If you’ve never worked with a graphic designer before – or you’ve had a poor experience with a graphic designer in the past – you may feel apprehensive about jumping into your new brand design project.
If you’re sorting through questions like the ones below, you’re not alone:
How will I get my ideas and vision across to my designer?
What if I hate what my designer comes up with?
What can I expect as far as communication and project organization?
How do I know if I’m ready to bring a designer on for my branding?
Designing a brand and website for your business is a big deal. It will have a first and lasting impression on your prospects, and a good brand will help you gain traction in your industry, appeal to your ideal clients, convey value, book business, and charge higher rates.
With so much riding on the creation of your new brand identity, it’s important that you team up with the right designer to help you bring it to life.
During my time in the industry, I’ve come across business owners suffering from bad design experiences due to poor communication between the designer and client, unclear expectations, inadequate preparation and discovery, and less than ideal design results.
To help you combat these unfortunate scenarios and help you ensure that your project is a productive & successful one, here are my solutions to 4 common design project hang-ups.
Working with a designer before you are ready
A sure-fire way to have a disastrous experience is to jump into a full-on brand design without being prepared.
A good designer should be equipped to help you refine your ideas, gather inspiration, and map out a design strategy, but there are some business fundamentals that you need to have in place first.
You’ll need to know who you want to attract with your new brand (aka your ideal clients).
You’ll also need to know the core attributes that make your business unique. If you don’t have a clear idea on how you want your brand to make your audience feel or what your new brand should inspire in people, then you’ll have a hard time communicating to your designer the results you’re looking for.
In my Brand Workbook that each of my clients fill out at the start of a new project, I ask questions like these:
Q: Tell me about your dream (ideal) client/customer in as much detail as you can
Q: What are the biggest problems your clients/customers face?
Q: How do you help your clients solve those problems?
Q: List 3-5 words that define the core values/style of your company
Q: What differentiates you from others in your field?
Q: How would you describe the “tone” or personality of your brand? (Is it friendly and casual, serious, enthusiastic, humorous, etc.?)
Knowing how to answer these questions for your business is an important step to take before translating everything into a visual brand identity.
Your ideas and vision get lost in translation
A big fear business owners have when approaching a project with a designer is that they won’t be able to convey their ideas clearly, resulting in brand design that doesn’t line up with their vision.
This is a valid concern because communicating ideas – especially visual ideas – from one person to another can be tricky.
There are two important things you should do to ensure that this isn’t the case with your design project. And that, instead, you and your designer collaborate to execute your ideas with skill and strategy.
The first way to guard against misunderstood vision is to make sure you are super clear on your business foundation, the purpose behind your brand, and the type of clients you want to attract (discussed in the first section of this post).
Having these fundamental things in place prior to your design project will allow you to communicate your needs to your designer with confidence.
The second step is to choose a designer that demonstrates a clear and strategic process for understanding your business, collecting your ideas, and formulating a collaborative strategy prior to completing any actual design work.
This “discovery” stage is critical to a meaningful, successful design project, and you should make sure your designer is experienced in executing it.
Things to look for in your designer’s approach:
1 – Do they give their clients “homework” or assignments to get to know their business and goals?
For example: here at Jobson Studios, each of my brand design clients complete an in-depth brand workbook/questionnaire and a visual Pinterest inspiration board exercise before our project begins. These two pieces of prep-work give me, as a designer, an immersive look into my client’s business.
From the workbook, I’ll learn what problems they solve with their product/service, what type of client they want to work with, what makes their business unique in the industry, how they want people to feel when they interact with their business, and their goals for the coming years (among other things).
From their Pinterest inspiration board, I’ll get an inside look into the aesthetic feel they envision for their brand and what they are attracted to visually (which can often be hard to communicate through words alone).
2 – Do they demonstrate reason and strategy behind their design choices?
If you can connect the dots between an overall strategy and the designer’s visual choices (either from a detailed portfolio or a by asking questions directly), you can get a good feel for how much emphasis they put on the discovery phase and lining up a design with their client’s business strategy.
