As a designer, one of the biggest challenges I have faced over the years has been communication. It can be difficult to work with someone when one or both of you cannot communicate effectively. Between freelancing, working as an in-house designer, and serving as a contracted “agency” for outside companies, I have been in numerous situations that have served as teaching moments.
There are three things that I have found immensely helpful when one is striving to communicate better: asking questions, explaining why, and showing if you can’t tell. While these all seem like no-brainers, you’d be surprised how little they are used when it comes to working with designers, or by designers themselves. Utilizing these three methods can help things run smoothly, and keep both clients and designers happy.
An open, question-driven discussion before the design process starts can help a designer better tailor the project to the client’s needs and may even result in faster delivery times. It may also help a client understand the designer’s workflow and set realistic expectations. The following questions are essential for a designer to ask when starting project:
- What is the deadline for this project?
- How does the priority of this project compare to what is already on my plate?
- What is the target market for this piece?
- What type of piece am I designing (i.e. print or digital, one color or full color) and what are the dimensions?
- Do you have any of your own ideas you would like me to springboard off of?
Answers to those questions allow a designer to prioritize workflow, first and foremost. The designer will also know what kind of piece they are designing and who the target is, both of which are incredibly important. Even if all a client does is answer those questions, a good designer can start making a decent dent in the project.
Additionally, there are a few things that I appreciate a client asking at the start of a project. The following questions are always welcome:
- Do you foresee any challenges with this project?
- Are my ideas cost-effective or attainable within my budget?
- Is the deadline I’ve given you reasonable, and if not do you see a workaround?
By answering those three things, a designer can set reasonable expectations. It also gives them a chance to suggest possible alternatives with budget and/or time in mind. A seasoned designer often has ideas stored away that they’re itching to use, vendors they trust, and a keen understanding of what can and cannot be done within certain constraints. Giving them an opportunity to think about those things by asking the right questions can help stir those ideas up and really get the creative juices flowing.
Opening with questions helps things run smoothly and allows both the designer and the client to feel more comfortable with the project from the get go. It also makes it easier to ask questions when they arise throughout the project’s process.
With questions come answers (duh), and often people worry about hurting feelings or looking bad when giving those answers. So they tiptoe around things, “forget” to provide answers, or otherwise try to avoid explaining their reasoning. But if there were one thing that would designers and clients work together more efficiently it would simply be answering the “why”.
- Why does that cost so much to print?
- Why don’t you like the design?
- Why can’t you make it look just like this company’s logo?
- Why do you need 500 posters delivered Tuesday?
Taking the time (and no, it does not have to be a 25 minute Powerpoint presentation) to explain the reason behind something can help prevent headaches down the road. It is totally fine if you don’t like the color of something, or you don’t possess the knowledge to do what the client is asking, you don’t have the time to do something, or you can’t find a printer within the budget. But if you skirt around the issue, or ignore it completely, all you are doing is holding up the project, frustrating the people you are working with, and ultimately wasting money.
Showing if you can’t tell.
Sometimes, words just do not get the job done. It can be hard to explain an idea or vision, even for designers. When this happens–and believe me, it does–the best way to help the person you are working with understand what you want is to show them.
This can be as simple as taking a pen to a piece of paper or as complicated as building a mood board with magazine cutouts and stock photography print outs. Depending on the project, and the stage in the project you are at, the method may vary, but in the end, as long as you are able to communicate your vision, the method does not matter too much.
Your visualization does not have to be pretty or well-executed. It is amazing what a difference a quick sketch or Internet search can do when you are trying to communicate layout ideas, show some of what the market is doing for similar products, find color palette inspiration, share font ideas, or explain the kind of imagery you want in the final piece. Using images and drawings can speed up the process and help things move more smoothly. But remember, if you’re pulling stuff from others for inspiration, do not flat out copy what you find (and don’t expect a designer to do so either)!
Make it so.
Effective communication with your team before and during a project is the key to a project’s success. If you work on implementing the above three things when working with a designer or client, you will find projects run more smoothly and you get less frustrated with the process (and the people). Someone who communicates effectively is seen as someone who is easy to work with and will quickly develop a reputation as such. Isn’t it worthwhile to make sure you stay on top of your communication game?