Better, faster (and usually cheaper) graphic design.

… or, “The Importance of Creative Briefs”.

Graphic designers should solve business problems. If you’re used to telling your designer what to do, you’re…

  1. Doing yourself a disservice
  2. Wasting time and money
  3. Working with the wrong designer
  4. Treating them like a vendor instead of a trusted partner
  5. All of the above

Yes. The right answer is “5”. All of the above.

At their core, graphic designers are problem-solvers. Designers (especially those with ad agency experience) understand consumer behaviour and how to deliver the right messages to the right people in compelling and relevant ways.

It’s true that while many designers will have their own particular look, style or approach, your design work should be a reflection of your business needs, not your designer’s style preferences. More importantly, remember that this is about sales. And your customers’ needs have to come first. What you like or what the designer likes aren’t nearly as important as what your customer likes.

So, with that in mind…

  • What does the ideal working relationship with a graphic designer look like?
  • How can you ensure you get great work without a ton of wasted time and money?

The answer lies in doing some homework.

The right designer should be seen as a long-term relationship. And it’s worth investing the time it takes to get better, more effective work. If this is your first project together, you need to take the time to bring your new designer up to speed. They may understand design and marketing but won’t likely know much about your particular product, service or industry. The good news is they really don’t need to.

Often, it’s even better that they don’t.

Designers steeped in your particular industry may extrapolate from past experience, prescribing solutions before they’ve even had time to understand and diagnose your problems. Don’t let them.

Speaking of prescriptions and diagnoses… Don’t ask for detailed proposals and solutions before you’ve actually agreed to pay for them. Proposals given without a deeper understanding of the problems are simply guesswork and not worth anyone’s time.

You wouldn’t expect a doctor to prescribe solutions without examining you, why would you think a designer’s uninformed solutions would be any better?

1. To start with, provide your designer with a simple SWOT analysis.

(Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats)

Strengths:

  • What does your business do better than your competitors? (a full list of competitors is always helpful)
  • What awards, recognition or testimonials can corroborate these claims?

Weaknesses: (or Vulnerabilities)

  • What do others do better than your company?
  • How are they able to do better?

Opportunities:

  • What’s happening in the market currently that your company could use to its advantage? (trends, competitor failures, new features etc.)

Threats: (or Risks)

  • What’s happening in the market that could threaten your sales or could cause you trouble? (trends against your product type, new competitor advantages, regulations etc.)

2. Help them understand your unique customer profile.

  • Who buys what you sell and why?
  • What ages are they?
  • Are they mostly male or female?
  • What do you understand about how they think and what their concerns are? Their fears, beliefs, political views, educational level etc. are all helpful in painting a picture of who we are addressing and understanding them.

3. Discuss your goals both short term and long term.

  • What are the specific needs you feel you need to address now and why?
  • What are your longer term goals for this product and/or the company?

4. Get real about your available budget up front.

We’d like to help. But there’s only so much that can be done on a small budget. Most designers can be flexible on pricing. Especially for clients who view us as partners instead of order-takers. Talk realistically about the funds you have available and realize that your smaller budget may just mean that you have to take a triage approach and deal with the most important issues first while putting the nice-to-haves off to a later date.

Consider asking your designer to put together a wish-list of projects along with descriptions of the value those projects would bring your business. With the value of each project clarified, your purse strings may be loosened by the financial guys in your organization.

If you need it all and you need it now, you may have to seek additional funding or establish a monthly payment plan. Many designers accept credit card payments these days or would be willing to do so if it helped get a new client.

5. Nail down the specifics.

Projects can cost twice as much (or more) when the details aren’t nailed down. As the number of revisions mount so does your bill.

Before you initiate your design project, ensure that all internal stakeholders have weighed in on the project parameters and are in agreement with the budget, scope, details, and timeline.

Ensure that you have an established internal process for dealing with approvals and stick to it. Stakeholders need to agree to be part of the process all the way through or assign responsibility for approvals to a single point-person. Having people parachute in and out of your project will only add frustration, revisions, and cost.

Be sure that you and your designer discuss and agree on the specifics of your project. Discuss all the “must-haves”; logos, sizes, information, delivery dates, specific diagrams etc. and ensure you deliver all the required assets in the appropriate formats at the start of the project

Ensure that you’ve discussed all the deliverables up front. If a designer is contracted to create a social media campaign, for example, then later told that the creative will also be used for print ads and posters, your costs will escalate as the files for one type of project won’t necessarily work for another. Ensure that all the needed pieces are discussed up front so that the designer can build with future needs in mind.

Then write a Project Brief. (or have the designer help you write one) Once you’ve shared your situation, agreed on some budget parameters and discussed your upcoming project, be sure to get it in writing. A sample briefing document to get you started is right here. Feel free to customize or adjust it as you see fit. But remember, the better the information, the better the process works and the better the results.

6. Work in Stages.

If you’re in need of a larger, multi-part campaign or design project, consider establishing smaller, interim steps and review concepts as roughs before going further. Have the designer show you sketches of logo concepts for example, before applying the design to an entire suite of materials. Or ask for sketches and rough concepts of sales materials before executing final work. This way, you and your team can weigh in on concepts before the designer has spent a lot of time (and budget).

7. Make Time.

Your designer will likely need time to discuss the reasons for their choices and the ways in which the work addresses your business concerns. Allow time to discuss the project and its merits as well as any concerns you have. Make sure all stakeholders are present and have a chance to voice their questions and concerns in one meeting.

8. Allow for Learning.

They need to get to know you and vice-versa. Some early work may be in need of fine tuning but rest assured, over time the work will get better and better as you understand each other more. Technicians and desktop publishers can slap things together fast. But the valuable insight a professional design consultant can bring is worth the potential growing pains.

Ultimately, the work you put in up front pays off in the long term. When designers are given the right information and afforded an opportunity, they can improve your brand, build awareness and drive growth. To go fast (and save money) you need to slow down and take this process as seriously as your design partner does. And believe me, we do take it seriously.


Like to make your marketing work harder? We specialize in helping small businesses build brands and advertising that reflects their unique value. We’d love to you too. Get in touch!

2018-10-04T10:41:26+00:00