for working with
50 Tips for working with designers...
I’ve been working with clients since the early 90’s when, fresh out of art school, I began offering my
talents in a freelance capacity. By 1995 I had added web design to the services and JVM Design
was born. Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of clients that have ranged from corporate
giants to rockstars and from small businesses to independent artists. One thing I can say with absolute
certainty is that every job is unique. I also learned early on that developing a process for working on a
project worked to everyone’s benefit. Even with a solid process in place, I noticed that the same types of
questions, concerns and issues would still crop up now and then. I realized at some point that a
designer must also take on the role of educator. Most clients aren’t design savy and that’s why they come to
us. We’re the professionals and we need to let them know what to expect.
It is our responsibility as designers to make sure our clients understand the basic principals of what we do
for them during a project. This gives them a level of comfort and understanding about their project that will
allow them to answer questions later.
With our years of experience, we’ve learned that the nature of this industry requires this sort of client
education. We know that when you take your car to an auto mechanic, you don’t expect him to go into detail
about how he will fix your car. You just want it fixed. Likewise, you don’t go into the garage and fiddle around
under the hood in an attempt to do his job. And by all means when he gives you the invoice, you pay it! For
some reason, etiquette for doing business with a service provider sometimes gets very flexible in the field of
graphic and web design. This phenomenon was the core idea for this book. My hope is that no matter whether
you’re a client or a designer, after reading these tips the process is a little easier to understand and that the
path to success might be a little smoother.
Sherry Holub, Creative Director, JV Media Design (www.jvmediadesign.com)
Working with a designer should not be
an intimidating experience.
Before the project starts ...
Never ask a designer to do work for you
up front or before your hire them. This
is called working, “on spec” (speculation).
Remember, a designer is an experienced,
skilled professional and their time is
valuable. Asking for a, “quick concept
to see if I like it” is never appropriate.
You wouldn’t ask an interior designer to
just do a room in your home before they
get hired, so don’t ask it of your graphic
designer. Do ask for samples of their
Do your homework.
Before you contact the graphic designer:
Know who your target audience is for
Who is the website or graphic design
piece meant to reach?
What action would you like a viewer to
take after seeing the finished project?
The more you know about what your
needs are, the easier it will be for your
designer to meet them.
Ask yourself what would make this
project a success.
Before you talk to a designer, determine
what the overall goals of the project are.
Do you need to look more professional
or maybe need to change your image?
Do you need to sell more?
Do you need to reach a larger audience
or increase traffic to your site?
Having the answers to these types
of questions will help your designer
narrow their focus and concentrate their
efforts on what you really need.
Outlines are a useful tool.
Try to create an outline for the project.
In your outline it is helpful to include:
• A brief overview and history of the
company, your product or service, etc.
• Goals of the project
• Who the target (intended) audience is
• Budget for the project
• Timeline or due date for completion
• Who the main point of contact for the
project will be
Having these ideas nailed down not only
help your design team, but your business
as well. They will help keep you focused
on your goals and how to achieve them.
Don’t forget the details.
If your project is a website with specific
functionality required, be prepared to
provide details on how it’s supposed to
work. You need to visualize it from both
the perspective of a site user as well as a
It is critically important to be able to
clearly define how your website will
function when custom programming is
involved. Imagine yourself sitting down
and going through the website step
by step as a user and then write that
information down. It will help eliminate
backtracking (and added costs) to add
Finding the right fit.
When you’re ready to start looking for
a designer, review their portfolio and
get references from past clients. Ask
questions about their past work that
you feel might help you make a better
decision. A good web designer isn’t afraid
to share references or answer questions.
If you don’t see exactly what you want
in a designer’s portfolio, that does not
mean they’re incapable of creating it.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is
let a designer’s creativity show in your
site as opposed to someone else’s.
Interview the candidates.
Once you’ve located several designers,
it’s time to interview them. Contact each
one and provide all of the details of the
project. Remember that every designer
is a little different. Take some time to
get to know them, their process and by
all means, ask any questions you like up
Note: you do not have to meet in person
to find a great designer. Many designers
are now experienced with working with
clients and managing projects remotely.
