Do you know how to talk to a designer?

Graphic designers and business owners often don’t look at things the same way. And this is great! It can add a lot to a project and give a business the creative edge that only a graphic artist can bring to the project. But often times business owners don’t speak the same language as a designer, so what is being said is not always translating how you mean it. My goal is this post is to help you, as a business owner, learn about how a graphic designer talks and thinks, and help you better communicate with us. The better the business owner and the designer communicate, the better your project will turn out in the long run! Often time’s designers aren’t provided with clear enough direction, so you can’t just hand them something and expect to see exactly what you want from the first draft without proper communication.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure you keep a good working relationship with a designer and get the final design you want.


Now I know you’re thinking ‘duh’ of course I speak to my graphic designer! It’s how I tell them I want a simple but thought provoking piece that captures the mind but lets the user understand right away what my product does, all the while leaving them in awe of my brands complexity (And yes that is basically a description I was given for the look and feel of a project once when I was freelancing), which is why I think it’s worth mentioning that the words you use can dramatically improve or hinder what results you see from a designer. Words like ‘modern’ and ‘different’ and ‘simple’ are often overused and under-descriptive. Rather than saying, “I want it to be simple” tell them “I want to see more white space in this area.” Use compound descriptive words like bold, block fonts or fluid and soft lines to help your designer get a better visual in their head. The more information they get from you, the easier it will be to come to the final product you have in your head.


A sure fire way to get results that visually resemble what you have imagined is to find actual visual examples to give to a designer. This can be other designed pieces you have seen or a sketch you made of what you have imagined. This gives a designer a very clear understanding of a layout or arrangement you have pictured in your mind. I’ve actually had a client once who printed out all the websites they liked and showed up to our meeting with them all cut up and taped together to show where she wanted things to go. While at first I was a bit confused and taken back because a client had never made me a collage before, but once the shock moved aside and we started going over it her vision was very clear. I could look at the things she didn’t fully know how to describe and understand them without any confusion in trying to understand her terminology, which would not have gotten her the same result as she wanted as quickly as her collage did.

Be Kind

Remember when your mom or Thumper from Bambi said “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?” Well they are both liars! When it comes to graphic design, you can’t just say nothing. If you hate a design, telling a designer why you hate and loath all they have done is better than saying nothing. Any designer worth their pay can handle good, bad, and ugly feedback (after all, most of us survived art school, and the chances you are harsher than our angry old professors were, is very unlikely!)

But let’s be clear; unloading on your designer about how he has failed at life, and has no clue how to design or what they are doing is not what I had in mind. Being harsh and honest is different than being a jerk and becoming a client they are going to fire. It’s really important that you get the final product you’re looking for and if you use constructive criticism, not only is it easier to understand, but it will help you get the brand you always dreamed of. If you are unhappy with something or don’t grasp your designers design concept, then try asking, “So can you explain your design process for this to me?” Once you hear their concept and ideas you may better understand or appreciate it and help you see if there vision is in line, or perhaps even build on your own with your designers. The great part about design is seeing your idea grow and come to life!

Step Away

Don’t send edits immediately after first viewing a design draft or revision. Take a good look, make some notes, and then step away. Take a break to do something else and then come back to it later. Seeing something new is not easy for our brains to process all at once, especially if you’re working on a large project. Once you come back to it again, you will notice things you didn’t notice at first. It gives you time to reflect and think of new ideas for a revision. Plus, it’s always great to proof-read content again before okaying a design!

Always Stay Flexible

Of course you have a vision, and it’s probably awesome. If you don’t, then this part will be much easier. When designing with someone it’s really helpful if you keep your mind open to other ideas. Remember, they are the designer and if you hired them for a project, you probably appreciated their work. They may have a whiz-bang idea for your project, so don’t dismiss giving them any creative freedom, even if you have a clear vision of what you want.

What If I Don’t Know What I Want?

Sometimes a client won’t know what they want something to look like. As long as you have content (such as text and images), a graphic designer can help you land on a design you will like. Designers like to get some creative freedom when working on a project (that is what they went to school for, remember?). It can be a fun, creative challenge for the designer and take the pressure off of you. Don’t be afraid to get their ideas or thoughts on a project. You did hire them for a reason so let them do their job!
The main points I’m working to get across are try to be clear, open and positive when working with a designer. Just because a first draft doesn’t come back exactly like you pictured it, it doesn’t mean you won’t get the end result you want. Creative ideas can be difficult for you to explain and for the designer to understand, but with good dialogue and a little patience you can get a fantastic result!

Cy SearsDo you know how to talk to a designer?