5 Keys to Painless Graphic Design
I’ve worked with a lot of graphic designers over the past 20 years, and I’ve learned from them, usually the hard way, how to make the process as pain-free (for everyone) as possible. Of course everyone works differently and not all graphic designers are the same, but I’ve found that following some simple guidelines can help keep a project on schedule and on budget, with the desired end result of a beautiful and effective graphic design.
1. Find Your Match
It’s worth the challenge of finding a graphic designer who partners well with you. Someone who “gets you,” because a lot of the design process involves discussions of big ideas and lofty concepts and subjective opinions. You need someone who seems to listen and understand you; someone you can develop a shorthand with over time.
You might find a designer with brilliant ideas, but if you don’t understand each other then you’re going to waste time and probably not get the product you want. Yes, it takes work to build the relationship, but if it’s still a struggle after three to four projects together, then it may be time to move on.
2. Make A Plan
Always, always put together a creative brief for a new project. Before I approach my designer about a new design, I use my creative brief template to spell out what I need. This helps me think through the project and anticipate any questions. I almost always include the same things:
- Project name. This helps you both communicate, especially when you have multiple projects in the works.
- Description. What’s the background? Is this an ad, a social graphic, an email banner, a sales brochure, etc.? Why do I need it and what do I want to accomplish? This doesn’t need to be long, but should give your designer some context for the project.
- Design direction. If you know what you want, spell it out. Provide examples of what you like and what you don’t. Do your best to share what you’re expecting. As I’ve learned, even the great designers aren’t mind readers.
- Schedule. I start with the final deadline and work my way back from there, including drafts and review periods, so we’re both in agreement on how we get to the final deadline. This keeps both parties accountable.
- Specs. Is it digital only or will I need print files? If it’s printed, is it bound (in which case I need signatures of four)? What is the size and the layout? Are there delivery specs from the printer (very common with publication ads)? Does it need a fillable form? Basically, are there any technical requirements to share?
- Resources. If the design calls for specific images, logos, fonts, etc., this is where I provide a Google Drive link to those resources. I will also link to past iterations of the design. For example, if it’s a 2018 sales brochure, I’ll link to the 2017 brochure for reference.
- Copy. I’ll often include the copy directly in the creative brief, or I might link to a separate copy document depending on what it is. I use this to spell out the exact text I need in the design, as well as, providing designer instructions—like about what images to include where or what to emphasize.
3. Copy Comes First
It is infinitely more difficult to change copy once the project is in the design stage. Make sure you, or your copywriter, has outlined all of the necessary text to be included and that it’s been approved by everyone who needs to approve it before you send it to your designer.
Yes, you will need to proofread the design and you will likely have minor copy edits, but the more you can edit up front, the more time you’ll save in the long run—and the less likely you’ll have errors. Making changes during the design process usually involves a lot of cutting and pasting and that can lead to typos.
4. Communicate What You Want
I try to provide the designer with information about what I want from the design, including the color palette I want to use (if I know) and the tone (irreverent, corporate, inspirational, etc.). And I also try to include some examples of designs, concepts, imagery I like that represents that tone.
It can also be helpful to include specifics on what you don’t like—for example, if everyone uses hands to represent giving and you hate that imagery, be sure to say so. If you don’t know, that’s OK, too; but be honest with yourself about whether or not you’re picturing something in your head or not. Going through the creative brief process is likely to help you figure out what you’re looking for, so try to communicate that as best as you can.
And keep up the communication throughout the review process, sharing what you like or don’t like and making constructive suggestions. But beware of micro-managing a great designer! You might miss out on some really cool options if you try to control the design too much.
5. Respect the Designer
Marketers and designers have a longstanding push-pull relationship. Marketers want to YELL about all the great work, benefits and general fabulousness of their organization with GIVE NOW in bold, highlighted, 80-point font; while designers want to convey a feeling through their use of white space and visuals and carefully chosen fonts.
In the middle lies peace and harmony and effective marketing graphics. Having fought this battle for a long time, I’ve come to realize that, yes, white space is important. And that one graphic cannot accomplish everything, but if it’s well done, it will effectively convey the message and inspire someone to act. If you’ve found the right designer, listen to them and trust them.
That’s it! Once you find a designer you work well with, follow a set process of planning and remember to communicate what’s in your head, then you should find the graphic design process to be reasonably painless. Maybe even fun.