by Kimberly Witchey and Rebecca MacLeod
While a lot of the effort involved in successfully marketing an organization is logic-driven, the “right brain” side of the equation cannot be ignored. The ability to visually convey your big idea and successfully relate your value proposition with images, typefaces and colors is indeed an art. Unfortunately, when business-minded people work with creative professionals, there are times when that effort doesn’t go as smoothly as it could. Over the years of working with organizations of all sizes, we’ve noticed some key factors that help streamline projects for our clients when working with “creative types” that can easily be integrated and managed directly on the client side.
1. Communicate What You’re Trying to Accomplish - Then Let Your Designer Solve It
A good designer is your partner in accomplishing something bigger than just the graphic layout of a piece. Their core expertise is visually conveying an idea. They are specialists in taking concepts and turning them into visuals that demonstrate what your messaging and brand represent. Therefore, the best approach is almost always to explain your project in detail to your designer, then let them come up with a creative solution to visually represent your idea.
Sometimes this can be the tricky...especially when presented with a draft layout that needs modification. For example, when modifying a draft layout, you might give direction like this: “Use this photo instead, or put this bio under that gal’s photo.” This is fine, and necessary. However, it’s often tempting to take this one step further and get overly directive about other aspects of the layout that frankly just won’t work.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself making suggestions like “move this chunk of copy over there” or “nudge that chunk two inches to the right.” Rather than giving this direction, the best approach is to communicate with your designer what you’re trying to accomplish and let them figure out how to adjust the layout to accommodate. Give them the “why.” Feedback stating: “Move this icon a bit to the left” is different than stating: “This icon needs to move because it is a better visual representation for this other section of copy.” When your designer has all the pieces to the puzzle they can easily solve it.
Regarding other feedback: if a design just isn’t working for you, it is important to articulate exactly what about the design isn’t working. Otherwise, it’s going to be a laborious process getting to a place that you’re happy with. Your designer is skilled at visually conveying feelings, tone and intention. Clearly explain your position and the reasons why it’s not working. Just saying you don’t like something isn’t enough. Use adjectives to describe how it feels to you and what you’re going for instead. Give as much detail as you can, and again, let the designer work their magic until they get the design to a place you’re happy with.
2. Compile Feedback from All Players Before Sharing It with Your Designer
This is key to a project running efficiently. It saves time and money.
How many times have you delivered your feedback to your creative team only to compose another email two hours later with additional thoughts. And then Sally comes in with her two cents a few minutes later and it’s back to your email you go. Then, suddenly, without realizing it, you’ve not only given your designer conflicting feedback, but you’ve also added unnecessary hours to their timesheet while they try to make sense of it all. Sifting through multiple emails... Do this. No, wait, just kidding! Do that instead. Listening to voicemails, opening attached documents to copy/paste verbiage from, calling with follow-up questions or clarity. Opening their files, editing, saving, exporting pdfs, closing and then doing it all again x3 for just one round. Oof – that was exhausting just to read. Assuming your designer is working hourly, this is only adding to your invoice.
This happens all the time, and of course it is never with bad intentions. It’s often due to excitement or an impending deadline for the design deliverable and you want to communicate the changes ASAP. Or, maybe you’re traveling and not able to sit down and really focus on it all, so you ping your designer as you think of it. Unfortunately, hasty, disparate feedback generally has the opposite impact and slows down the process. There will always be an exception to the rule and that’s okay, but whenever possible, try to compile all of the feedback from all of the players (CEO, account manager, project manager, Sally from accounting) before you alert your designer that edits are ready.
If possible, start by having one person be the point person for your designer, and funnel all the feedback through them. This project manager should be responsible for seeking and gathering feedback and conveying to the designer in one chunk. Another added benefit here is that this project manager will also see everything and can mitigate any conflicting feedback on the spot before ever needlessly involving the designer. By doing this, your job will run so much more efficiently, your designer will be less frantic, and more often than not, you will save a bit of money.
3. Communicate Your Deadline & Plan on Three Rounds to Final
Business runs on deadlines. Design is no different. Treat your design project like you would treat any other deadline-driven objective. Without a deadline, it’s virtually impossible for a designer to effectively plan for your project. When you communicate the need, also communicate when you need it by. Designers are deadline-driven and eager to please, and when they have a date in front of them, they will make every effort to hit it.
