You know what you want, but you don’t know how to describe it, and you definitely don’t know how to do it yourself. Sound familiar?
If you’re not a visual designer by trade and you’ve ever wanted a logo for your brand, a cover for your self-published book, a brilliantly designed wedding suite, or any other visual asset, you might have run into this wall before. But just because you didn’t go to art school doesn’t mean you can’t learn to put your ideas into words so that a designer can work with you to bring them to life.
Here is a scenario: You've weighed the pros and cons, and you've decided to hire a designer to create your wedding invitation suite. You want that custom, branded feel that a designer can create, and you've found someone reputable you want to work with whose work you adore. You set up a phone call, and you're so excited to talk to them... until they ask you what you're looking for in your design. You want something special and unique that really represents you and your significant other-- but how do you put that into words?
Know that they’re trying to give you what you want.
When a designer asks you what you're looking for, it might at first seem like they're asking you to do your job for them. You're hiring them because you don't know how to create your dream invitations yourself, so isn't it their job to glean what you want and bring it to life? But they're not trying to get you to pick the paper stock and typeface when they ask you this at the start of a project-- they're trying to get to know you. You are a stranger to them as much as they are to you. In order to give you what you want, they need to ask you questions and get to know all the wonderful things there are to know about you, so that they can make your custom design absolutely perfect. Which leads me to my next point...
Provide as much detail as possible.
Before you talk to your designer, do a little research to figure out what you like. Create a Pinterest board with images you like and the vibe you want your design to convey. You don't need to find inspiration just in the form of other invitations-- it can be anything! A cozy sweater, a movie poster, a painting, a patterned blanket, a picture of a luxurious living room-- anything! This type of image gathering can convey a lot about what you visually want and are drawn to, even if you don’t know how to state it verbally. If there are colors that stand out to you again and again, take note of that. And you picked this designer for a reason, so take a look at their website or portfolio and identify a few pieces you’re particularly drawn to. If possible, send this to your designer before you speak to them, so that they have a jump start on getting to know you and what you want before you talk.
When you do speak to your designer and they ask you to describe in words what you want, don't worry about not knowing the technical terms of their trade, and be open to answering any questions they have. In the case of wedding invitation design, they might ask you to describe yourself and your significant other, what you like to do, what you love about where you're getting married, how you like to dress, what your dog's name is, and anything else that might be relevant. If you do know specific details (maybe you definitely want to incorporate calligraphy into the design, or you want it to look like a vintage newspaper) share that with them now. Your designer can't read your mind and is only able to work with as much as you give them, so give them as much as possible before they get started!
If you're responding emotionally, don't reply immediately.
This is a big one, and possibly the biggest potential relationship-breaker between creatives and their clients. You wait a few weeks after that initial conversation while they work on your design, and you're so excited when you see an email from them pop up in your inbox. You hold your breath and excitedly open the attachment, expecting to see your hopes and dreams shining back from the screen in front of you and... you're a little disappointed. The colors aren't right, your names are too big and too fancy, and you wanted a different style of logo. This isn't the perfect dream design you thought you’d see right away!
The worst thing you can do at this moment is fire off an immediate reply telling your designer how disappointed you are that they didn’t absorb every detail you gave them during your initial meeting and how heartbroken you are that they didn't nail it in the first try. This isn't constructive, and it will only serve to discourage both of you and can seriously damage the working relationship you've built.
Walk away from the computer and have a cup of coffee. Sit with the design before you reply. Once again, you picked this artist for a reason, and this is where you need to have faith in their ability to do great work. In this moment, you need to...
Remember that this is a process.
You've seen beautiful images of finished invitations online, and you want yours to look like that on the first go-- but that is a bit unrealistic. For each of those designs you see that you love, there was almost definitely a multi-stage design process with sketches and drafts and feedback that you didn’t see before that beautiful finished invitation was printed, photographed, and posted on Pintereset.
If you’re trying to figure out how to phrase what you don’t like about a design, ask yourself some questions. Are there elements you do like? Does it feel too busy? Too fancy? Too casual? Do you not like the style of the type or lettering? Do you not like the colors? If it were a different color, would you like it better? Is there an illustration or photograph in the design, and do you like how that's being used? Do you feel like the information isn’t legible enough? Do you like the size and shape of the invitation itself? Did you ask for a clean, type-driven design, and now that you see it, you realize you actually want something illustrated? Did you suddenly realize that you DO want it to look like an old-timey newspaper?
