50 Tips for working with DESIGNERS www.jvmediadesign.com 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 ... 1 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 previous work. Do your homework. 2 Before you contact the graphic designer: Know who your target audience is for the project. 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. 3 Before you talk to a designer, determine what the overall goals of the project are. For example: 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. 4 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. 5 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 site administrator. 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 functionality later. Finding the right fit. 6 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. 7 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. 8 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 front. 9 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. 10 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 them. 11 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. 12 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. 13 A designer should also explain how the project will be managed and what the timeline will be. Ready, set, go ... and legalese. 14 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. 15 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 ... 16 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. 17 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 much. 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. Keeping time. 18 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. 19 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. 20 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. 21 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 dark. 22 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. 23 Whenever possible, use professional or stock photography. You can take photos on your own, but Photoshop “magic” can only do so much. 24 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. 25 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. 26 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. 27 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. 28 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 notice them. A note on website programming. 29 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 designer proud. Some technical do’s and don’ts ... 30 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 for you. Space and formats. 31 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 designer. 32 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- forth questions. Nobody likes a copy cat (except for copyright lawyers). Some notes on copyrights ... 33 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 resource. 34 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. 35 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 be true. 36 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 ... 37 “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 both parties. 38 “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. 39 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. 40 “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. 41 “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 with buzzwords. Remember your audience. 42 “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. 43 “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 who can. 44 “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. Be articulate. 45 “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. Make decisions. 46 “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 decisions. Note: Input of outside parties IS of benefit in instances such as website testing. Everyone wants to be number one. 47 “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... 48 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. 49 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 document. 50 Once you establish a good working relationship with a great designer, keep them. Having the same designer to create all of your marketing materials will ensure both visual and message consistency for your brand. Ready to start your design or marketing project? 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: www.jvmediadesign.com 541.677.7440 email@example.com 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.
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