Client Management

5 Tips for Better Client-Designer Communication

The client-designer relationship can be a breezy ride or a teeth-grinding journey. It all depends on how prepared you are to effectively communicate with your designer. Going in blind is a normal thing for clients to do when first looking for a designer. But starting the design process with a little preparation will go a long way. We’ve marked out 5 tips for communicating with your designer once you’ve found the one. We’ve also included mini checklists along the way to make sure you’re on track. Let’s get into it!

1. Research Your Design Request

When coming to a designer with a request, it’s helpful to have as much information as possible. Starting with an idea like, “I want something flowery and free feeling,” leaves a lot of room for interpretation that might prolong the feedback process. Just because you may not know all the right words, research examples of looks and feels you like. Finding a few examples of what you like in the following categories could be extremely helpful for your designer to get going:

  • Color: What kind of color do you want? Warm tones? Bright and contrasted colors? You don’t have to nail down the entire palette, but providing some direction on color can be super helpful.
  • Fonts: What fonts are you interested in for this design? We often don’t notice the fonts we consume every day, but with investigation you might find you do actually have a style in mind. 
  • Feel: How do you want the viewer to feel when engaging with this design? Upbeet and encouraged? Intrigued? Identifying the goal of your design can be helpful information to share with your designer up front. 
  • Examples: Are there any examples that particularly inspire you? What companies or designs inspire your company? Provide any examples that could help, but understand your designer is there to make something new, not to replicate someone else’s work. 

2. Be As Clear as You Can

Clarity in design elements are not the only things that need ironing out. The name of the game in working with a contractor is expectations. Payment schedules, pricing, and amount of creative liberty your designer can take are all things that require clarity. Try to vet all of your designer’s questions up front so the project can start on the right foot. 

A few good checklist items before project kick-off are below. Feel free to suggest your own preferences, but be open to how your designer works.

  • What is your payment timeline? When do you expect to get paid? Is that in full or at checkpoints?
  • How many design revisions are included in this cost? 
  • What files will I receive upon completion of the project? (Final finals, or final and working files.)
  • What platform do you typically use for feedback? 
  • What is the expected completion date range of the design?

3. Ask Questions When You Have Them

Every craft has a language, and it’s likely that you don’t like the language of designers. That’s okay, but it will require you to ask a few questions. From start to finish, your designer may be asking you for elements you don’t understand, or may send over design proofs you can’t figure out. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions you have. Fighting for clarity up front will allow for smoother feedback later, and hopefully, an amazing design. Want to brush up on some terms you might encounter when working with designers? Check out this free glossary (with pictures!) from Canva that might help decode some of the designer jargon you’ve encountered. Otherwise, don’t let any question go un-asked!

4. Operate with Empathy

The beauty of a designer is that they are creating a unique piece of art for you. Because you contracted them, your logo, website, brochure, etc. are not from a template anyone could get on the internet. Your design is being created by a real human who is working to give both their skill and creativity to it. This is important to remember when working with all humans, but certainly a designer. A few specific tips to help here:

  • If you receive a design you don’t love, don’t forget to deliver feedback with empathy.
  • Work to identify where your vision was lost.
  • Be open to the idea that you may not have communicated your vision clearly.

To reference point 2, it is important to determine upfront how much creative liberty your designer has. And when they operate in that freedom, be open to what they have to offer. Remember they are the experts.

5. Use the Right Tools

It’s simple — sometimes email cannot convey design feedback well. Design is a visual medium. Yet, most of our tools rely on written feedback. This can be difficult. We suggest exploring new collaboration tools that allow both parties to see a design and leave comments on exactly what they want changed. Keep a pulse on your project and designer. Here are some additional helpful tips.

  • Get out of email as much as possible. Email is where feedback goes to die.
  • Some projects would benefit from a standing time to connect on the phone or in person.
  • Use a tool like Punchlist. It will give clarity to your feedback that isn’t possible in other mediums. Even if you have a standing call, reviewing a project in Punchlist before, during, or after is a great way to save time and share clear, concise feedback.

Most communication snags come from a surprise. Our hope is to help you eliminate those surprises so that both you and your designer feel respected and able to communicate. Clarity is kind. And preparation will help you articulate your vision for your design. Remember to treat your designers with empathy, and we expect you’ll be well on your way to a design that is very “you”. 

If you’re looking to improve your feedback, add your next project to Punchlist. It’s free for unlimited projects and collaborators.

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Pete Bernardo

Pete Bernardo is the Founder & CEO of Punchlist, a TechStars Mentor, and occasional pizza maker. Former EVP at Three Five Two, Inc, Pete has 20 years of design & development experience across clients like CNN, Porsche, American Express, and Microsoft.
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