Speaking to a graphic designer sometimes feels like speaking to a surgeon. Unless you have some familiarity with graphic design, you’re going to encounter a lot of obscure jargon and specialized concepts. You may even find yourself feeling confused and slightly overwhelmed by the experience. Don’t!
Like a surgeon, a graphic designer’s primary goal is to help you. But for them to be able to do so, you need to give them a clear idea of what you want. This is often where communication breaks down, as conflicting ideas and a lack of familiarity with the different design mediums (print, web, video, etc) can lead to mistakes on both sides.
Here are a few tips to help you smoothen the process and get your ideas across more-or-less intact. The better the graphic designer understands your requirements, the closer his output will be to your vision.
1) Be Prepared
Don’t fire an email off to your graphic designer the moment inspiration strikes. Developing a brand or a piece of collateral for the first time is nearly as rigorous as developing a product.
Do some research on competitive brands and what they’re doing. What it is that you hope to accomplish with this project? How are you intending to use it, and when will it be rolled out? Are there any images or documents that the graphic designer might find helpful?
Once you have the above information, then you’re ready for the next step: setting up a meeting with your graphic designer.
2) You Can Be Abstract, But Not Vague
Don’t be afraid to speak in abstractions when you talk to your graphic designer. Graphic designers use abstract concepts all the time. Talk about what emotions or impressions you want the customer to experience after viewing the work, and any values or ideas you want the work to convey. A good graphic designer will be able to take those concepts and generate something evocative.
Be wary, however, of being vague. Vague is when you tell your graphic designer that you “want something in green,” or saying that the design should “increase our profit margin xx%”. This is information that, by itself, is useless to the designer and will not help them create a good brand.
3) Invite Discussion
Designing a brand is a partnership, and the best ideas come out of earnest discussions between a graphic designer and a client. Share ideas with each other, and keep an open mind as to what will and what will not work. Your ideas may be obstructed by past derivative works, technical limitations, or the designer’s skill. Your designer’s ideas, on the other hand, might be limited by budget, scope, or a misunderstanding about your business.
Once you’ve found a compromise approach that works for both of you, the designer may pass you several design studies so that you can have an idea of how the final product will look. This is another part of the discussion phase, where you tweak the design over and over until it finally looks as you’d intended.
4) When You Say Something, Mean It
Designing a brand and another marketing collateral involves a heavy mental and time investment on the part of the graphic designer. The worst possible thing you could do to him sends him down one design path, and then backtrack and ask him to go down another instead.
To help prevent this kind of flip-flopping, go back to tip #1 and do a thorough internal examination (either via meditation or stakeholder meetings) about the project’s objectives and requirements. Consult with your designer as needed, but don’t have him start any piece of work until you’re absolutely sure that it’s the path you want to take.
Graphic Designers: In House Or Contract?
It’s a debate that has become more intense as technology changes the way we communicate and do business. Should you hire a full-time graphic designer, or contract the job out?
Graphic designers, like other contract-friendly roles, require a lot of specialized expertise and involve many projects with a defined end point. This is unlike the day-to-day operations of HR or sales, which are best suited for full-time internal operations. As such, more and more businesses are turning to contract work to fulfill their branding and graphic design requirements.
But is contract work really the new catch-all solution to an organization’s creative work?
Not necessarily. Full-time graphic designers still have a place in a larger organization, with benefits that the contractor cannot provide. Take a look at the below comparison and see which one fits your business the best.
Contract Graphic Designer
Freelance employees give companies a lot of flexibility when it comes to staffing a project. It is relatively painless to hire a graphic designer when compared to the recruitment runaround that you have to go through with a full-time employee. You don’t have to worry as much about managing the contractor either; you can just end an underperforming freelancer’s contract and hire another graphic designer to replace him.
And most graphic designer freelancers work on flexible schedules that you can adjust according to your busy periods. If there’s not enough work, you can always release the designer from his contract and hire him back when there is a need. But keep in mind, however, that contract graphic designers have other clients, and you may have to wait until the freelancer is free before hiring him again.
Do you need something specific, like a logo or a brochure? Some graphic designers specialize in one particular kind of project. This gives them valuable insight into the project, which they can use to produce the best possible design for your business.
While specialists have great expertise in their field (and come with a lot of supplementary skills besides), they do sometimes cost more than your average freelancer. Doing so allows them to focus on their core specialty and develop their skills and experience along those lines.
Unlike full-time employees, contract graphic designers don’t need the company to provide benefits, vacation days, human resources, and equipment. Neither do you need to pay taxes other than sales tax in certain states. Even basic pay can be negotiated, providing the contractor is willing to deal.
Note that the “you get what you pay for” rule still applies, even with freelancers. It’s quite easy to be dazzled by a freelancer’s low proposed rate, only to find out later that it was because they don’t have very much actual working experience in graphic design.
In House Graphic Designer
So with all that the contractor has going for him, why would any sane business owner bother to hire a full-time graphic designer?
Most contractors work on a per-project basis, dipping into your brand for a month or two before leaving to work on something else. While this kind of work schedule is great for one-off or low-profile projects, and can make things difficult if you want to build a cohesive brand campaign. Unless you are hiring a freelancer who is a dedicated brand specialist, chances are that the freelance graphic designer’s work is going to be hit or miss.
In house graphic designers will be immersed in your brand from the get go. Not only will they be familiar with your objectives, they will also be familiar with a host of other considerations that will affect your project. Your design preferences, your personality, and even the preferences of executive management. With this knowledge in hand, they have a better chance of developing a design that will get it right the first time.
Most contractors get paid per hour, which means everything you have them do must be carefully considered. They have to be focused on projects where they will make the most impact and that are worth the expenditure.
In house designers, on the other hand, can work on side projects that may not even touch the contractor’s plate. After all, not every graphic design project is a major undertaking with far-reaching consequences. You’ll still need to have small ads for regional magazines designed, or have company party photos retouched for the internal newsletter.
The roles need not be restricted to graphic design, either. Many in house graphic designers are part of a company’s marketing team, with a host of other marketing-related duties asides from producing collateral. Not only does this maximize an employee’s time, but it also gives the employee a wider range of skills.
An in house employee may be able to give more value to an organization over time by becoming more than just a graphic designer. Compared to contract graphic designers, whose relationship to a company ends at the conclusion of a project, an in house designer is more invested in the organization from a career standpoint.
If the in house designer develops or possesses the proper skills and influence, they may be promoted to higher positions. As the employee increases in rank, experience, and status within the company, they can make more valuable contributions to the business than a contractor ever would.