Write all of your thoughts down, and once your emotions are all blue skies again, put that it an email. The beauty of custom design work is that you can ask to change the things you don't like so that the final product feels perfectly tailored to you! The first round you see is an opportunity to feel out your likes and dislikes, so this is your chance to communicate that. Chances are you don't need to scrap the whole thing, and the more thoughtful and specific your feedback is, the better the next version you see will be.
Make sure to say what you mean.
This might seem a little obvious, but this hurdle can dramatically slow down a design process and frustrate both sides. Designers usually take specific feedback literally in order to give you the best result, so reread your notes before you send them and make sure you mean everything you say. This can be as simple as correcting proofreading mistakes-- maybe you meant teal and said blue, or maybe you said you wanted Logo #1 when you meant Logo #3. Think of it like going to a hairdresser-- if you want a shoulder-length bob but tell your hairdresser you want a pixie cut, that’s what she’s going to give you because she can’t read your mind. The same is true for designers. We are innovative and creative, but we aren’t psychic. We can’t infer that by saying one thing you actually meant something else.
Ask for what you want.
If you badly want to see something in your design that isn’t there, don’t be afraid to speak up! It can be intimidating to share your creative ideas, but if you desperately want a navy blue stripe down the center of your Save the Date card and you don’t say that out loud, you’re probably not going to get it. So say it, and say it as soon as possible! Do not wait until the final stages of the project have arrived and you are still disappointed that the navy stripe isn’t there. Your designer’s job is to take your input and ideas and make them look fantastic. If they feel your idea doesn’t work, they’ll work with you to explain why, and hopefully find a solution that looks even better-- but never be afraid to ask.
Be respectful of their boundaries.
You have a life and a million other things to do, and so does your designer. Yes, you are paying them. Yes, it is their responsibility to adhere to an agreed upon schedule. And yes, maybe they are a freelancer who doesn’t work in an office from 9-5 every day. But that does not mean you can email them at two o’clock in the morning and expect an immediate response, or demand to see a draft of something three days earlier than they agreed to deliver it (and if they are able to drop everything and help you meet an earlier-than-anticipated deadline, you should be grateful and compensate them with a rush fee!).
Perhaps they have a spouse who only has free time on evenings and weekends, so they choose not to work those hours as well, or perhaps they had a Hawaiian vacation planned before you even booked them that they still intend to take. It is their responsibility to inform you of these things and account for them when establishing your project’s schedule, and you should respect those boundaries as well. Just because they’re instagramming pictures of their dog on the beach doesn’t mean they aren’t also working on your wedding logo when they’re back at their desk. Understand that your designer is a working person with lots of responsibilities who takes time off and doesn’t always respond to emails within seconds-- just like you.
Provide the resources they need to work.
This is a less sexy point, but a very important one. Your designer may ask you for important information up front that is necessary for them to have before they can do further work on your project, and you need to work with them to supply it as soon as possible in order to keep your project moving. Your designer’s job is to take a boring word document of information and make it look beautiful-- not to write the word document itself. If you want them to design your website, provide them with what you need it to say. If you want them to design your wedding invitation, give them all the names and dates needed. Understand their role in your project, and cooperate when they need information from you in order to execute your vision.
Understand and respect that they operate a legal business.
They can’t work without a contract, they can’t email you that font file so that you don’t have to buy it, and they need you to license that image before they can use it in the design of your website. You can run up against any number of these types of roadblocks when working with a designer, and it may seem inconvenient or insignificant, but just because they own their own business doesn’t mean they can cut corners in these important areas. If you want them to explain their legal or moral reasons for doing (or not doing) something, just ask.
Leave room for creative interpretation where you can, and trust their expertise.
You hired this person because you loved their work, so trust them to do it well. Designers take your ideas and bring them to life better than you could do it yourself, so be open their input. A great one will not only match your vision, but also elevate it. If you tell them exactly what to do, you might be missing out on some even better ideas you didn’t think of yourself. If you’re open to seeing their ideas, tell them that, and leave them room to play around-- it will likely make the process more fun for both of you, and your design will be better for it in the end!
I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever hired a designer you didn’t know how to communicate with or, if you are designer, had a client who didn’t understand how to communicate with you? What other tips do you have for creating a wonderful working relationship?