Look for signs of greatness.
A great designer will be interested in you
and your business as well as the project.
They will have questions for you too. Try
to be as prepared as you can to answer
Once a designer understands the
project needs, they should be able to
provide you with a proposal that includes
an overview, recommendations, timeline
and a cost breakdown. Once again, if you
have questions about the proposal or
job, don’t be afraid to ask. You need to be
on the same page with your designer.
The proposal, review and Q&A.
A designer should review the project
proposal with you and answer your
questions about it. Designers can some-
times use lingo or terminology that you
might not be familiar with. Especially
when it comes to websites, remember it’s
for you and your company. You need to
understand how it works or what will be
required of you to maintain it.
A designer should also explain how the
project will be managed and what the
timeline will be.
Ready, set, go ... and legalese.
A professional designer will always have
you sign an agreement. Make sure to
read it thoroughly as it is a binding legal
document that is meant to protect you as
well as the designer. It should explicitly
outline all details of the project.
If you sign the agreement and begin
working and then determine something
is missing or want to add additional
work, the designer may need to modify
the agreement. At this point you should
be asked to authorize the changes before
proceeding so there are no surprises.
This is where the magic happens - sans
smoke and mirrors.
During the project ...
Congratulations! You have taken the
step to hire a professional. Now it’s time
to step back and let them do their job.
A great designer will listen to you and
address your concerns throughout the
project, but don’t stress yourself. There’s
no need to micromanage. Let go and get
into the process.
Your involvement is key.
It may seem like the difficult part is over
- you’ve throughly outlined your project,
you’ve hired a great designer and now
you can sit back on auto-pilot while your
designer takes the wheel, right? Not so
You really do need to work with your
designer during the process. A great and
successful project is a collaboration. It
should be one that combines your knowl-
edge and insight about your business,
product or service with the designer’s
expertise and creativity. Thus creating
the ideal design for your business.
Be prepared to give enough time to the
project. You will be asked for input, to
provide materials, and to sign off on
specific milestones. If you’re unavailable
or unresponsive this will detrimentally
affect your project and timeline.
If you know you will be gone for part
of the project (e.g. vacation) please
authorize someone to make critical
decisions and review milestones before
you leave. If not, your project is liable to
take a vacation right along with you.
Information goes both ways.
When your designer has a question
during the project, be prompt with your
answer. Any delay on your part can
negatively impact the overall timeline
and delay the project’s completion. This
is out of your designer’s control.
While working on concept designs,
please let a designer know up front if
there is something you absolutely do
not want to see. Designers aren’t mind
readers and they do want to make you
happy. So if you hate purple it’s good to
let them know that up front.
You should never feel like you’re in the
If something comes up that you don’t
understand – from a single term used to
how something should function on your
site, speak up! Sometimes a designer has
no other way of telling if you are not
clear on something unless you say so.
There really are no stupid questions.
Remember that a professional designer
is there to answer any question and to
educate when necessary.
A couple of pro tips.
Whenever possible, use professional or
stock photography. You can take photos
on your own, but Photoshop “magic” can
only do so much.
When it comes to text for your project,
hiring a copywriter can also be a great
move. They are trained and many have
spent years learning how to write the
best text to go with a design. If you are
writing text yourself, please make sure it
is finalized before you deliver it to your
designer for placement. Edits could add
delays or additional costs.
Learn to trust.
Nine times out of ten when a client has
asked, “I’d like to see a few more things”,
they are really saying, “I’ll know it when
I see it.” We’ve discovered that when this
happens, a client will often go right back
to the very first thing and say they like
that the best.
You can avoid this by giving appropriate
feedback up front. Even if you don’t have
a clear picture in your mind of what the
finished design should look like, trust
your designer’s skill and knowledge to
be able to reach your goals.
Everything you do is part of your brand.
Design is a big part of your brand. If
you ask your designer to come up with
a chicken character that dances across
your website, this will become part of
your brand. If you don’t happen to be a
chicken restaurant with a quirky theme,
this might not be in your best interests.
