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From the Trenches

6 Ways to Get the Best Work Out of Your Design Team

Yvonne Lyons | March 31, 2017
6 Ways to Get the Best Work Out of Your Design Team

Graphic designers. They are a magical lot of people, talented, creative, and possessed with the ability to take your content from average and ineffective to remarkable, engaging, and successful. A critical member of your content marketing team in today’s world.

Designers are now asked to think about even more than they were 10 years ago. Now we ask them to incorporate user experience into their thinking, and to be able to design for print, and digital, and maybe even know something about web design, and let’s throw in some coding while we are at it.

And sometimes what I hear from clients is that they’d like us (or their designer) to help them with all of those things, but they would like to: do it more quickly than originally proposed (because why should it take THAT long?), or get that big project started with just a “quick phone call,” or have us give them something (maybe like six versions) to react to because they really aren’t sure what they want it to look like.

To be successful with your creative team, please banish the idea from your head that design time is “extra” time you don’t really want to spend, or wonder why it “has to take that long” if it’s just the design phase. You probably want your project to be a killer engagement piece for your audience, and ideally rain leads from the sky, right? Remember that good design is what will make your content stand out and engage your audience. Otherwise, yours is just another piece in the millions that go by every day. Here are six tips that are critical to having a great working relationship with your design team, which will ultimately lead to you being handed their most creative, innovative work.

1. Know what you are trying to achieve. Think through what you’d like to have your designer deliver. Write up a creative brief, if possible, with as much detail as you can muster about the project. If you haven’t thought through the project first, it’s kind of unfair to make the designer do all that work for you. Make sure you cover these items in your brief and/or in your first meeting:

  • What problem are you trying to solve with this piece?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What are your expectations and goals for the project?
  • What is your vision for the end product?

2. Offer any parameters/constraints. Include or discuss any of the things the creative team should never do: color, photos, or fonts never to use, other pet peeves you know the CEO has — whatever those little things are, get them out there ahead of time. Know what you do and do not like (and bring examples if you have them) and make sure the designer has your company’s style guide.

3. Make your process clear up front. If you know that your organization has no choice but to seek design approval from a committee and there is not one clear decision maker, it’s the decent thing to do to tell people. Your design team will appreciate your honesty. Your price might be higher because experienced designers (or agencies) know that design by committee is not easy and leads to many additional rounds of edits, but if you are honest up front, your team might actually work with you again. If you hide the fact that the approval process might be a nightmare and then make the design team come to you right away about a scope change, you have immediately changed the dynamic of your relationship.

4. Try to understand and trust what the designer does. Design is a process, not an off-the-shelf product. It’s a craft, something you go to college for, just like whatever you went to college for. Designers have reasons for what they do, which typefaces they choose, colors they opt for, how they set up a page. To the mere mortal, it just looks pretty and the choices might feel random. But there is reasoning and psychology behind what the designer does that make the difference between your reader or user interacting and engaging with your content … or not. Trust your designer’s decisions.

5. Offer appropriate feedback. When I wrote a post about “wrong rock” feedback, I mentioned the importance of giving appropriate feedback. Here are three things that constitute appropriate feedback. It has to be:

  • Constructive: No one likes to have their work picked apart and criticized in a way that makes it seem like there is not one redeeming piece left. You can get your point across about what you think doesn’t work in a piece without saying you hate it or using three exclamation points. Start with some positivity and then try to end with a compliment. Because I bet you couldn’t have done it that well yourself, right?
  • Honest: While it’s important to offer constructive feedback and toss in some positivity here and there, don’t say things you don’t mean just to be nice. You have to be honest or you’ll never get to the finish line with something you like.
  • Detailed: Tell your designer why you don’t like something, not that you just don’t like it. It’s almost impossible to know how to change something if you don’t know what was wrong with it in the first place. This process ends up wasting lots of time, and ultimately, your money.

6. Know what not to say. Pro tip: there are a few things that are never going to be productive in a conversation with a designer. When you say these things, your designer is secretly rolling his or her eyes. Trust me.

  • Can you make it pop more?” No one knows what this really means. Make it brighter? Bolder? Stand out more? You have to say exactly what you mean.
  • I’ll know it when I see it.” Now we are back to that wrong rock thing again. Realize that if you have no idea at all what you envision for your piece, there is no way for the designer to get inside your head and extract it. Design is subjective. What one person thinks is awesome, another might hate. You have to offer direction or you’ll get what the designer thinks is the best solution, since that’s the only option he or she has at that point.
  • This will only take you five minutes.” It’s possible this is a pet peeve of mine. Don’t tell someone (designer or not) how long it will take to do something unless you have done it yourself and truly know it will only take five minutes. Many things, including those in the design world, take longer than you think to do well. And no one wants to be told to do shoddy work. Leave enough time to do things right.
  • Can you make it look just like this?” Usually when I hear this, the words “Apple’s website” are at the end of that phrase. Designers don’t want to make something look just like something else. They are interested in original creative. Also, there are some rules about just stealing other people’s design, very similar to those rules you have heard about plagiarism. Both are frowned upon.

A better relationship with your design team is going to lead to better — remarkable, even — content and design. Find a great designer, follow these tips, and you will be winning the content marketing game with successful design projects that make your content stand out from the rest. Need some help with a design project? Get in touch.

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About Yvonne Lyons:

Yvonne Lyons is Right Source’s vice president of creative services, overseeing content and design for all of our clients. She ensures that all creative produced at Right Source is of the highest quality and is aligned with our clients’ business strategy and goals. Yvonne received a bachelor’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University in writing and literature and has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, branding, and communications.