best to trust your designer. After you explain what you need, let the designer come up with the best design she can. Then, take a good, hard look at the design — maybe take a couple days to mull it over, or run it by a trusted third-party who has some knowledge of design or your industry — and make sure any changes you request are necessary and explainable. Don’t waste your designer’s time with endless experimentation when the initial design is exactly what you asked for.
15. Don’t say: “I started the design for you in Microsoft Word / Paint / Publisher. Can you finish it for me?”
Why? While programs that come loaded on your PC or Mac are perfectly suitable for everyday, casual use, they’re not intended for professional design projects. Neither you nor an experienced designer will be able to get the kind of quality you’re looking for from a home office program. That’s why designers use specialized software. It’s best to let them use those tools from start to finish — you’ll be much happier with the final product.
16. Don’t say: “I can’t pay you, but you’ll get a lot of exposure. Is that ok?”
Why? Designers like a little publicity as much as the next guy, but it won’t pay the bills. Freelance designers, in particular, have none of the benefits of traditional employment — they pay their own taxes and insurance, buy their own equipment and supplies, often maintain a home office, etc. All of those costs (not to mention regular living expenses) have to be taken into consideration when designers set their rates. So doing a job for free or for non-monetary compensation usually just isn’t a viable option.
17. Don’t say: “Once you’re done with the design, I can have unlimited revisions, right?”
Why? Many designers put a limit or a fee structure on revisions because a project can theoretically never end — there’s always something new to try or another small adjustment to make. You can expect to go through a few rounds of revisions with your design; that’s normal, and most designers are happy to work with you to get your project as close to “perfect” as possible…within reason. Remember, even small changes take time to make, and the more changes you request, the longer the project’s turnaround time.
18. Don’t say: “How much would my [special, complicated project] cost?”
Why? The answer isn’t as simple as you might think, and will be different for every project (and for every designer). To borrow an analogy from designer David Airey, asking “How much for [take your pick of design projects]?” is akin to asking a realtor “How much for a house?” The answer is that it depends…on a lot of things. That’s because pricing a project is not a black-and-white process. Most designers will want to have a detailed discussion about your project before giving you a quote. Factors like how complex it is, how fast you’ll need it, what types of formats or deliverables you’ll want, where and how it will be printed and/or published, and many others all play a part in determining pricing. When you first approach a designer, offer your project details before asking about costs, and you’ll get a more thoughtful, accurate estimate.
19. Don’t say: “Can I call or email you anytime?”
Why? Nobody — even freelancers or night-owls — monitors their work email or phone 24/7. Designers have schedules, too (even if they work from home in their pajamas) and often collaborate with multiple clients simultaneously. You may not be able to get a hold of your designer at a moment’s notice, but you should hear back from him during his working hours. If you’re concerned about how easy it will be keep it touch, make sure to ask when those working hours are (and limit your most important messages to that time) as well what his preferred method of communication is.
20. Don’t say: “You’re the expert here. Can’t you just do your creative magic?”
Why? Well… yes and no. Designers are (or should be) experts at creating beautiful, functional designs from the guidance and parameters you provide. But, as we’ve mentioned in previous points, having something to go on in the first place makes the process much smoother: a detailed creative brief is ideal, but even something as simple as providing some examples of designs you do and don’t like can be very helpful. Jeff Sholl at Propoint Graphics puts it this way:
“‘You’re the expert here’ basically says: we [the clients] defer to your judgment to read our minds and give us something we didn’t even know we wanted. That is a lot of pressure to lay on a graphic designer….The bigger issue is the amount of freedom it gives the designer. This phrase gives us unlimited freedom to try to tell the story that you know best. We can deliver Picasso, but if you were looking for Rembrandt there’s gonna be an issue.”
Designers can put all their creative energies into creating an interesting, effective design, but only you know what you want, so it’s ultimately up to you to communicate that.
To sum up…
Clients that are easy to work with — who communicate clearly and politely, establish expectations upfront, and are willing to collaborate — get the best work from their designers.
And designers that have those same qualities have more satisfied clients. Most designers are more than happy to guide you through the often-foreign design process and answer any questions you might have, and they like nothing better than being asked for recommendations.
As with any collaborative environment, a little mutual respect and give-and-take go a long way in creating a productive partnership.