Working with your designer

Posted on 18 February, 2009 at 6:56pm

One thing I’ve noticed as I work with clients is that many people, especially engineers, have little to no experience working with creative professionals. Sometimes this can lead to a tense relationship, so I’ve found it helps to lay out guidelines for interaction in a nice, explicit way. Here are a few of the more general points I end up repeating a lot.

1. Your designer can’t read your mind.

Rule #1 is that you must be communicative about your expectations and preferences. If you hate blue shiny things, say you hate blue shiny things. Send your designer examples of art you like. If he requests more information or feedback, give it to him. If you want his opinion on something, tell him that. I know you’re thinking, “But I’m hiring a designer because I don’t know about this stuff!” And that’s true. But he is trying to help you realize your vision, and you’re both likely to be unhappy with the results if you don’t communicate your goals.

2. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t like it.

This happens to everyone. Your designer works all night on a mock-up and it just doesn’t sit right with you. Maybe he does a couple more revisions and it still isn’t working. The more he works, the harder it can be to say it’s not what you’re looking for. But remember that your designer is (probably) a seasoned professional. Believe me, he is used to criticism and negative feedback. It will not hurt his feelings or make him discouraged. When you say you don’t like it, he’ll know he’s going in the wrong direction and try something different. Unless he truly is a one-trick pony (in which case you should probably find a new designer), your honesty will help him do his job better.

3. Be as specific as possible in your feedback.

One nice thing about working in the world of digital art and media is that our work is no longer nearly as static as it used to be. Imagine a painter in 1829. If you commission a painting and you don’t like how it comes out, he has to start all over again. He can’t go back and make the sky purple or have the subject face the other direction. By contrast most contemporary designers and artists create their work on a computer in the form of large, complex multi-layered documents. Relatively speaking, these are incredibly easy to change. Elements can be added or removed non-destructively. Colors can be changed on a whim.

When you send feedback on a revision, don’t just say “I don’t care for the headers.” Instead, say what you like and don’t like about them. An example might be, “The font is good, but they don’t pop enough.” A designer will know what to do with that, and more importantly they will know what not to change.

4. Leave some room for creative space.

Unless you’re just hiring a Photoshop jockey (and I hope you aren’t), try to remember that your designer is not just creating deliverables but also coming up with ideas for you. They are thinking of creative solutions to your problems and looking at your company or product through the lens of usability, branding, or aesthetics. This process involves research, mental energy, and most importantly time. When you have a timeline, make sure your deadlines for deliverables and milestones are clearly communicated at the start of the project. And then leave them be! Don’t ping every day asking to see “how it’s coming.” If they even have something tangible to show you, they won’t want to. Give them room to come up with something great.

5. Remember they have your best interests in mind.

This one’s important for dispute resolution. It’s true that the customer is always right, so a paying client can usually win any dispute by pulling out the “who signs the checks” card. But it probably isn’t in your best interest for you to do this.

When your designer disagrees with you, it’s his professional responsibility to explain why. Even though he does creative work, it is still ruled by logic, research, and experience. If he doesn’t want to do things the way you wanted, he probably has a reason that he thinks is aligned with the goals you expressed to him in step #1. It’s your right to ask for this reason and to spend time talking it out if you need to. But insisting on something on principle, without regard for your designer’s judgment, is a waste of his talent. He’s not your enemy; always assume that he is trying to help you.

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Posted on 18.02.09 at 6:56 pm


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