By Nicole Williams, marketing coordinator at Heinz Marketing
Working with designers is a strange business. I know—I’ve been on both sides of the table. And really, it’s not news to marketers or designers; scores of blog posts and how-tos have been written about how marketers should communicate with their designers. All good stuff, and clearly we’ve identified that there is a disconnect, which is half the battle.
But when you get right down to it, it doesn’t make sense to focus on the variables that we can’t control, like learning to speak a language we think designers would understand. What you can control is your half of the conversation. Some of the best practices that you can establish when working with anyone—even the mysterious designer—are practices of excellent communication.
The following are just a few things we all tend to say to designers that fall short of communicating exactly what we want. These thoughts should give us an insight into improving our communication skills on the whole, especially in collaboration:
What we usually say: “We’re looking for a way to make this look good. Here’s our aesthetic and our style sheet; we’ll look for the draft for review.”
What we should be saying: “These are my expectations and objectives for the end result—and here’s why this is important to me.”
Many clients make the assumption that when you give a designer a project, there is only one “ultimate” outcome, but that assumption is as limiting to designers as it is to your project. Designers are visual architects of information. So, contrary to popular opinion, their job is actually not to make things look “slick” or “pretty.” Usually, those great qualities are a natural by-product of their work, but their ultimate goal is to make information digestible and functional, and can accomplish that goal in a number of different ways.
So make it clear what problems you would like the design to solve, what outcomes you hope to achieve through the design, and why the designer’s final work is important to you and to the project. In the initial discussion of the work that you are asking the designer to do, come to the table with as much information as you can. A designer’s goal is to make sure those problems are solved and those outcomes are achieved.
What we usually say: “Can we move that image so that it’s down at the bottom of the page?”
What we should be saying: “Help me understand why you put that image/text block/etc. there.”
Yes, a designer can move that image to wherever you darn well please. He could also make the whole thing neon orange with a nice Comic Sans title, but there is a reason your designer did not. There’s a good chance that there’s a reason he put that image where he did, too. Ask him. He usually will have a method to his madness. And if he doesn’t, it may be time to find a different designer.
Asking for clarification opens a dialogue that gives you both the chance to collaborate, which generally produces much better work than when a designer simply takes orders. Be ready to compromise. But even more important: be ready to learn.
What we usually say: Can you make it more “fun?” or “exciting?” or (one that will make any designer groan) “Make it pop!”
What we should be saying: “Could we try using a brighter color?” or “We were hoping for a lighter feel to the text.”
This is an essential communication rule-of-thumb (whether or not you’re speaking with a designer): banish generalities from your vocabulary. It is part of your role in the collaboration process to dig into what is working and what isn’t.
Keeping your feedback general and vague only frustrates your designer when they come back with their best interpretation of your comments and have to go back the drawing board—sometimes literally—again and again. Not only is it a waste of time and effort for both parties, but it may also cause a designer to look for other clients in the future who have more focused goals for their projects.
What we usually say: “I just have some minor adjustments…”
What we should be saying: “How worthwhile is it to make these small adjustments?”
It has happened to all of us: we didn’t get a chance to fully devote our attention to that third (or fifth, or tenth) draft our designer sent over to us, and something slipped through. Now we’re looking at the final, and that one little detail is bugging us, and we just know if it’s not fixed, it’ll drive us crazy. So we ask them, “Could you just <insert minor tweaks here>?”
Designers are busy, too. But even if it’s a hassle, a good designer will usually make those minor changes for you; they want you to be happy with the finished product. However, asking them about those changes in the context of their time investment communicates your awareness of their schedule and can go a long way in nurturing the collaborative relationship.
Collaborative work can be great practice for honing your own communication skills, especially when the work involves putting ideas into a visual form. Strong communication skills add value and save time, not only when working with designers, but in your interactions with developers, vendors, or clients as well. Building those skills is well worth the investment of time and practice.