A professional designer will research
and explore your brand and history
before the project really takes off. If
after all of that they recommend you
do not have a chicken mascot, listen to
them. You’re paying for their expertise,
so take their opinions under advisement.
Don’t lose sight of the target.
During the project, always remember
your target audience and goals. It’s easy
to lose sight of these and start making
emotional or personal decisions when it
comes to your design.
Change requests are a normal part of
the design process. Consolidate them.
Sit with a design awhile and come up
with a single list of changes. Making one
list of changes will help you resist the
urge to send 15 emails, each with one or
two changes, as soon as you think of or
A note on website programming.
When it comes to website programming
and functionality, it’s important to avoid
making changes to the initial, agreed-
upon specifications. Especially once the
project has started. The designer should
have you review and test milestones of
the project for usability and function-
ality. If at any time during the project
you find something absolutely has to be
added, notify the designer immediately.
It most likely will increase the cost and
timeline to make new additions but if
it’s unavoidable, it’s best to handle them
as soon as they come up and before the
project moves further along. It’s easier
to fix it now than to backtrack later.
Avoid frustration and make your
Some technical do’s and don’ts ...
You may have an excellent photo with
a vertical orientation, but the space it
needs to fit in on your website is more
horizontal. Without cutting off massive
amounts of the image, this simply won’t
work. Try to work within the approved
layout and provide images that will fit in
the spaces properly. Many designers are
happy to make suggestions on images
Space and formats.
Three pages of text will not fit on a 4” x
6”postcard. Try to keep in mind the space
available on your layout and make edits
before providing the text to your
Do not use a fax machine to send things
to your designer. When you provide
text and images for your project make
sure they are in an electronic format,
clearly named, and labeled where they
should go. This saves time, keeps things
organized and avoids needless back-and-
Nobody likes a copy cat (except for
Some notes on copyrights ...
Never ask your designer to, “just copy
this website... brochure... logo... etc.”
Someone else owns the design you are
interested in copying. Simply changing
images or text and adding your logo is
still copying another design. Remember
you are hiring a professional designer to
have them come up with a solution that
is unique to your project and business,
so don’t try to take someone else’s work.
Google images is not a stock photo
Never go to Google images, Flickr or
any other similar website and download
images for your project. These
images are not public domain and they
are owned by other people. Likewise, do
not copy text from other sites and use
it for your project (even if you “change”
some of it). These are both classic
instances of copyright infringement.
A professional designer will always
have language in the agreement about
who owns the copyright for the finished
work they provide on your project.
Buyer beware if the price is too good to
Avoid using services that offer below
market value prices on design such as
logos. Design “contest” sites, logo “farms”
and similar sources do not guarantee
that the design you are receiving is free
from any copyright or trademark in-
fringement. For all you know, you could
be purchasing clip or stock art or a copy
of an existing company’s logo or design.
Be unique and trust a professional!
Add-ons are extras.
What not to say to your designer ...
“Can you just add these things on to the
original price?” Would you ask your auto
mechanic, “Can you just add those extra
parts in for the original price?” Once an
agreement is made and specifications
defined, it’s bad form to ask if you can
throw in additional services or requests.
Many people assume they can just be
lumped in to the original price, but the
original agreed upon price included the
hours for the work you have requested.
Adding more means more work.
The design process requires input from
“Can you just copy this?” As stated in the
section on copyrights, resist the urge to
ever tell a designer to copy something
from another source. Note: this is not the
same as when you reference work you
like. Or explain why something similar
might work for your project.
Avoid saying: “I’ll know it when I see it.”
This is not helpful to anyone involved.
Do go ahead and share your favorite
examples of things you like. This will
help your designer have a better feel for
what you want and what you need.
Provide solid examples.
“Can you make the yellow more yellow?”
This type of statement, and variations
on it, are also too vague. If you want a
specific color, provide an exact example
of that color to your designer up front.
This saves time and rounds of revisions.
