How to speak your graphic designer’s language

I am not a graphic designer. I do not pretend to intimately understand their frustrations, or even that all of them share the same frustrations.

However, after perusing Reddit and talking to some of my friends who are graphic designers, I realized copywriters and graphic designers deal with a lot of the same bullsh*t.

Without further ado, here are five things you can do to better communicate with your graphic designer:

1. Value the job they do

One of the big similarities between copywriting and graphic design is that way too many companies want something for nothing. Believe it or not, you have to pay for quality.

So, yes, your logo designs will cost a good deal more than $5. And no, nobody’s interested in vague promises of “more work down the line.”

Simons pie chart
Simon’s pie chart – the type of brief every designer dreads

If money is tight, I recommend you outline your budget at the outset and ask what it will net you… but do your homework first. Most designers have standard price packages on normal features (e.g. website headers, logo design, HTML emails, etc.). It’s possible your budget is set too low for what you’re asking.

Above all else, remember graphic designers provide an essential service. Respect the work they do, understand that quality takes time, and, for God’s sake, pay them their fair due.

2. Provide the resources they need

KISSmetrics describes a client who can specify their target market and has all their information and photos organized as “the ultimate designers’ fantasy.” Provide your graphic designer with all the text and images they need at the outset, to avoid panic on everyone’s part a week before the deadline.

Also, if you can, provide your designer with an example of design work you really like. Don’t expect a 1:1 recreation of this example, but use it as a common point of reference. An example is one of the best ways to communicate your vision with your designer.

3. Communicate specifically what you want…

If you want something specific in terms of color, font, images, layout, or aesthetic, clearly communicate it using specific graphic design terms.

Missing Missy
Missing Missy – how not to brief a designer

That said, if you don’t have something specific in mind, don’t toss around technical terms to sound smart. In the words of Reddit user imoovedtoafrica, “‘Please use substantial kerning with the Slab Serif Typeface plated with analogous colors on the die cut card and make sure theres no lorem ipsum haha!’ Excuse me, what?”

4. …but trust that they know their business

Nothing torpedoes a creative project faster than a non-creative with final say. To avoid this grisly fate, ask your graphic designer for their design recommendations. Trust that they’re a professional in their field, just as you are in yours.

Dilbert on design
Dilbert on design

The bottom line is you need to take a step back. If you don’t understand one of their decisions, ask why they made the choices they did, but don’t micro manage or retcon their designs. Always stay flexible.

5. Give feedback early and often

Feedback is awesome—and I trust you to know the difference between micro managing and providing clear corrections. If something is off brand tonally or stylistically, the sooner your designer knows, the better.

Again, make sure your feedback is specific. Suggesting changes and improvements is more helpful than directionless comments, such as, “I don’t like this.” Oh, and nothing makes me grit my teeth more than unspecific edits, such as, “make it pop!” That isn’t direction — it’s a buzzword.

Are you a graphic designer? I’d love to hear your thoughts. If I missed anything, let me know in the comments below.

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