How to Collaborate With a Designer

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This post is part of a creative marketing series sponsored by HP

Too often small business owners abdicate important roles to so-called professionals with more experience. The problem with this approach is that nobody has your experience.

Color Wheel
Image majansa via flickr

By that I mean nobody sleeps, eats, drinks and dreams your business like you. So, while it’s usually a good idea to seek the help of professionals, you need to delegate and collaborate to get the best possible result.

One of the most important hats you wear as a business owner is the guardian of all things strategic – you can never give this hat to someone else!

The area of graphic design is one of those “leave it to somebody creative” areas that can be disastrous for the brand without proper collaboration.

Experience with lots of designers over the years tells me that the good ones know this as well and your “I want something that pops” or “I’ll know it when I see it” direction will effectively hobble them from giving you something that will provide the result your brand needs.

Design firms have long used something called a creative brief to help frame the needs of a design project and easily communicate to a designer elements that need to be considered when doing the research and creation of a logo or other design element.

I developed my own creative brief over the years to use as a bit of a process to get closer to the best possible design for the situation and while it’s not foolproof, I’ve encountered plenty of designers that asked if they could get a copy. (You can find examples of creative briefs at scribd)

The idea here is to communicate everything a designer might need to know in your terms. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be additional considerations, but complete your brief and you’ll be miles ahead.

The following elements should be given thought, documented and discussed with your designer. (If they already know what you need, please fire them!)

Describe what and why

Describe what you think you need and why you need it. Don’t be afraid to listen to suggestions for what else you might need, but get the baseline down.

We need a logo for our annual conference. We need it tie in with our existing design elements, but be able to stand alone as we may create a separate event company. We will put in on brochures, t-shirts, bags, web, and banners

List your goals

What do you want this thing to do – don’t talk about your goals for what it looks like, list your goals for the project or element to be successful.

We need this logo to convey a very professional, industry leading position, get people excited about the event, and still make a clear connection to recognized elements of our brand.

Tell your story

This is not so much your history, unless that’s useful, but more the unique elements of your story that make up your mission, values and vision – describe your culture.

The boss wears Chuck Taylor’s to the office and his chocolate lab greets everyone that comes to the business. We would rather eat uncooked meat than throw recyclables in the landfill.

Sketch your audience

This is one element you should have a really good handle on anyway, but if not take the time to draw a sketch, complete with real pictures if you like.

Our ideal customer is a 50ish woman that draws power and strength from knowing that they are free to make the choices in their life and can accomplish anything they determine to do. Oh, and they think cats are evil.

Define your core messages

Another element that you should have already, but if not, pick up the phone and call five of your best customers and ask them what you do that they value the most. Don’t let them say “you provide good service” – push them – “tell me about a time we provided good service.”

Now record those calls word for word and capture the themes that come up. You’ll be surprised how important this can be for a designer to hear.

I once had a remodeling contractor that kept saying we are more skilled and his customers kept saying – yes, you are skilled but what I really like is how nice and clean your carpenters are when they work. Embracing that message changed everything about their brand.

Attach meaning and metaphor

Is there a meaning or metaphor you want to capture? Be careful here as this can head right into cliché land, but it can also be a very powerful aspect of the project.

Duct Tape Marketing leans very heavily on the simple, effective and affordable association that people have with the use of duct tape, but we try to avoid the idea of taping things together in a haphazard fashion.

Thus you won’t see rolls or pieces of tape slapped everywhere – although more than one designer has tried to go that route.

Tell what you don’t want

This is a category that few think to address but, it’s sometimes easier for people to say what they don’t want than it is to verbalize what they do want.

If you know that certain ways to portray your brand are completely out of the question, culturally, aesthetically or otherwise, say so loudly.

You can always have a healthy debate with the designer but, you may have some very valid reasons for your bias and they should have that data.

Insisting on a formal process much like described in this post will help you and the professional you hire collaborate more effectively probably lead to a better design, with less frustration and potentially lower overall cost.

So I would love to hear design horror stories from both the designer and design client point of view.


Creative Brief, Graphic Design, HP

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