Working with a graphic designer: How to effectively communicate your ideas

How to play nice

So, you have a project with a looming due date hanging over your head and you know you can’t do it alone. Working with a graphic designer will take care of all the custom design work you need to complete your project. Finding the right graphic designer is the tricky part, you think to yourself, but now that you have your handy-dandy designer on lockdown, you need to figure out how to communicate your ideas.

While it might sound simple, explaining your ideas to a designer — or anyone for that matter — is not an easy task.

Often what flits around in the cavity of our brains can be difficult to describe in such a way that successfully transfers what you see in your head into a final product.

Related: A web designer’s tips for communicating with freelance designers

8 tips for communicating your ideas to a graphic designer

If you’re finding yourself struggling to convey your design ideas, here are my top tips to get the most out of working with a graphic designer:

  1. Lay down ground rules and expectations.

  2. Visually show them similar ideas.

  3. Don’t expect an exact replica.

  4. Know your no’s.

  5. Only use design terms you actually understand.

  6. Respect turnaround time.

  7. State your issue, not your solution.

  8. Explain your reasoning.

Ready to dig in? Let’s go!

1. Lay down ground rules and expectations

Before you start working with a graphic designer, have a sit-down conversation and make your expectations clear. Running through concrete details like timelines and project scope should be clearly stated in the beginning so your working relationship can run as smoothly as possible.

Technical processes— like how you will communicate back and forth and how product versions will be submitted for reviewal sessions — are important things to hash out. If you hired a graphic designer, you either:

  • have an idea of what you want, but don’t have the skills to produce it.
  • have remnants or hazy bits of an idea, but nothing is fully thought through.
  • or don’t have a darn clue about what you want or need.

In any case, be up front with where you’re at. The more they can get into your headspace before the designing phase begins, the better chance you’ll have at getting the final product you want.

Related: How to manage client expectations and set clear boundaries

2. Visually show them similar ideas

Even if you don’t know what you want your design to look like — down to every stroke width and Pantone color — if you have an inkling of what you want, the best way to go about working with a graphic designer is to show them similar images or designs that coincide with your ultimate vision.

Working With A Graphic Designer Pinterest
Photo: Javier Peñas on Unsplash

Scrolling through Pinterest is a good way to start brainstorming ideas. Collect these images and create a digital mood board. If your graphic designer is able to see the sort of images, colors and styles you’re leaning toward, they will be more likely to start off the project on the right foot.

3. Don’t expect an exact replica

Although having a rough idea of what you want is a good way to begin communicating your ideas, there’s a caveat: Just because you like a design you found on Pinterest and want your designer to create something similar, don’t expect an exact replica.

When it comes to working with a graphic designer, there are certain things that just might not make sense — depending on the goal of the project.

Keep in mind that wanting an exact replica of a design may infringe on copyright issues and can limit the capabilities of (at the very least) or lightly offend (at the very worst) your designer.

In order to get the best possible outcome, there should be a level of trust between you and your graphic designer. Know that when it comes to design, they have the authority and the knowledge to create magnificent designs.

4. Know your no’s

To effectively communicate your ideas to a graphic designer, you should have an idea of what you don’t like. Things your graphic designer should definitely avoid are just as important as what they should include in your project.

Your graphic designer is starting with a clean slate.

 

They don’t know anything about the project except for the things you choose to tell them. If your team decided three weeks ago that the billboard should not have the color red, whatsoever, tell your graphic designer pronto in order to avoid any deceased-upon-arrival prototypes.

5. Only use design terms you actually understand

This is a walking-on-thin-ice type of tip. Using design terminology could be incredibly helpful when it comes to effectively working with a graphic designer — when used properly. On the other hand, when used incorrectly (or pretentiously), it can be a major irritant.

Saying to your designer, “Hey, could you decrease the kerning between the ‘U’ and the ‘S’ in the first word?” is simpler than saying, “Hey, could you lessen the amount of space in between each of the letters in the first paragraph?” But saying, “Can you adjust the kerning in the first word? You know … the space in between the letters?” is a sure-fire way to make your graphic designer silently wish they could walk away.

To keep it simple: use design terminology if you know it’s correct, but don’t use design terms if you’re only doing it to be a pompous braggart.

6. Respect turnaround time

Expecting something to be done “now” or “as soon as possible” isn’t realistic. Not to mention, it’s just borderline rude. Graphic designers are rarely working on one project at a time, so you cannot expect your designer to drop everything simply because you want it now.

When you’re working with a graphic designer, have respect for their turnaround process times and remember that the world does not revolve around you.

Related: Difficult clients and how to manage them

7. State your issue, not your solution

In the designer world, a project with zero edits is a rare unicorn. The design process is often a back-and-forth dance between the designer and the client in which you ultimately arrive at a finished product both parties are satisfied with.

During the revision process, the best way to effectively communicate your ideas is to describe your issue with the design, but not necessarily offer a solution. While you might not like the fact that the header image is cerulean blue and want it lime green, the designer might have a smart reason for why they chose cerulean blue.

Keep an open mind.

 

While you may think your solution to the problem is the only way to fix something, if you explain what you don’t like, the designer might have an even better, more visually pleasing solution to the issue at hand.

Working With A Graphic Designer Unicorn

8. Explain your reasoning

Effectively working with a graphic designer does not mean you look at their design and say point blank, “Hate it.” Always try to give a reason for why you don’t like something. Put yourself in the shoes of the designer.

It must be exhausting to hear from every client what they don’t like about the design you spent days creating. While fixing and editing is all a part of the design process, err on the side of kindness and over-explain why you’d like something done differently.

Closing thoughts on working with a graphic designer

Graphic designers are artists. They are able to take a blank space and pool together shapes, colors and text to create a piece of visually stunning art. Remember that you hired them for their expertise and keep an open mind when it comes to the revision cycle.

Learning how to effectively communicate your ideas with a graphic designer will help both parties get the end result they are hoping to achieve.

Shanna Fujii
Shanna Fujii is a colorful wordsmith published on GoDaddy, Bloguettes, Creative Market and more. When she’s not busy writing blog posts, she’s on the hunt for food that’s not good for her, knocking things off her bucket list and upcycling unique finds from the thrift shop for her clothing brand, Honey & Misfits. She’s a scary movie junkie and will never be caught without a pair of worn-in Converse. Connect with her on Linkedin.