“Can you make it pop... or make it edgy...
or make it modern?” Many people have
many different ideas of what these words
might mean in your design, so share the
specifics with your designer. This will
eliminate a lot of headaches that come
Remember your audience.
“Can you make the logo larger?” It’s
understandable that you’re proud of
your business, product or service and
want people to know the name. Keep in
mind that the name isn’t everything.
Remember your target audience and
their needs. Are they looking for a good
product, service or solution, or are they
looking for a large logo on a page?
Sometimes smaller fits the design and
your audience better.
Use time effectively.
“We would like to schedule another
conference call ...” While designers
aren’t opposed to conference calls,
especially when working remote, it’s
best to utilize calls to disseminate
specific information that might need
more explanation than an email. Do
not use conference calls as open “brain
storm” sessions with a committee of
people and no outline or boundaries.
This simply burns up billable hours for
both your company and the designer.
Be available - or appoint someone else
“I’ll be unavailable for 2 weeks but still
need you to deliver the project on time.”
If you’re going to be unavailable and
still expect the project to proceed as
planned then you must appoint someone
to be able to make decisions and answer
questions in your absence or be will-
ing to trust your designer’s judgment.
Designers do understand that things
come up and people take vacations or
have unexpected circumstances (we’re
people too!) but if you know you will be
absent during a critical phase of a
project then your designer will need
another point of contact or the project
timeline will need to be adjusted.
“I don’t like it.” When viewing a
design, it’s best to temper your
personal opinion with what your
target audience would respond to. Also,
think about whether the presented
design actually does meet the goals and
needs of the project and whether it is in
line with your overall brand. We once
had a client who hated pink, but knew
that her market gravitated towards it.
It’s all in what will work for the business.
If the design does not achieve the goals,
articulate why it doesn’t and offer
constructive comments on how it can be
more in line with those goals.
“My (insert person not involved with
the project here) doesn’t like it.” While
an outside party can occasionally point
out a way to improve something or have
a valuable comment, it is not advisable
to include many other people in the
project, especially in a decision-
making capacity. You are the
expert in your business and on your
target audience. As the main point of
contact, it is your responsibility to make
Note: Input of outside parties IS of
benefit in instances such as website
Everyone wants to be number one.
“Can you make my website come up
number 1 on Google?” Many designers do
have a search engine optimization (aka
SEO) company to refer clients to but it’s
not specifically a web designer’s job to
help with this type of marketing. Many
content management systems now have
some great built-in SEO features as well.
Still, anyone that tells you they can get
your website to number 1 is bending
the truth. SEO is a very complex and
time-consuming method of online
marketing with constantly changing
rules. Your best bet is to enlist the
services of a reputable SEO company if
that is part of your marketing plan.
Some final helpful tips...
A professional designer is someone with
experience, specialized training and
creative abilities. Do not disrespect
their talent and time by: circumventing
the design process, going to another
designer while you’ve already hired one
to work with (without terminating the
agreement with the existing designer),
forcing a designer to use your DIY
design (you’re paying for a professional
– use their services!), not paying invoic-
es on time or trying to avoid paying for
services rendered. Our industry should
be no different than any other service
industry. If the work has been performed,
payment shouldn’t be questioned.
Designers are not Tech Support.
Designers may work on computers but
understand that they do not set up email
on your computer (or have anything
else to do with the functioning of your
computer), are not responsible for your
web hosting (unless that is stipulated
in the agreement), and can not help you
format your Word, Excel or Power Point
Once you establish a good working
relationship with a great designer, keep
Having the same designer to create all
of your marketing materials will ensure
both visual and message consistency for
Ready to start your design or marketing
We love the creativity and
adventure that each project brings to
the table. We understand that your
business is your passion just like this
is ours. Put our talent, expertise and
experience to work for your business.
Contact JVM at:
50 Tips for working with designers...
Copyright © 2012 by Sherry Holub for JV Media Design. Edited by Lori Twichell, Jeffrey Smith,
and Jane Gilpatric. Distribute freely with credit and a link to www.jvmediadesign.com.