How to Talk to Your Designer: 7 Easy Rules

How to Talk to Your Designer: 7 Easy Rules

Correctly define the scope and critique drafts without offending

Even when you order web design from a professional, sometimes you might not understand each other and receive a sub-par result. Why does that happen?
Let’s look not at the designer’s mistakes, but at cases when the customer does something that negatively influences the artist’s motivation.

Three Types of Relationships between Customer and Designer

«Client and Chef»

You examine the “menu” (portfolio), check the prices, make your decision and order the “dish” you want. In this situation, you rely on the designer’s tastes and hope that he will perform your task at the same level of quality you see in their portfolio (or better).
Advantage: You do not take part in the work; you just pay and wait for your “gourmet dish.”
Disadvantage: The “chef” might not be familiar with you and your business. That means there there are certain nuances that he or she may not account for. In this case, the result can vary, as if you’re playing a game of roulette.

This is the approximate face of a client who did not participate in the work process and got a dish he didn’t like

This is the approximate face of a client who did not participate in the work process and got a dish he didn’t like

«Driving Instructor and Student»

In this situation, everything is reversed. You are the instructor. It’s as if you kind of hand off the wheel to the student, except you always tell him when and what pedal to press and which way to turn. 

Sometimes you may just take the wheel yourself and dictate your conditions.

Sometimes you may just take the wheel yourself and dictate your conditions.

Advantage: The work is getting done with consideration to your wishes and you are always aware of the status of the project.
Disadvantages: You are not letting the designer do his job. You have your own tasks (managing your business or something else), and he has his own work to do.

«Business Partners»

This is the relationship you should aim for. You describe the goals of your project and create the scope. The designer then creates drafts in accordance with your wishes. You discuss them together, and come to a successful result through mutually beneficial conditions. Everyone does what they know best.

And Now .. the Promised Simple Rules That Help You Communicate Effectively with Designers

1. Formulate the Requirements Correctly

This is what we sometimes hear from our clients:

— “Well, make it pretty!”
— “I’d want it to tug on their heartstrings”
— “Why don’t you draw, and I’ll tell you later if I like it?”

Unfortunately, the designer is not a telepath and cannot read your mind.
Your participation in the work is a necessary condition for a good result. Prior to starting, explain: what is the project goal, and what do you want to achieve? Describe everything in the requirements and scope and attach examples that you liked.
Remember: Everything that was not discussed ahead of time must be paid for later. If you can deliver the essence of your business to your designer up front, you won’t have to pay more down the road.

2. Talk about the Purpose of the Changes, Not the Methods

Imagine this: an operation is underway in the surgical wing. Then the patient on the operating table starts to tell the doctor where to cut.
This is how the designer perceives your hints. If you need to change anything, accentuate not what kind of font you want, for example, but what you want to achieve as a result of the changes. For example:

Incorrect: “Make it red and add a photo of a guy smiling.”
Correct: “I want lending to appear brighter and in a more positive light.”
Incorrect: “Make the width of this line 3 pixels bolder.”
Correct: “Please make the borders more visible.”
Incorrect: “Here we make a 50-pixel wide space, below a 30-pixel wide one, and leave it as is on the sides.”
Correct: “I think we need to position the elements a bit further apart from each other.”

Do not deprive designer of his or her muse. Don’t try to impose your opinion, especially when the project is in its early stages.
Per-pixel changes can be offered in the end. In the beginning, you only need to set goals for the changes. Achieving these goals and taking the necessary actions is up to the designer.

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3. If you want to offer something – ask

Sometimes you encounter a situation where you want to change something, so you have to break the second rule. (This is especially true for the final stages). What should you do?
Express your request in a form of a question. For example:

Wrong: “Do this part in red.”
Right: “Why don’t we try it in red and see how it looks?”
Wrong: “Use this font instead of that one.”
Right: “Should we change this font for another one? Don’t you think this one looks too big?”

There is a huge difference between a question and a peremptory order.
If you want your designer to be on the same page with you, ask questions.

4. You don’t like something? Tell it in time

There are some customers who keep on saying everything is OK until the final stage. Suddenly someone from the (customer’s) management doesn’t like the idea itself, and everything has to be dramatically changed.
Certainly, the customer may change the project concept at any stage. But then again: everything that goes beyond the feature request represents an additional cost. You have to look through the drafts in a timely fashion, comment on the unsatisfactory copies of work, and tell the designer if anything is wrong and why. By following this rule, you’ll save both time and money.

5. If you can’t explain – show a visual example

Find some examples of works you like and show them to the designer.

6. Do not insult the designer’s work

Don’t insult the work of your designer, especially if you plan to continue working together. In our studio, we have intervened with customers who respond to a completed piece of work with something like: “What the crap is this?” Unfortunately, such feedback totally ruins the desire to be productive. If you don’t like a draft or a finished result, you definitely have to say so. Just be a little more diplomatic:

—This example does not suit me because…
—I think this draft doesn’t express the idea completely…

The main goal of any criticism is to contribute, to improve and to make the work closer to perfect.

7. Do not nitpick at the beginning

When the designer shows you his or her first drafts, try to withhold comments on minor details and don’t ask to improve little things. The purpose of a draft is to show you the main idea and to agree upon the area of designer’s activity.
Do not check the quality of work at this stage. “Why are the lines so abrupt?”, “Why is it so dim?”, “Why is it so odd shaped and asymmetric?” – up-front questions at the beginning of the work simply distract from the project’s main concept. You can correct your sketch lines for hours and discuss every pixel, but it all becomes irrelevant when you suddenly realize you have to alter the entire project.

In a nutshell:

Your key to getting a successful design is a good partnership with a professional designer. It does not require much effort. You just have to:
• give a clear scope statement
• allow the designers to do their work
• describe the changes in a timely manner
• show examples when it is difficult for you to explain what you want
• not denigrate designer’s work (or the designer himself, of course)
• offer your ideas as questions, not as orders
• correct specific details at the end.

And there’s one more important thing: compliment the designer’s work once in a while, if you like the result.

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