Poor client/designer communication
I often hear from business owners who’ve had a poor designer experience in the past that one of the biggest issues was inconsistent communication.
While every designer will have their own unique workflow and project structure, I firmly believe that reliable communication should be a staple of it.
If you’ve worked with a non-communicative designer in the past or are working through that type of situation now, here are a few good ways to ensure better communication moving forward.
1 – Test out the communication situation before hiring a designer
Before you sign a contract, you should be able to get a feel for a designer’s approach to communication. Take some time to develop a conversation with a potential design and evaluate the process objectively.
Did the designer reach out promptly after your initial inquiry, or did it take a long time to hear back?
Did the designer have a process in place for learning more about your project and answering your questions? Different designers will communicate in different ways, but it’s a good sign if he or she offers to set up a consultation call or meeting with you, or at the very least offers prompt and helpful email communication right from the start.
2 – Inquire about the design process ahead of time, including milestones
Also before signing a design contract, do a little research on the project schedule or workflow. Ask about the overall project timeframe, when different phases of the project will be completed, what you’ll need to provide and by what date, and how often you can expect updates and/or proofs.
If a designer can provide you with a project timeline and expectations, that’s a great sign that communication will be on track as well.
3 – Ask to set deadlines when communication is lacking
If you’ve found yourself in a design project that lacks good communication, reach out to your designer and try to set up expectations that will work for both of you.
Ask if you can begin receiving (reasonable) updates. Keep in mind that design work can be a long and immersive process and chunks of time may pass without any concrete progress to report. Talk with your designer to set up timeframes for updates that make sense for both of you.
Also ask if you can set up deadlines for when the project, or phases of the project, will be completed. That way, you’ll have a date in mind for when to expect communication and won’t feel like you’re in the dark in the meantime.
It can be deflating and frustrating to receive your new design proofs and really dislike them.
You’ve poured a lot of time, energy, excitement, and money into your new brand design and you want to be blown away by the results.
Whether this has happened to you in the past or you want to prevent it happening in an upcoming design project, here are 4 ways to nix this disappointing outcome.
1 – Follow the advice in the 3 sections above. If you are well prepared to commission your new branding, find a designer with a strategic discovery and inspiration process (and a great portfolio to back it up), and work with someone who is skilled at communicating during your project, your risk of ending up with sub-par design work is slim.
2 – Remember that your new designs are a reflection of your business goals and your ideal clients – not just your personal preferences. Often as a small business owner, your business is a close reflection of yourself. Because of this, your personal design preferences may be prominent. But it’s important to remember that your designer is working toward a strategic visual brand that appeals – first and foremost – to your ideal clients. You may have to let go of some personal preferences in order to look at your designs objectively.
3 – Ask questions about the strategy behind the design. If you’ve hired an experienced designer, make sure to consider their expertise before deeming a design a failure. There might be very intentional choices behind the way something is designed. Ask to hear the strategy behind each design element, and then decide if it lines up with your project brief and your brand goals. Remember that design can often feel very personal and compulsive. If you’re not sure if you like the designs your receive, try to take a more objective look before making your final decision.
4 – Know your designer’s revision policy up front. Even when working with a great designer and going through a strategic discovery phase, things don’t always come out perfect the first time. Before signing a contract on a design project, make sure you understand your designer’s revision policy. Will you receive the option to revise each major component? If yes, how many revisions and what are the parameters? If you receive a design proof that you don’t like, take a few minutes to pinpoint what feels off. Sometimes a small detail can be the culprit. Sometimes it is a matter of a font or a color that doesn’t sit right. Provide specific feedback to your designer, and let them know what changes you would like to see.
Preparation is key when it comes to setting yourself up for a successful brand design project.
By prepping your business ahead of time and connecting with a designer who has a great portfolio and a strategic, professional workflow, you’ll be set up for an enjoyable and beneficial branding experience.
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Grand Rapids, MI