Ideas Amplified™ | The Flink Blog

Make It Pop!

How to improve your client-designer communications for better results.

Or how to get way more value out of the designer you just hired.

Talking about problems invites designers to bring solutions.

You’ve just hired a graphic designer for the first time. It’s exciting. You’ve checked out their work and they’re awesome! Their logos are cool, their packaging designs are bright and colourful and you just can’t wait to see what they’ll do with your project.

And, like just about every client, you want to get the most for your money. — Who wouldn’t?

So, in the interest of helping things along, you provide them with some guidance. You let them know what you like by sending 37 photos of packages you like. You tell them the colours you like, the fonts you like and then send a dozen logos you like as well.

Then you wait.

A few days pass. Then a week. Then another. Then you get an email that says they’re ready to present. You sit through the presentation and the designer shows you what you asked for. A logo that uses your fonts, the colour you chose and a box design mocked up on the kraft paper box you specified.

You feel your blood run cold. Your heart is in your throat and you feel so very disappointed and a little angry. The designer says they followed your guidance. And you hate it!

It doesn’t pop. Or sing. It doesn’t look like something Apple designed. And it doesn’t look like the inspiring collection of other packaging examples you sent, either.

This designer sucks! What an idiot! Can’t he follow simple directions?

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

What was missing? You tried so hard to guide and instruct!

But you failed to explicitly talk about the problem at hand. What specifically was the goal of the project? Make a nice logo and package; obviously, you say. But what is “nice”? What does “pop” mean? How will the designer know when the project has met the objectives if no objectives (other than making it “cool”) were stated?

Goals like “make it pop”, and “give me something cool” are completely subjective and not at all helpful.

While it’s certainly great to have a brand that you like, it’s much more important and relevant to create a brand that your customers will like. Not the designers’ taste nor the clients’ necessarily but the customer. It’s important that you, the client, like the appearance of your logo and packaging, but not if you aren’t representative of the typical customer.

If the folks in upper management at Mattel, for example, made design choices based on their personal preferences, Barbies would likely come with packaging that appealed to middle-aged white men (or whatever management at the toy company looked like).

So what IS helpful?

  • Define the customer’s problems/needs in regard to the product category.
  • Where and how is the product shopped? Online only? In a busy retail environment?
  • How will products be displayed?
  • What did you NOT like about your previous brand and/or packaging?
  • What information will help them make a buying decision?
  • What feelings and thoughts are we hoping to convey with this product?
  • What are the most important elements to convey on this package?
  • What do competitors’ brands look like and say?
  • If you share images for inspiration, be specific about the design features you like and why you feel they’d be a helpful addition rather than simply stating that you like something. And if your project is 2 colours on brown kraft, find design examples that were done under similar constraints. Comparing full-colour designs with photography to 2 colours with no imagery is hardly an apples-to-apples comparison.

In short, spend your time and energy describing the problems you’re currently experiencing and what you hope the design work will achieve in the marketplace.

Don’t solve the problems for the designer by dictating design choices.

Let them solve the problems for you using their years of experience solving similar problems for other clients. Then get out of the way and let them shine. (or try to shine).

Feedback isn’t a dirty word.

When giving feedback, (and they should be expecting feedback) be specific about how a design choice is or isn’t working in regards to meeting project goals, not personal preferences. If something isn’t sitting right with you, take a position of curiosity rather than criticism. Ask them why they did such-and-such vs saying I don’t like it. You’re entitled to not like something, of course, but assume the designer had reasons for their choices then ask for a rationale instead of dictating how you would have designed the piece.

Expect that no matter who the designer is, there will be some back and forth with your project. Nobody gets it all right the first time out, especially if the designer hasn’t worked with you previously. Be sure from the outset, you understand how many revisions will be included in your quote and what they mean by one revision. Where possible, try to provide all your revisions at once. Circulate the design work among stakeholders and gather all comments all at once rather than getting nearly done then circulating the design for review just before it’s complete. Last-minute changes can, in some cases, derail the design completely.

How to submit design changes and comments

We’ve all been part of email chains that bounce back and forth for days or weeks. The information is in there somewhere. You thinkBut where? — Better to use a project management app like Trello or Basecamp than submit content and design changes via email. Information is bound to get lost. It’s just a matter of time.

A free Trello account will allow for all relevant information to live in one place that can be accessed by anyone with an invitation to log in. This is especially important for projects with multiple stakeholders or managers that want to weigh in from time to time vs getting flooded by emails. A project management system of some sort (any sort) will preserve your sanity. And minimize mistakes due to lost information.

Here’s to the success of YOUR next design project!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR / / / Brent Flink is an award-winning graphic designer, marketer and the founder and Creative Director of Flink Branding, a Vancouver-based food & beverage brand design firm. He specializes in helping food and beverage brands find their authentic voice and build brands that build companies.

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