Launching a design project should be an enjoyable experience. You probably have exciting ideas in mind and are looking forward to creatively improving your brand. Being able to best communicate these ideas with a designer will keep everything moving forward smoothly.
While new ventures can be exciting, they can also be daunting. There are many unknowns: you are trusting your brand to professionals outside your firm, and there is a possibility that your project will hit a roadblock and come to a screeching halt. This can be frustrating to you and your designer. Both parties are trying in good faith to do what is best for your firm, even if it seems like you are speaking different languages.
The good news is that barriers to progress can easily be avoided with clear communication and understanding between you and your design team.
Creating an effective design — whether for a business card or a large website — involves many steps, some in common and some unique to the individual project. At their core, however, all design projects are about solving a problem. That problem may be how best to articulate your firm’s personality and promise through the layout of a small card, or it may be how to create an accessible website that produces valuable leads.
Good design in any case will make the solution look obvious. It will make peoples’ interaction with the project easy and enjoyable. Once you and your design team reach an agreement on what problems need to be solved, communication about the actual desired results will be easier. Here are some recommendations on how to improve communication between you and your design team.
Communicate from the beginning
Before you start that first design meeting with your team, you will want to be prepared by having answers to these simple questions ready:
What’s the problem? The right solution always depends the problem. There could be multiple solutions to your problem and picking the best one requires digging deep and getting a clear understanding of the root of the problem. You can come up with a list of solutions on your own first, or you can brainstorm together with your design team. Once you have this question answered, that is when you can start thinking about the appearance and design.
What are your goals and expectations? This is where you come up with your SMART goals (specific, measurable, aspirational, realistic and time-bound). Do you need to improve your SEO, boost conversions or reach more customers? Take some time to come up with a list and share it with your team. This will help set realistic expectations and set the tone for the rest of the project.
What are your criteria and guidelines? Answering this question early can help ensure that the design process is smooth. What is a realistic timeline? Is there a budget? Who is assigned roles and tasks? Set practical guidelines and be sure there is some wiggle room for your team to explore creative solutions.
Give specific feedback. Designers love feedback, particularly when it moves a project forward. But not all feedback is constructive. Criticism that is vague or personal can bring progress and cooperation to a standstill. When anyone involved in a project thinks they are not being heard, that party is likely to dig in and become defensive rather than opening to constructive comments.
If your first response to a design is, “Oh no, I don’t like this at all,” this opinion is of course perfectly valid. Your challenge is to distill the reasons for this reaction into tangible suggestions. Telling a designer that you like or dislike their work can make the critique seem like a judgement, which does not help address the underlying design problem. It also forces the designer to start guessing about your preferences, which is non-productive. Instead, provide solution-oriented feedback that can be discussed and evaluated.
Ask questions. Do not be afraid to ask a lot of questions throughout the process. In fact, designers love questions — just not vague questions. For example, do not simply say, “It’s ok, but can you make it pop?” This again forces your designer to read your mind to determine what exactly “pop” means.
Instead, ask questions early and often. By doing this it is more likely that you and your team will be able to come up with the proper solutions. Here is a list of questions to keep in mind when providing feedback:
• What do I like or not like about this design?
• What emotion does this color or font bring up?
• Does this solve my problem?
• Does this serve my purpose?
• Does this help me reach my overall goal?
• Does the solution create other unanticipated problems?
Respond to questions
The biggest design project roadblock is when no one responds to questions. The sooner you or your designer can respond to questions the better.
Provide examples. Remember that even words that seem specific, like “modern” or “traditional,” are subjective and may mean something different to your design team than they do to you. Pair subjective statements with samples. If, for example, you would like a design to be more clean, show your design team some websites or relevant materials you think match that description.
Consider looking outside of your industry for examples. You may really like the feel of a restaurant website or a tech magazine, and that feedback can be very helpful. Taking a legal design in a direction others in the industry have not considered can add currency to your firm’s brand.
Trust the research. People are notoriously bad at judging human behavior — both the behavior of others and their own. Algorithms are almost always more accurate at predicting behavior because they are based on data not intuition. Telling a designer, “That’s just not what my clients will do,” removes the ability to test, ask questions and get actionable data about potential client behavior.
Factors that can influence your team’s communication
Other factors aside from poor communication can affect the progress of a design project. These include:
1. You are short on time or budget. A big mistake is attempting to pursue a solution that is way outside your scope and resources. Limited time or budget are major constraints for designers. Be honest and realistic about your time and budget to your design team and they will help you figure out a solution that best suits your needs.
2. You focus mistakes instead of improvements. When communicating with your designer, it is important that you can speak and critique freely. However, solely focusing only on what does not work, rather than how can this be improved definitely slows the process. Take the time to really understand why you may not like a feature or design choice and communicate that to your team.
3. You feel forced to criticize. If your superior gives vague feedback to you about the design, you do not have to do the guesswork when relaying the message to the designer. Try to understand your superior’s reasoning behind their feedback with simple clarifying questions. This will help your designer better understand your needs.
Do not talk fluff
There are common phrases and questions designers hear that may sound constructive and insightful, but in actuality can be very unproductive. Here is a list of some things not to say to designers:
You are the expert here. Yes, you are paying a designer for their creativity and expertise, and you should trust your designer’s judgement. However, setting a designer free with no parameters can unnecessarily extend the process. And making the designer guess adds an unnecessary layer of pressure that can lead to friction.
We do not have finished copy, but can you make the draft first? Any design that effectively accomplishes its goals will be built around copy. Trying to shove content into an existing design does not produce the same results. Also, you may find that once the copy is complete, the design needs to be reworked, which is a waste of time and money.
Can you have this done today? Some simple design modifications may be turned around quickly, but most take thought and time. Ask your designer about the process and realistic time constraints before suggesting a deadline.
Can you use the logo off our website? Your firm should have several versions of your logo, and preferably at least one vector version that can be used at any size. Logos that are optimized for web do not have the resolution needed for print applications. They are often also not transparent, which makes using them in different applications — even different web applications — difficult.
Can you just do something that looks like this? Do not copy. Copying is unethical and can cause legal issues. It is also poor practice from a branding perspective. Your materials should match your firm’s personality and be memorable in their own right. Copying will never accomplish this.
I will know what I like when I see it. This statement implies you expect unlimited revisions, which can cause a project to drag on indefinitely. Most designers are happy to make changes until the client is happy, and going through a few rounds of revisions is normal. But making a designer guess indefinitely is not productive for anyone.
Clients and designers who are polite and communicate clearly will get the best results from any project. People are much more driven to succeed when realistic expectations are set, collaboration is smooth and respect is mutual. Negativity is not a motivator. Most designers are happy to explain the design process and the thinking behind their choices. They like to ask questions and discuss the pros and cons of solutions. Any project that involves collaboration will be more successful when all parties feel heard and respected.