People often think they are less creative than they really are - That, or they think they are more creative than they really are. That leads to some challenges when they work with professional designers on a project.
You may be interested in the creative process and have a vision for how the final product should come out. The danger there is giving too much direction and preventing the designer from taking ownership of the project. It will stifle their passion and creativity.
Or you can go the other way. You may underestimate your abilities and want to leave it all to the expert. But no design professional can do their best work without having all the information they need - that means you need to be involved. As with anything, weak inputs produce weak output.
When you’re working with a designer your goal should be to strike a balance. Give them any and all information they need to produce their best work without getting in the way of their creative process.
Here are my suggestions for how to stay very involved in the process and positively impact the result, without suffocating and frustrating your creatives.
Define Why, When and How the Design Will Be Used
Spend the time to really think through all the use cases for the design you’re discussing because it could really influence the design and requirements.
Let’s think about a logo project as an example. Some uses, like on the website or office sign, will be obvious. Others can become a troublesome afterthought if you’re not careful.
Does your logo need to look good when it’s shrunk down to a very small size for a business card? Will it appear in black and white - perhaps in your local newspaper?
Does it need to be incorporated into the design of your actual product? You might want your logo molded, stamped or etched into your product. If it needs to be worked into the manufacturing process you may need to think about how a particular design impacts your tooling requirements.
Do you need a variation that will work as a thumbnail for your social media profiles? Hint: The answer is yes.
What various background colors will the logo be placed on? You may need inverted variations where one version uses color A as the dominant color and another version that uses color B as the dominant color.
Are there any pieces of company swag you have your heart set on? Your logo may need to look good in a single color in order to be etched into the side of your company pint glasses just the way you want.
Spending the time to think through all the settings in which your design will be utilized will save time and result in a better final product.
Design for Your Target Audience
Hopefully you’ve already taken the time to develop detailed buyer personas that reflect the preferences and personality of your target audience. Sharing those personas can be a great starting point for your designer.
A successful design needs to be targeted to the audience you’re after. A particular look may resonate with midwestern, middle aged, female executives but do nothing for young, tech savvy, urban males.
A great designer is an expert on visual preferences of different types of people and how they will perceive design differences. But that designer can’t be expected to know exactly who your target audience is unless you help them understand.
You may have developed your buyer personas as a means of focusing your internal marketing and sales teams but the usefulness doesn’t end there. Don’t deprive your designer of that same advantage.
Reflect the True Personality of Your People and Brand
Design decisions should of course be made with the preferences and tastes of your target audience in mind - but that shouldn’t be the only guide.
Every aspect of your business, especially design elements that will play a big role in first impressions, should accurately reflect your brand and your people.
A design that feels fast paced, sleek and powerful is great for some businesses. But if your business is more accurately characterized as friendly, generous with time, and charmingly dorky then it’s a bad design for you. You’ll disappoint the people you do attract and scare off the folks that would have loved you.
Make sure your designer gets a feel for who the company and key people really are. A design that reflects your personality is going to feel authentic. That will accomplish much more than something beautiful but misleading.
Know What Your Competitors Are Doing
Provide a list of your competitors and the designs they use in similar settings.
You’re competitors shouldn’t be a place of inspiration - you don’t want to mimic them. But design presents an additional opportunity for differentiation.
You want to be sure your look isn’t too similar to your competitors. You likely already fill a particular niche or cater to a certain personality type. Your designs can and should reflect that positioning.
Provide Examples to Illustrate Your Design Preferences
Spend some time refining your own tastes by finding examples of other designs you like.
Don’t try to find the perfect example or two. You’ll either end up with a design that feels like a knockoff or you’ll be disappointed that it isn’t close enough. Find lots of examples where you like some particular element. Try to find and share at least a dozen or so.
As you find more and more examples of designs you like, it will make it easier to identify the common elements that define your tastes.
Be sure to include notes about what you like about each one - and be detailed. “I like how these two utilize negative space.” “I like how the soft colors in this one feel friendly and inviting.” “I think the clean lines here give a sense of expertise and organization.”
Just don’t expect your designer to replicate the examples you provide. The examples should merely be a way to facilitate a conversation about your tastes.
Understand How Color Impacts Perception
If you’re working with a well established brand your color decisions were probably made long ago. However, if it’s a new brand or complete overhaul then color choices are a major element of the design.
We’ve all had ideas about what our “favorite colors” are since we were kids. Our feelings about color are heavily influenced by our subconscious and we rarely give it much concrete thought. But when you’re embarking on a design project intended to influence others, it’s important to more precisely understand the ways that color can impact people’s feelings.
The slightest shifts in tone, texture or opacity can have a big impact on first impressions and associations. The emotional response to a color can also be influenced by the viewer’s cultural or geography.
Spend some time researching general color associations so you’re at least in a position to have an informed conversation. Learning the basics can help you discuss the topic, better understand your own preferences, and articulate why you love or hate a particular color scheme.
But remember not to be too rigid. A good designer likely has a better handle on the psychology of color choices than you. So don’t go in with a list of exact colors. Give your expert the opportunity to find the perfect combination based on what they know about you, your customers and your business.
Get Your Artists on the Same Canvas
Take steps to ensure that your various creative and artistic elements will work well together.
None of those elements will live in a vacuum and they must be cohesive. Your copy lives along with your UX which lives with your graphic design which lives with your photography and video. But those pieces are often created by different people.
It may make sense to get those people working together directly - or you may need to serve as the hub. Just remember that each will influence the other and they’ll all need to be aligned on message, brand personality, customer personality, space limitations, color, use case and more.
Talk to your creatives about how they like to work with the others and do your best meet those needs.
- Strike a balance - Empower you designer with information but let them do the designing
- Take the time to define exactly how the finished product will be used - It’ll come out better
- Introduce your designer to your customers with buyer personas
- Help your designer understand actual personality of your people and brand
- Watch what your competitors are doing and go another way
- Provide examples of designs you love and why - But don’t expect a knocked-off version
- Understand the psychological undertones of color
- Make sure all your creatives are working in the same direction