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During my 15+ years as a design professional, I’ve worked with a lot of different clients. Some are experienced buyers of design services – but most aren’t. A lack of even the most fundamental understanding of the design process can lead to a great deal of frustration, for the client and for the designer. One day it hit me. There’s an easy way of avoiding all this: communication! I mean, how is a client to know what it takes to get a great working relationship with their designer (and how to get the most out of their investment) if they haven’t been told? So here I am, telling you what to keep in mind:  

1. ARE YOU A GOOD MATCH?

(No, this isn’t an advert for an online dating service!) Before you hire a designer, spend a little time doing some research. Check out potential designers’ portfolios to see examples of their work. Talk to some of their other clients, are they happy with the service they’ve received. Why/why not? Ask for a meeting (a video conference is quick and easy) or hop on the phone with them – this often makes it easier to get a feel for how a potential business relationship will pan out. You don’t want to feel awkward when you give constructive feedback during the design process (that goes both ways) so it’s important that you feel like you can trust your chosen designer, and that you don’t have a massive personality clash!

2. BUDGET AND TIME FRAME

Most designers aren’t trying to con you into paying as much as possible. Some might, but they’ll find out the hard way that it’s not a good idea. Karma’s a biatch! So don’t be afraid to disclose your budget to your designer – when we know what we have to work with, we can figure out the best way to make the most of the available resources, together. Also, try not to leave things until the very last minute. Even though most designers will stretch as far as possible to hit a deadline, we do only have a certain number of hours in a day – and chances are you’re not their only client. In short: be realistic in terms of time constraints and budgets. We’re not magicians (oh, but how cool would that be?!) so leave enough time and resources for your chosen designer to do their job well, so all parties can be proud of the end result!

3. TARGET AUDIENCE AND DESIRED EFFECT

Few things are more frustrating in business than wasting time or money, or even worse: both! To avoid costly mistakes, have a clear goal for your project before you give your designer the go-ahead. What’s your main message? Your target audience? Involving your designer in this process means all parties know what we want to achieve – and remember: designers are problem solvers by default! Finding solutions to given challenges is our job – design is our tool.

4. SCOPE AND CONTENT

What does it cost to design a brochure? A website? How long is a piece of string? Of course it sucks to get a larger invoice than expected, because that brochure suddenly needed an extra 8 pages! To avoid such situations, it’s so important to consider the scope of the project before you give your designer the go-ahead. Planning, structuring, and even more planning is key! Make sure you have the final (and proof-read!) text and images ready to go beforehand, so your designer can estimate how many pages that brochure needs to be for it all to fit. Even better: create a quick draft of each page, and the corresponding content, with your designer. Putting in an extra effort prior to the actual design phase can save you time, money, and a great deal of frustration.

5. WHAT TYPE OF STYLE YOU’RE AFTER

Often, my clients tell me “I’ll know what I want when I see it!” Take some time to do a little research, so you can show your designer examples of styles you like, and that you feel work well. Pinterest is gold, providing an almost unending stream of inspiration for everything from logos and brochures, to web design and packaging. Kuler or ColourLovers allow you to search thousands of colour schemes. Awwwards is a big source of inspiring web site design, and Dieline is great for packaging inspiration. (The internet – what would we do without it?!) Magazine cuttings and photos are great too. Any designer will appreciate this insight into your style preferences! But, and this is an important one: being inspired by something does not mean copying. Designers don’t like being asked to copy someone else’s work. For starters, it’s illegal (and any professional designer will say no to such requests anyway!) – and besides, you’ll end up with a style that’s far from unique. Instead, show your designer examples of styles you like, and explain why it appeals to you – and the’ll use that as a starting point to create something unique just for you!

Ooops, did I say 5 things? Consider this one a bonus:

6. TRUST YOUR DESIGNER

You probably wouldn’t tell an electrician or a surgeon how to do their job (unless you happen to be an electrician or a surgeon). In the same way: try to avoid micro managing a design project. It’s the fastest and most efficient creativity-killer ever! Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t give constructive feedback as the project progresses, but when you’ve hired a professional it makes sense to let them do what they do best. If you’ve followed the advice above, you already have a designer you know you can trust, with the skillset you need – and you’ve defined the project scope and the desired outcome. I’d say that’s a pretty good foundation for a great end result, meaning you get to chill, and focus on what you do best!