10 things you need to know about working with a designer

Are you working with a designer for the first time? Whether you have found someone, or  you are just starting to research who you need and what you want them to do, here are 10 things you need to know about working with a designer.

1. The brief is the key

A briefing questionnaire is the starting point for all design collaborations. It’s the time to talk about your ideas, the motivations and clients you have or wish to attract. The questions in the briefing questionnaire should ask about the problems, the goals, and boundaries (the budget, the goal date and third parties or contacts). An excellent briefing questionnaire encourages you to think deeply. If you don’t have the answers now, use the time as an opportunity for research.

 

You may have your own brief, and I encourage you to use it as a guide to completing your designer’s brief. They may have questions that aren’t contained in your research.

 

Try not to feel intimidated, but think of it as a pause for reflection and a platform from which you can start working with chosen creative.

 

Read more: What makes a great design collaboration? Setting up for success in ten steps.

A screenshot of Berenice's book page design brief form

2. Know what you're signing up to (the admin stuff)

It’s dull but essential to the smooth running of a project. Check you understand what you’re signing up to. This may include how projects are managed, the number of revisions (is that enough?) When do you pay and how much? What’s the payment schedule? How are you expected to supply feedback to the designer? When by? Do you need a copywriter like Rachel or other support? Most designers have a list of trusted suppliers and are happy to help if you need more input.

 

What about hours of contact and Zoom calls? I’ve created a code of conduct. It lists all the apps I use, how to contact me, file management, ethics… it’s brief but informative. It’s been so helpful for setting the scene.

3. Ask questions

Nothing is too silly. My philosophy is that it’s a learning process. We creatives get to learn all sorts of exciting details about you and your work, and it’s only fitting you get the same opportunity too. I like to think my clients complete each collaboration and feel confident with their website or gain a better understanding of fonts, for example.

 

The great thing about working directly with a designer instead of a third-party service (such a Fiverr, Upwork, or People Per Hour) is that you can have a conversation, get to grips with the brief and get to know each other.

Hello Lovely Graphic and Web Design's website on a tablet screen
Hello Lovely Graphic and Web Design's website. Photo by Ian Olsson for Indie Cambridge

4. It's not your design (or your designer's design!)

It’s for your clients, readers or users! The designer’s job is to take the information from the all-important brief, create a well-designed piece, and guide you on good choices. At the heart of it, all parties should care about the user experience – whether that’s the website user or a reader – and the details that comprise the journey such as colour, typography, and images, as it’s the users who make the purchases and write reviews.

Your reputation is developed by design, and it's worth bearing in mind that designers are potential clients too!

5. How do you find a good designer?

It begins with what you need. It helps designers, and it’ll save you lots of time. Ask around, look at work you’ve seen and explore the tone of the designer on their website. 

 

Be mindful that the designer’s website may not reflect their entire portfolio, but don’t dismiss them if you like the rest. For example, I have hundreds of book covers in my portfolio and many websites, but it’s not a great user experience to show them all! What I don’t recommend is taking to Google; you’ll be overwhelmed! You may find low-cost sites appearing first.

6. Design is an investment, and it'll show in the results

Good design is charged based on experiences, skills, and range of work. Bespoke design is best summed up as a creative solution for you, nobody else. It’s the face of your business or product and should be seen as an investment.

 

If you decide that it’s better to do it yourself, be mindful that learning any software, be that as complex as Adobe’s Indesign or templated as Vellum, still takes time. Is that the best use of your time? Are you good enough? That sounds harsh, but design is a skill honed by experience and education, like accountancy, writing and photography and other specialist services.

 

Read more: Is cheap design worth the cost saving?

7. You need to trust in yourself and the designer

You and your designer should be a good fit for each other. If there are challenges, the team should be able to work together on a solution with honesty and integrity.

Designers are highly trained in what we do, and the routes we take to solutions might not be familiar but tend to be gained from experience.

8. Tuning up feedback

It’s tempting to show off the feedback to everyone, but it’s worth a pause. One of the most popular articles on my Tips and Tricks explains how to get good feedback.

 

The trouble with asking everyone, including your aunt, about the design is everyone has a personal opinion. It’s perfectly natural as humans to do this. You may get competitors commenting on social media platforms and Facebook groups, and their motivation is entirely different! It can become directionless and overwhelming very quickly.

 

It’s good to ask specific questions that relate to your brief and keep in mind that if you’ve done the research well, you can make this decision yourself.

Berenice Smith. Photo by Regina Ray

9. Design is a process

It’s not like a coffee shop when you order a latte. In design you might get a cappuccino; it’s coffee but not a latte.

 

We may come back to you with ideas and questions before the formal first stage presentation. Be honest and be nice. And listen to what the designer has to say. It might not make sense initially or contradict what you requested, but it’s the designer’s role to explain why. Remember, we’re creating for the user, not you!

 

If it’s not what you wanted, let’s review that brief together. It’s infrequent for an experienced designer to get a concept wholly wrong so the brief may not be correct.

10. Stay in touch

I love to know what happened next! It doesn’t end when the website goes live, the branding is launched, or the book is printed.

 

Let’s write a case study together that can be used on our websites. Record a video. If you’re holding a book launch, can we provide a talk? It’s beneficial to us both.

 

Read more: Case study – ‘My Voice’ books for the Association of Jewish Refugees

Designers are often seen as egotistical (avoid those!) or mythical. Often, we’ve been hidden away because the role can be misunderstood. Collaboration can yield powerful and positive results. I hope these tips encourage you to get creative too.

Berenice Howard-Smith

Berenice Howard-Smith

Berenice Smith runs Hello Lovely, a multi-talented design business in Cambridge. She is an award-winning designer with a Masters degree in Graphic Design and Typography. Berenice is aided by her rescue dog, Lady Molly Lickalot and lots of tea. If she's not at her Mac or drawing board, she'll be in the shed with a printing press.

Rachel Extance

Rachel Extance

Award-winning journalist and blogger. I help service-based business owners communicate who they are, what they do, and why. If you struggle to talk about yourself on your website or your content marketing, get in touch with me.

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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. The Story Cave Ltd disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.