How to work with a graphic designer: 9 steps to harmony

7 min read

Design feedback shouldn’t be a painful process. In fact, if it’s a painful process, someone’s probably not doing it right. During any project that involves creativity, designers are often exposed to a variety of feedback and criticism. Scary though this may sound, this can actually be a liberating and inspiring experience when done right.

Read on for some ‘Terrific’ and ‘Tragic’ examples of design feedback and learn some new tips that will teach you how to (and how not to) communicate with a graphic designer effectively. A few tiny tweaks can help you get more and better work from your creative team.

1. It all comes back to the brief

Tragic: I want the brand to appeal to everyone i.e. 18 - 60 year olds.

Terrific: Currently, our main target market is men in the age bracket 35-55. But as we grow our business we want to have an overall broad market appeal – nothing too polarising.

At the beginning of any design process it’s important for the client and the agency to establish a fantastic brief. Writing a brief is not a linear process and for complex emotional projects like branding they often require writing and rewriting to get it right.

Most importantly, when it comes to evaluating designs, a strong brief gives you a starting point to base it on. If you want to make sure everyone is on the same page, you need to be specific.

Were you expecting a mock-up of the complete website? - Put it in the brief.

Did you want 7 logo concepts, not 3? - Make sure it’s in your brief.

Being specific and placing limitations can actually create some of the best work. The brief is your designer’s golden compass at the beginning of any creative project. So before you give any design feedback, recap your brief. Think, did they answer this? Because any designer worth their salt should be doing the same.

2. Use tense to avoid tension

Tragic: “The colour feels murky”

Terrific: “The colour felt murky”

It goes without saying that clear communication is a golden ticket to creative success. But did you know that your tense makes a whole lot of difference in the way your feedback is perceived?

Next time, try this for size. Instead of saying “The logo doesn’t look like an apple”, try “The logo didn’t look like an apple”. This approach takes everyone off the defensive and allows space for discussion around improvements, instead of just defending the design.

3. Be kind – especially in email

Tragic: “I have NO IDEA what this is supposed to be?! This icon looks childish”

Terrific: “When I saw this icon it took me some time to see what it represented. Is there a way we could make it cleaner and clearer?”

Sure it’s important to be clear in your feedback, but try to remember that any designer worth their salt will have put a lot of love into their work: so be fair and clear in your feedback, but tread softly!

Make sure you’re evaluating against the brief (differing expectations always cause conflict) and try to question constructively by asking for the rationale, rather than attacking the work. Email feedback in particular requires more thought than it does in real life: what you can’t communicate in tone and body language, you now have to carefully craft into words. So go easy on the exclamation marks and ban the caps lock, bold and underline - for good!

4. It’s design, not art

Tragic: “I don’t like purple”

Terrific: “Do you think that the colours chosen will help attract buyers to this product?”

It’s time to lose the subjectivity, people! Branding design is always going to be emotional and subjective to a degree - but it’s not art. It has a specific job to do to a specific group of people: and the person evaluating the design is rarely the target audience. So instead of saying “I don’t like purple”, you should be asking ”Will purple sell more baked beans?” Try to leave your personal opinions at the door and think “What would the brand do?”

5. Be specific

Tragic: “This image is kind of weird”

Terrific: “For this image, we’d prefer younger people (30+) in a more corporate environment”

Vague feedback rarely begets fabulous results. Giving feedback that gives instant direction, whether it be images, copy or design, gets you to your goal faster, with less rounds of changes and a more streamlined approach.

This is where adjectives are your friend: Do you want your images to be dynamic or sombre, light or dark, modern or traditional, corporate or casual, young or old, families or singles, indoor or out? Are the colours too plain, bold, simple, few, many, bright, fresh, old-fashioned, cheap?

And when talking about people shots, think like a dating profile - age, gender and interests will get you a surprisingly long way.

Being specific about your desires ensures sure your ideas are on the right track and your creative gets you where you want faster.

6. But don’t be prescriptive

Tragic: “I think this logo looks cramped, let’s add more space between the letters?”

Terrific: “I think this logo looks cramped, can you suggest some ways to change it?”

As Paul Boag has suggested – It's the client's job to define the problem, and the designer's job to solve it. This is especially important when giving feedback. Stating the problem and not the solution can be very difficult. But allowing the designer to do the problem-solving for you allows them greater creativity and potentially better outcomes that you might not have considered.

Yes, adding more space between the letters might be one way to make things feel less cramped, but equally the logo could benefit from a thinner font, or a different letter style. Trust your designer and work together to find the best solution. Collaboration is key, but it's good to remember the roles to play to each other’s strengths.

7. Give things the time they deserve

Tragic: “I’m super busy today, so have only given this a quick look - here is high level feedback.”

Terrific: “I haven’t got much time today to review this, I’ve looked it over, but am going to sleep on it before I give feedback.”

Things today just get busier and busier, and sometimes when it comes to emotive things like design, they need more than a second to infiltrate your true emotions. What’s more, your creative team have spent hours crafting this work for you, so try to look at the details.

It’s important to give things the time they deserve. Is it an in-and-out eDm? OK, give it a few moments before giving feedback. Is it a new brand identity that’s going to be around for years to come? In my book that’s something worth sleeping on! People change their minds all the time, so sometimes giving things a bit more time means better feedback, clearer objectives and a better end result.

8. Distil your feedback

Tragic: “Here is my feedback on these designs: the team will email you theirs by the end of the week”

Terrific: “I’ve consolidated our agreed feedback into this document for your review.”

If you tell your barber that you like it short, but your significant other likes it long, you’re gonna get a mullet. Listen to your team, your designer, your director. Listen to everyone’s feedback. Then give one version of the best bits. If there’s a debate, talk it through until you know what your standpoint is and deliver that to your designer. Our advice: listen, reconcile, then deliver and you’ll have the express route to success.

9. Lighten up

We know branding is important, but having a giggle can ease the pressure and help the creativity flow again. See here for a great selection of posters based on bad creative feedback, which are sure to put a smile on your dial, client or agency.

Need a reminder? Or know someone who does?

Communication around design is so much easier when you are working with the right agency. To find the right agency, download our7-step checklist to choosing the right inbound agency.

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