What Your Designer Expects From You

Communication is the cornerstone of a great client/designer relationship. If and when things go wrong, it’s usually because someone misunderstood or miscommunicated something. In order for things to succeed, everyone needs to be aware of what is expected of them, and to take responsibility for their individual roles. You probably have clear expectations regarding what you want out of a designer (if you haven’t yet, please read What You Should Expect From Your Designer). It’s invaluable to know what your designer expects from you; it will make you an awesome client and help you avoid some all-too-common frustrations.

“Well-informed clients make projects run more smoothly and effectively, and well-run projects ultimately cost less.”—Mike Monteiro. “You’re My Favorite Client.”

Hire the Right Designer

Professional designers use research, strategy, and–you guessed it–great design to solve business problems. The “strategy” part of design can sometimes be the source of misunderstanding with clients, most notably startups. We get it–you’ve been running your idea over and over in your head to the point of perfection. A strategic designer wants to research, test, question, and potentially change that idea. If you’re simply looking for a designer to bring your fully formed idea into existence, don’t waste your money on a strategic designer. Instead, I suggest looking for a designer who is comfortable with the client taking the design lead–a production designer or possibly someone with less experience.

Intent

It’s important that everyone in your organization is clear on the core goals before bringing in a designer. Designers are great at solving problems through design, but they can’t design a good solution when the goal isn’t clear. Make sure you’ve hashed out any disagreements and/or indecision before contacting a designer.

The Key Decision Maker(s)

It’s crucial that you notify the designer of who on your end will be contributing feedback, who has the final say, and who is the primary point of contact. If, for example, you’re a non-profit and you need to get feedback from the board, it’s important the designer knows that before the project starts. An extra decision-maker arriving in the 11th hour can be costly and runs the risk of derailing the entire project. Make sure key stakeholders are involved from the start, and that all key information is filtered through one individual.

Your Time & Effort

Great designers are masters of problem solving, and they do their best work when they have a clear picture of the problem. Be prepared to share your motivations behind hiring your designer in the first place. It’s important you tell them about where your business is now, the problems you’re facing, and where you want to be in the future. You don’t want your designer taking shots in the dark. Your commitment to the discovery process will allow them to provide a solution that solves your goals. Sometimes it can turn out that the most effective solution looks different than you originally imagined.

“No matter how great your designer is, they won’t ever be the expert in your business. You are. The designer is the expert in translating your message so other people understand it. They’re the expert in translating your business goals into something people use. But they need your help.”—Mike Monteiro. “You’re My Favorite Client.”

Commitment to Scope

Using all the info they’ve gathered during the discovery process, your designer will usually present a proposal for the project, including a clear scope. The scope will detail the amount of work necessary to successfully complete the project.

Read the scope carefully to avoid this very common and seemingly innocent scenario during the project: “Can we just make this one quick change?” or “Can we just add this extra [page] [graphic] [revision] [etc]? It’s should be really quick!”. It’s entirely possible, maybe even likely, that the scope will change during the project – however it’s important that you understand that the scope can’t increase without revisiting the budget and deadlines.

Trust

Remember that your designer is an expert you’ve hired to solve a problem, and you’re paying them good money to do it. We all know that it can be difficult to give up control, but it’s important to trust your designer…at least a little bit. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re wary of the solution your designer presents, or unsure about the direction the project is headed, ask them to talk you through it. Any designer who’s worth their salt will be able to present a solid case for each design decision they’ve made and why it’s the right one for your business. Remember that they’re an expert in their field and they have the training and know-how to make your project a success, and part of what you’re paying for is a unique and experienced point of view.

Check Your Personal Taste at the Door

I know, this sounds completely insane, right? Don’t get me wrong, your feedback is absolutely critical to the success of the project. But the key here is to remember that you’re not designing for yourself; you’re designing for your target audience. You very well may fall into the category of people who will use the product or service that you’re offering, but not everyone will think like you do.

“Your feedback should be based on how the designer’s decisions reflect an understanding of your business plans. You may disagree with their decisions, but as long as both of you agree on the ultimate goals of the project, you’ll have a productive discussion.”—Mike Monteiro. “You’re My Favorite Client.”

Let’s say you really dislike navy blue, but it turns out navy blue is a great way to achieve one of your primary goals–conveying dependability to your customers. This should hold priority over your personal preference against the color, right?

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re unsure of the current design status, ask your designer why they chose the direction they did. They should be able to present a strong case for why they made that decision, and why they believe it’s the right one to achieve you goals. This brings us to the next point…

Use Descriptive Feedback

While it’s essential that you voice your concerns about places where the design might be falling short, it’s also important to avoid telling the designer how they should fix the problem. When you prescribe a solution, you’re giving the designer the solution to the problem without telling them what the problem is. It’s also the perfect way to let them know you don’t trust their expertise. Instead, let the designer know where you feel the design is failing to achieve the intended goals, and trust they can find the solution.

Examples of prescriptive feedback (bad):
  • “I really don’t like blue. Please change the blue to green.”
  • “I really love the Papyrus font. Can we use that font instead?”
  • “Can you move the phone number to the top? Also make it bigger and red?”
Examples of descriptive feedback (good):
  • “This color palette is a bit similar to the one that my competitor uses. Can we find a way to stand out more?”
  • “I’m worried that this design is too masculine for our female demographic. Is it possible to soften it?”
  • “I’m concerned that people won’t see the phone number. Is there a way we can make it stand out more?”

Pay on time

Hopefully, this won’t be an issue as the payment terms (amounts and dates) should be detailed in your project agreement. Follow the agreement and make payments on time. Also, while net 30 is somewhat common when dealing with payment terms for contract workers, it’s frankly a lousy way to treat your designer after a successful project. You expect them to complete phases of the project on time–they expect you to pay them on time.

Last, but not least, a “thank you” for a job well-done goes a long way. You deserve outstanding service from your designer. Hold yourself to those same standards and you’ll enjoy a long lasting and aesthetically pleasing relationship.

In this article I included a few quotes from “You’re My Favorite Client”, an excellent book from design guru Mike Monteiro of Mule Design. If you see yourself collaborating with a designer in the future, I highly recommend picking up a copy. It’s a quick read and full of invaluable information.

Please share your thoughts below. Your feedback is valuable to clients and designers alike.

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