10 Things You Don’t Say To Your Designer!

In the world of fast paced design and marketing projects, there are a number of opportunities to communicate less than desirable things during the client-designer engagement process.  Whether it’s ignorance, malice or mere short-sidedness, clients of all shapes and sizes have said some of the most darnedest things to their designer/firm.  Because these conversations are almost bound to happen, here is a “top 10” list of things NOT to say to your designer or firm…  

1:  Don’t say:  “Can you make it pop?”

Pop?”  Pop what? Where?  Or, the universal winner is when clients say, “…you know, make it edgy.”  It’s best practice to refrain from using vague descriptions when trying to communicate to your designer. Assuming your designer is knowledgable of your vernacular or “tone” is presumptuous at best.  Designers don’t like it when we are asked to “read minds.”  Instead of using such catchy yet, vague phrases or words, offer up descriptive and prescriptive ideas and feedback which can attributed to emotions, smell, taste, or other sensory things.  Textures and colors are a good place to start.  A good designer understands the ins and outs of color theory and the difference between rough and smooth, scratchy and cold.

2:  Don’t ask: “Can you just get the logo off our website?”

The answer is most often going to be “no.”  Why not, you may ask? It’s simple – Logos need to be a certain size/resolution based on the intended uses of it.  Web sites utilize a smaller size logo to ensure faster loading/optimization.  Printed logos require a much larger file size to remain clear and legible when being printed.  Mix-matching these is both not ideal and taboo.  It’s like asking if you can stick a billboard in the backseat of your car?  Not only will it look awkward , but it’s not remotely feasible.  The surefire format to provide your logo is a “vector file,” meaning it can be resized larger or smaller to suit any design without loss of quality. Commonly used vector files types are “.ai” (an Adobe Illustrator file) or “.eps.” The designer of your logo should provide you with varied appropriate file types upon concluding your logo design project. These variations allow for you to utilize your logo in a matter of different methods/mediums.

3:  Don’t ask: “How much would it (My unique, complicated project) cost?”

Don’t know.  Often times, the sister-question to this is, “how much would you charge me for…?”  The answer is still, “I don’t know.”  For perspective – imagine if you walked into a home development company and asked them the same question?  The answer would typically consist of a few follow-up questions of itself, ie;  Is this a  one or two story home?  How many square feet do you want? How many bed rooms and bathrooms would you like? Color? Flooring type?  You get the gist. Different costs for different specs, right?

Designers charge different rates based on location, experience and overhead.  Designers also charge different fees for different types of services (web site design vice brochures). It’s not one-size fits all unfortunately.  Just as well, there may be “packages” offered but this is more common with novice or junior designers who focus more on quantity of clientele versus quality.  They are typically more interested in designing beautiful works rather than solving real business problems with design, like their more experienced peers.  

A more proper approach might be, “ I have (insert idea about project here) which I’m in need of a designer to help me with.  My budget is [ $ ]. Can you help me?”  You’ll find yourself getting much more accurate information and pricing, and might even wind up paying less than you thought.

4:  Don’t say: “You’re the expert here. Can’t you just do your magic?”

Magic? Come again!  Designers conducting themselves as professionals don’t carry a bag of glitter nor, a magic design wand.  Design involves a process which enables the project to have a certain level of success.  Jeff Sholl from Pro-point Graphics once put it this way:

“‘You’re the expert here’ basically says: we [the clients] defer to your judgment to read our minds and give us something we didn’t even know we wanted. That is a lot of pressure to lay on a graphic designer… The bigger issue is the amount of freedom it gives the designer. This phrase gives us unlimited freedom to try to tell the story that you (the client) know best. We can deliver Picasso, but if you were looking for Rembrandt there’s gonna be an issue.”

To ask your designer to pull a creative magic trick is just as dangerous for your business as jumping off a cliff without checking to see if you have a parachute in your backpack.  Simply put, it’s foolish.  You are equally responsible for discussing your business goal or problem which needs attention and to do so effectively.  If you don’t, you might as well prepare yourself for frustrating days because, they’re surely coming if you think you can just leave it up to your designer to pull a magic design out of their hat.  

5:  Don’t say: “We haven’t finished writing the copy, but can you design a draft?”

Can you say “cart before the horse?”  Yes, I guess a designer could design something before they are provided content but why? Why in the world would you actually want someone to start building a house from the outside-in?  Seems backwards right! Honestly, the design and layout of a ‘thing’ is directly affected by the communication-piece(s) of that ‘thing’.  “

“Content proceeds design. Design in the absence of content is not design. It’s decoration.”

