How to Work With a Graphic Designer

One of my clients says I speak a language different than the normal person. This guy, in fact, says it to quite a few people, many of whom I hope will also be my clients.

Should I be concerned? Not really.

This guy is Jeff Davis, of Cornerstone Stewardship Ministy, and he provides spiritual stewardship solutions for churches and schools, a process that often involves extensive visual communication. When speaking of my unusual language, he’s referring to the idiosyncrasies common to the design industry. Foreign as they may seem, these procedures, technicalities and details all make a difference in creating a successful publication.

As a customer, you can enhance the work your graphic designer does for you. Whether or not you speak the language, there are things you can do to bring your publication from mediocre to great and from expensive to cost-effective.

The Creative Brief: Know Thyself

Who, where, what, when, how and why. These six elements of journalism are also fundamental to the creative brief, an outline that provides strategic direction for your project. To formulate a brief, good designers will ask lots of questions. Who are you? What are you trying to communicate? Which audience are you trying to attract? How do you plan to use the publication? And so on.

Such questions require self-examination. Know your organization, its mission and what you plan to achieve with this design project.

Brainstorming: Talk, talk, talk

“I’ll know it when I see it.” Designers often hear this from customers, particularly when creating logos. Designers hate this phrase. Such guidance is absolutely worthless and wastes valuable time, which in the end is your money.

Be able to communicate what you like and dislike. Talk off the top of your head, think broad and express ideas. Show samples of work you admire, styles you like and why you like them. Discuss your time frame and budget. Tell all right away, not some now and some later. In order to give you an accurate quote and produce a quality product, your designer should have no less than 50-100 descriptive words after you’ve discussed your project.

Decision-by-committee: A designer’s dread

Committees are the foundation of an organization, but sometimes they also are its ruin. The larger the committee, the more difficult the decision-making process becomes and the longer the project takes. If you are a committee, limit yourselves to 2-3 people at most. Appoint one person to be the communicator and allow only that person to pass information on to the designer.

Project management: Do your part

Producing a publication is a joint effort. As a client, accept that you have responsibilities and deadlines, just as the designer does. How you do your part affects how the designer can do his.

If providing text copy, make sure it’s complete and final before giving it to the designer. Even small changes, such as a word here or a sentence there, can affect the layout of the whole piece and add hours to the project. Submit your copy in digital format, with a minimum of formating. In most cases, the designer must undo all word processing formats because they don’t apply in design programs.

If providing photography, make sure it’s of good quality and properly labeled. Imagine trying to hunt for one specific image out of 20-30+ unlabeled photos (the camera-assigned numbers are not labels, by the way). When it comes to editing, yes, a good designer can improve a photo. But she’s not a miracle-worker. In the end, your publication will only be as good as the photos you provide.

A skilled trade: Trust your designer

Graphic designers are professionals with extensive formal training in their field. They are well-versed in art, advertising, marketing and communication. They must continuously study new trends and technology. They do this day in and day out, and they know their stuff.

Realize that graphic design is not fine art and does not convey personal expression. Rather it is a means of communication and conveys a message to a public audience. You hired your graphic designer to communicate this message. Listen to her advice. Consider his reasoning. Trust your designer.

4 thoughts on “How to Work With a Graphic Designer”

  1. I’d like to add to your list. Churches, as the client, should know their time frame and their budget. Be prepared to discuss this with the designer in the initial conversation.

    As a graphic designer (inhouse for a religious organization and freelance for churches), I quite often run into the situation where the client has unrealistic expectations of how fast I can complete a project or for what cost. Understandably so, churches must work on a budget. I usually offer a discount (which still seems too high for some churches) but in doing so, it’s necessary to fit their projects in amongst other, full-price paying customers.

    Designers have a phrase that says you can have your project two of three ways: Quality, fast, or cheap. Only two. Not all three. I think this holds true for most business services.

  2. 10 of the biggest mistakes and misconceptions made by churches, ministry organizations and Christian media organizations in working with designers and consultants. (Paraphrased from “Branding Faith” by Phil Cooke):

    1. Assume That You Don’t Need a Consultant

    2. Don’t Check the Consultant’s Track Record

    3. Never Give a Consultant Access to the Top Person in the Organization

    4. Have Middle Managers Criticize the Consultant’s Recommendations

    5. Nickel and Dime Your Consultants

    6. Be Afraid the Consultant Will Take Over

    7. Don’t Take the Consultant Seriously

    8. If the Consultant Makes a Mistake, Get Rid of Him or Her

    9. Don’t Recommend the Consultant to Others

    10. Only Use Consultants for Short-term Projects

    For more information, buy and read the book! “Branding Faith” by Phil Cooke

  3. A word to churches: Pro-Bono does not mean “nothing better to do.”

    Graphic designers regularly offer their services pro-bono (as do many other service industries). It’s our way of using our skills to the glory of God. However, quite often our work is unappreciated, taken for granted and abused by the very people who benefit most from it.

    Please understand a pro-bono project requires the same amount of time as a paid job (both yours and mine). If you and I schedule an appointment, please respect my time as important as the person you are paying. Understand that the product I create for you is a valuable commodity – I’ve put a lot of work and knowledge into it and people willingly pay big bucks for it. And finally, allow me to do the work I know best so you can do the work you know best (that is, unless you’ve studied art, graphic design and advertising in divinity school).


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