How to Communicate with a Graphic Designer

June 9, 2009 | Design Basics

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Tell us the problem, not the solution.

So you’ve decided to hire a graphic designer to design your logo, build your web site or layout the cover and interior of your book. Generally, you make this decision because you realize that working with a professional will give higher-quality results than doing it yourself.

However, designers go to art school or design school and seem to speak their own lingo: white space, leading, css style sheets and divs. You may not understand all the terminology. That doesn’t mean that your opinions shouldn’t be expressed. But forget all that and get back to what you see, and what you have an issue with when you are reviewing your designer’s work.

Here are a few examples that I’ve experienced:

  • You say: “Make it bold.”
  • What you meant was: “Make it more noticeable.”

There are many ways to make text more noticeable. It can be bolded, it can be larger, it can be put in color, it can be put into a different font, it can be set apart from the rest of the copy, it can be put at the top of the page, it can be set into a colored box. Always go back to the source of the problem, which is that important text is being overlooked.

  • You say: “Make it blue”
  • What you meant was: “I don’t like the current color”

Depending on the context, changing the color may make an item have more impact or less. That could be at the heart of your issue. Or, it could be that you have personal biases against certain colors. Again, realize that changing the color of one element may affect the consistency of type styles or the flow between one or more elements.

  • You say: “Move this here, move that there. Change that font.”
  • What you meant is: “The layout is not working, I don’t know where to look first.”

This is one of the harder things for non-designers to verbalize. They can sense that a layout is not to their liking, but instead of trying to verbalize the issue, they grasp at straws to find a solution. This is where I’ve wasted a lot of time with clients as they want us to try one adjustment after another. If I understand the root of the problem, I can come back with one or multiple solutions that address that problem.

Here are some phrases that may help you communicate better:

  • This item/information needs to emphasized more. The designer can than work to make that item more noticeable and/or also make other items sit back more.
  • It seems like there are too many different styles. The designer can minimize the number of fonts, colors, fonts sizes and styles, or elements on the page.
  • The entire page looks very similar and blah. Some clients are afraid to talk like this, but it’s really more helpful than a specific solution like “make this red!” There are circumstances where design is meant to be more eye-catching than others (ex. an advertisement vs. the text within a book). You may need to better explain the purpose of the piece under development or better identify which parts should be emphasized and which can play a more supporting role.

As I said at the start, try to identify and articulate the problem and let your designer present you with one or more solutions. This takes trust, but try it.

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