How to Work with Designers (Without Them Hating You)

7 minute read

Upland Admin

“Hey Mark…”

These two words, said with an upward inflection, might be the most terrifying words to Mark Peck, Kapost’s Web Designer.

Typically, this means he’s about to be bombarded with a request to “whip something up real quick.” The truth is, even for the most talented designers, “real quick” comes at a cost. For designers, every moment is precious, and being interrupted for a few minutes can derail focus or productivity.

This is just one lesson I’ve learned over the past decade. I’ve worked in a variety of industries, all of which rely heavily on creative efforts. Far from being the exception, content marketing requires working closely with design, especially as highly visual content becomes even more important.

So for the sake of a positive work environment, I’ve gathered some advice for maintaining solid, productive relationships with your designers.

How to Work with Designers

This happened immediately upon being asked to make something “pop”.

Get to Know Who You’re Working With

There are many types of designers with varying skill sets. Be aware of what might be needed from a design standpoint and what skills might be needed to accomplish that, as well as what time and effort the project might take.

If you have an in-house designer, ask them to walk you through a lower priority project to learn how they think, their speed and work style, etc. When the time comes to build something big, you’ll know how to best deliver information to them, and what to expect in return.

Mark and I learned to work together by playing a prank on our boss, Jesse Noyes. Together we created “Jetpack Jesse”—an animated time-waster where you can fly him around

Jetpack Jesse. Prank turned productivity exercise.

Jetpack Jesse. Prank turned productivity exercise.

your screen and shoot lasers from his eyes. It seems silly, but it taught us how to communicate, and when it came time to build larger projects, we worked more efficiently.

Also, this project opened up a skill set that hadn’t been fully utilized. If Mark could create Jetpack Jesse, he could create an incredible interactive infographic. Take a little time to understand who you’re working with and where they excel.

Map Out What You Want Ahead of Time…

You’re hiring a designer because you need expertise in creating something visual. But this doesn’t mean it should be left entirely up to the designer to “come up with something cool.”

Coming to a designer with a vague or, worse, nonexistent idea of what you need from them is a surefire productivity killer, which can lead to dozens of unnecessary revisions and increased execution time. Even (and probably especially) on extremely tight deadlines, the more detail you can provide, the better.

If you are having trouble clearly communicating the vision for the project, set up a meeting in advance with the designer so they can help you form a plan. Having them present in the brainstorming process can lead to better work as they understand the purpose and context behind the project.

…But Be Flexible

While it’s important to give your designer guidance before they begin on the project, that guidance needs to leave space for them to flex their creative muscles. After all, they’re most likely more talented than you are when it comes to visual presentation of ideas. So  avoid the impulse to dictate every minor detail.

Explain What You Want to Convey

Provide context for the project, rather than how you want your design “to look”. Focus less on color, shape, or style and more on meaning or emotion. You’re hopefully creating your content to help solve a problem, so loop your designer in on that problem and work together on the best ways to address it.

Aimee Carruthers, Art Director at Image Centre Group says, “tell us what problems you need to solve. Telling us to ‘move this box to the next page’ is less helpful than ‘We need to emphasize the subscription offer better.’”

The Freelance Graphic Designer’s Resource phrases it this way: “Instead of providing what you think are solutions, such as ‘make that blue,’ say, ‘we would like something that feels more calm and relaxing.’ Ultimately, you want to satisfy the requirement of calm and relaxing. Let the designer figure it out.”

Hana Schank of UX Magazine adds, “If you respect the designers’ need to create something beautiful, they are more likely to respect your need to create something usable.”

Set Realistic Deadlines

One surefire way to have your project’s quality suffer (and to piss off your designer) is to ask for too much in not enough time. “I hate it when the client assumes how long something should take—or think it’s ‘easy,’ says Neil Danaher, Sr. Art Director for Tungsten 74. “Usually what you think is easy is the opposite.”

A pet peeve of Blair Stapp, Graphic Designer at Anthem Branding, is “when clients want a tight turnaround or a lot of time-consuming changes, yet expect the same deadline.”

Design will probably take longer than you expect. Understanding this basic concept will help you plan realistically.

At Kapost, when designing the outline for a content campaign, it’s mandatory to schedule a meeting with Mark to go over the assets and how long creation and review will take. We then adjust expectations and, often, what we’re creating based on Mark’s feedback.

Of course, “rush jobs” can’t always be avoided. Sometimes you need to react quickly to a big news event in your industry, or something else unexpected. The lesson here, however, is to be respectful of your designers’ time and not expect everything to happen overnight.
Basically, if you’re asking for 90 PowerPoint slides with 24-hour’s notice, you’re a jerk.

Basically, if you’re asking for 90 PowerPoint slides with 24-hour’s notice, you’re a jerk.

Know When and How to Communicate

Another commonly cited pet peeve by designers is inappropriate communication from clients.

Agree upon a cadence of “check-ins” before the project begins. Some designers might want daily communication, others may need their space. Each person has his/her own unique process for being productive. Some designers prefer to communicate through email, some prefer a project management tool. Discuss when and how you plan to receive updates to avoid being a “helicopter client.”

Also, designate a specific person who will lead communication. It’s important to have a consistent, reliable voice talking to your designer, otherwise you end up with a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario. This becomes especially important in the revision process. Differing voices on what adjustments are needed will only lead to mounting frustration and deteriorating quality.

I hope these tips were useful and lead to better preparation and relationships with your designers, internal or external. To add to the takeaways I’ve listed here, I recently surveyed a wide group of designers to get their thoughts. This group includes freelancers, as well as folks who work for small businesses, universities, and some of the world’s largest corporations.

View some of their thoughts in the SlideShare below.

Reliable products. Real results.

Every day, thousands of companies rely on Upland to get their jobs done simply and effectively. See how brands are putting Upland to work.

View Success Stories