Not all jobs or clients will be a well-oiled machine when it comes to working with outside resources but taking the step of putting together a timeline and schedule when you’re able to do so is highly valuable. If you’re not able to develop a schedule, your Project Manager or even the designer can help with this once they know the deadline.
When it comes to creative work, a good rule of thumb is to try to keep your job to three rounds of edits. Assuming you’ve followed our second tip, this one should be pretty easy to do. An effective schedule includes delivery dates for each round and deadlines for when feedback is due. This is especially helpful when you have a hard deadline to hit. Start with the end deadline and back it out to kick-off. Include three rounds of edits and final approval. It’s just human nature that when we have something tangible to work toward, it makes for a smoother job. Plus, it holds you accountable for your role in an on-time delivery. If you’re one of the lucky ones and your creative team provides a schedule for your job, including key dates for you, try your best to hit them.
Why three rounds? Assuming your job is running efficiently (see #2 above), three rounds is all you’ll need. Time and money.
4. A Little Appreciation Goes A Long Way
The rumors are true, creatives can be a sensitive bunch. Most of them are eager to please and want you to be happy with what they produce for you. While there may be some hardcore toughies out there, most designers will work tirelessly to ensure they are delivering something that makes you (and them) proud.
Designers are used to working under tight deadlines, and they know that the work they produce is often a direct reflection on you. Just recently, Kimberly was handed a quick-turn job and was told copy would be delivered at 10am for a PowerPoint deck that needed to be designed for a same-day final delivery. She cleared her schedule and shifted some things to make sure she was available to give full attention. 10am came and no copy was delivered. At 12:30pm she was finally given some direction, but instead of copy, it was a barely readable sketch from the CEO (who was out of the office) that needed to be somehow translated into a PowerPoint slide. Then, about three hours later, another sketch came in, followed by two more, and at about 4pm she finally had all the info she needed to complete the job. Yes. 4pm. For a same-day final delivery. It was a whirlwind of designing on the fly in tandem with the client. But here’s the thing, it needed to get done so it didn’t really matter. Kimberly had agreed to take it on, so she put her head down and made it happen. It wasn’t ideal, and it certainly wasn’t efficient, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. The difference here was that the client stayed in contact throughout the day and knew the impact this was having. She was working just as hard to meet the EOD deadline. At one point, after the final chicken scratch came through, the client sent a text: “Are you okay? How are you feeling?” And really, that was all the appreciation and acknowledgment Kimberly needed to catapult herself across the finish line.
It’s not a big thing, but sometimes, in this “needed-it-yesterday” world, it’s easy to overlook. Take some time to communicate your appreciation on those crazy jobs – it goes a long way – and makes a world of difference.
Note: Quick turn projects like this one are often accompanied by a rush fee from your designer.
While marketing is a logic-driven activity, success very often depends on creative professionals who can effectively bring your ideas to life. By keeping these tips in mind, you will be well on your way to securing on-time, on-budget, and thoughtfully-created materials that accurately and impactfully reflect your brand.
About the Authors
Rebecca MacLeod and Kimberly Witchey have worked together successfully on numerous projects. Rebecca has managed hundreds of design projects for organizations of all sizes over her 20-year career. She is experienced in working with in-house corporate designers, freelance designers and creative agency teams. Rebecca leverages the tactics above to get the best results for B2Launch clients when working with creative professionals.
Kimberly Witchey has spent 15 years in the creative industry (17 if you count her days interning while studying visual communications at The Art Institute of Seattle). Kimberly has worked for in-house marketing teams, small boutique firms and large advertising agencies – the kind that promise you dinner and large bonus checks if you agree to work past 7pm on a regular basis. To say Kimberly has learned a thing or two about how to work best with her industry peers goes without saying. In 2015, after a weekend trip to Bainbridge Island and some self-reflection, Kimberly decided to take a giant leap of faith. That Monday morning, she gave her two weeks’ notice and left corporate America to pursue a full-time career as a freelance graphic designer. Fast forward to 2018 and Kimberly isn’t looking back!