By Michelle Barnett
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How to be a good design client

As a prospective design client approaching an agency, you probably already have a good idea of what your end product to be. But any working relationship is a two-way street, so what will help your chosen designer get the job done well?

Designers don’t expect their design client to know all the ins and outs of their work (That’s why you’re hiring them, after all!) but there are definitely a few general tips that will ensure that both you and they find the process as enjoyable as possible.

What makes a good design client?

Be realistic about time

Don’t drop a project on your designer one day before you need it. Good design takes time, and it’s worth remembering that you may not be the only client asking for work. Give your designers plenty of notice so that they can fit you into their schedule and give your project the time it deserves. This also means that if there are any meetings or consultations to be had, or unexpected delays in other areas, they won’t affect your deadline. Having a realistic sense of how long design work can take will also paint you in a good light as a client, as it shows you’re organised, have considered the practical needs of the designers, and appreciate their skills. This is especially true if you have commissioned design work before and therefore have a little experience of the process. Meeting this simple requirement will leave your chosen agency thrilled to work with you again in the future.

Know what you need

One of the worst things a designer can hear is “Just make it look good”. This is because taste is subjective – everyone likes something different. A better question than “Do I like it?” is “Will my audience understand it?” or “Does it communicate the things I need it to?”

Part of designing something, especially something to attract a new design client, is to make sure that it also continues to connect with the client base you already have. An existing company should have an established brand, with style guides, signature colours and set fonts that fit their dedicated client base, all of which need to be accounted for in the new design. This brand is how people recognise you and your business. Going in a visual direction that departs too far from that would make it hard for clients to connect the new design with your company. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever do anything different, or make use of a current trend, just that some elements of your existing branding may need to be be used in that design to keep the visual connection.

To help with pinning down a suitable look or model for your design, we often show our design client a moodboard. This is a collection of images in different styles that we know embody good design while still communicating the right attributes for your brand. It narrows down the options for you while still providing enough variety that you can make genuine choices about the direction the project should go in.

Have all your information/content to hand as soon as possible

To some extent it’s possible to design a website composed entirely of empty boxes, but quite early in the process your web designer will need to pin down exactly what size those boxes need to be, and to do that they’ll need to know exactly how much text is going in them. This is particularly true for websites, where all these boxes will move or resize relative to each other and the size of the smartphone or computer they’re being displayed on. This written content is often referred to as ‘copy’, and it’s your responsibility to provide it. Your designer may be amenable to proof-reading it for you, or re-shaping it a little to fit better into your end result (for example, a narrated script for an animated advert) but no one knows your company or product as well as you do, so you need to be the one to come up with that initial content.

Talk about your budget

It’s a well known fact that you get what you pay for, but sometimes as a design client you may not be sure exactly what you are paying for. So much of design work goes on behind the scenes, and often the largest cost in the project will be labour time. We can help explain how long various parts of your project normally take, and this will be reflected in our initial quote, but you should take this into account when thinking about your expectations for a piece of design. £50 and £500 get you vastly different results, but that doesn’t mean that you have to leave with a shoddy design job. If you’re upfront about your budget during the initial consultation, the designer can factor it into the design. Something simple and smart can be really effective while still low-cost.

If your design is going to print, for example on a flier or catalogue, don’t forget to factor the printing cost into your budget too. Chances are that your designer will have worked with a few printers before, and will be able to suggest some options if you want to do it yourself. They will also have their own recommended printer, with whom they have a good working relationship. We always give you the option of having us send your finished design to print once you’ve approved it, so that all you have to do is wait for the box of shiny new fliers to arrive!

Charnwood Brewery

Branding a micro-brewery and standing out from the crowd


Give specific critiques

Designers are used to not hitting the nail on the head the first time, and will usually expect a certain number of changes. However there are definitely ways that you can help make this phase smoother when there’s something you don’t like. If you tell them that it’s ‘not working’ for you, but can’t articulate why then they won’t know what to fix. Be as specific as possible. Avoid vague words and onomatopoeia – asking for more “Pow!” or “Shazam!” really isn’t helpful. Instead think about the design as a whole, and then as it’s parts, and try to identify where the problem is. It might be that the overall atmosphere should be more elegant and subtle, or more young and bouncy, or more serious and corporate. Maybe the general design is fine, but there’s just one photo you don’t like because the person in it has a weird pose. Maybe you’d like the name of a conference guest speaker to be larger than the date of the event, because they are quite famous in your field and it will help to pull in ticket sales.

Make sure to also tell the designer what you do like, so that they know what to keep and what to discard. It’ll give both your morales a little boost and keep everyone feeling positive about the progress of the project, even as you start suggesting these changes. Anyone can give a negative view but it’s your verbal tone and your explanation of the problem that will turn it into constructive criticism. As my Mum used to say, “It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it – that’s what gets results”

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