– Jeffery Zeldman

Without knowing what and how much content there is going to be, a designer really cannot design a draft for you. The deeper and more disturbing question I have always had is, why would you want them to design anything without the most important pieces anyhow?  I recommend you to plan better, forecast more effectively and when you believe you have all the information to communicate your “thing”, call the designer.

6:  Don’t ask: “Can you put it in a format that we can edit?”

OH NO! If you sought out to hire a designer, allow them complete responsibility to design. This means edits as well.  As designers, we take the responsibility to transcend what our clients tell us and then, to entrust us with that information to create the final result.  As a client, your responsibility includes being able to articulate your desires and any adjustments which need to be made once the project is in the works.  If a designer just hands over their work for you to edit, then that is a whole other issue which needs to be addressed. Boundaries!!!  There’s a great aspect of your client-designer engagement process and it involves the designer being equally responsible for their portion of the project and to ensure their efforts align with your business goals. Let them do and finish the work.

7: Don’t ask: “Can you provide different versions; I’ll know what I want when I see it.?”

Not so fast.  I will paint a picture… You’re buying a tailor-made suit. Would you say to the tailor, “Can you make me six versions of this suit? When I see them, I’ll choose the one I like best and pay for just that one.” Of course not. Just because graphic design is often facilitated via a computer and/or digitally rather than a physical application doesn’t suggest the designer puts any less time and care into the work.  Furthermore, assuming it’s about the amount of time needed or taken to design a thing is falsely placed too.  You have to come to the realization, you are asking that designer to design the same item(s) for you 2x -3x over while only expecting to have to purchase one version. Which most likely, you will have additional revisions needed after you have selected your “winning piece” to develop more.  This is not fair to the designer or you either.  You don’t get the best product for your “business problem.”  

8: Don’t ask: “Can I make just one more change?”

A designer often times is willing to accommodate their client and in good ethical practice to ensure their client is ultimately happy with the work they have paid for.  This should not be cause for a client to abuse their position by requesting the designer to do free work.  Especially once the project has been delivered/payed for in full.  Allotted revisions should be clearly stated prior to starting a project. At the designer’s discretion, they can waive or omit these allotments.  As the client, try to compile all the changes you’d like to make and communicate them to your designer at once.  The gesture goes a long way seeing both your time is valuable.  Additionally, it ensures your project can be turned around quicker if the designer doesn’t feel the pressure to have to stop working and tend to your seemingly subtle yet eager change(s).  Asking if you can make a last minute or hind-sighted change is a bad gesture and bad business ethic.

9: Don’t say:  “Can you use this image I found online?”

While designers appreciate the occasional “bone” thrown their way in the form of a supplemental image, oftentimes we are presented with “crap.”  I can’t count how many times a client has given me an image and asked to use it in the design, ignorant of the size, resolution or orientation.  Try very hard not to be the “art director” of your project.  Ask questions before you send over your screen shot or Google image- download.  Don’t frustrate your designer. They are trying to help you so, don’t aggravate them with images you dig up on Google Images searches.  If you have viable imagery to support your project/design, by all means reference it to your designer.  If you have had a successful consultation, this will be uncovered before the work begins.

10: Don’t say:  “I can’t pay you, but you’ll get a lot of exposure.”

Do I really need to explain this one? OK, here it goes.  I will paint another picture because well, people like metaphors and it’s easier than coming off like I am upset.

Imagine you show up to the furniture store… See where this is going?  You say to the salesperson, “I’d like you to provide this sofa and chairs to me but, I’m not able to pay for it. But, lots of people are going to come over to my house and sit on it, and when they do, I will be sure to let them know where I bought it from and who sold it to me.

 Wrong answer!  Everyone has bills and expenses, has to eat, sleep and for crying out loud, use the internet.  So, pay for your design because, let’s be honest – you’re intending on making money off of the design you were provided. It’s only right and yes, you do want to be right don’t you? Exposure doesn’t pay bills nor provide fast Internet connections.  Money does. So, use it wisely and don’t be a jerk to that college student trying to pay his way through the next semester.  If there are bartering or pro-bono terms agreed upon, great.  Just make sure that, even with “free” work, there is a contract, statement of work or at least an agreement written on a piece of notebook paper.

Make sure you share this content and help your fellow business owner or entrepreneur avoid the urge to repeat these “no no’s” during their next design or marketing project.   


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