Not Design-Minded? Use These Simple Tips to Communicate with Designers

The design role is inherently difficult because business owners often depend on the designer’s artistic vision to tell them what they want. But design without purpose or direction isn’t really design at all, it’s art. While designers certainly are their own brand of magical, they are not mind readers, and if you hire them to design brand elements for your business, they need to know your vision.

When clients want more from their graphic designer, they gravitate toward phrases like, “We need to make it pop.” Despite their best intentions, pop is not a design term, and it makes graphic designers want to scream. But as a business owner, you probably haven’t spent enough time in the design world to know how to communicate your vision in a way that resonates with designers. Communicating with designers is not unlike a doctor talking to a patient about complex topics, you need clarity and common ground.

Communication is the secret sauce to any productive relationship, and it all starts with direct, clear language. Forget about the jargon, here are some simple tips for communicating with designers if you’re not a designer.

communicate with designer

Know What You Want

Business owners are creative in their own right (they’ve started a business after all) but when it comes to articulating branding and design, they’re usually working with a feeling they want their brand to emanate (i.e. thrilling, romantic, authoritative). While it’s a good start, designers need more than a feeling to transform your vision into reality.  


Prioritize Your Wants

Most branding agencies and design houses start each project with a creative brief. This is where we file all pertinent information and client direction the designer will need to execute the project. When preparing your creative direction, know that more information is not always better. Prioritize your goals and list of wants so the designer can clearly see the purpose of the project. Similar to a job description, label requests as “required” and “optional”.

Let’s say you own a gym and you’re requesting updates to your services page, direction might look something like this:

  1. First time viewers should be able to understand this service at a glance. (Required)
  2. Emphasize the new classes. (Required)
  3. Remove summer promotions and replace with fall promotions. (Required)
  4. Make the sign-up process more user-friendly. (Required)
  5. Newsletter sign-up is getting lost in the footer. Let’s try a sidebar. (This can wait)


Use Straightforward, Specific Language

communicate with designers


Fluff words say nothing to your designer. If you find yourself using subjective words, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Aim to use concrete words that leave little room for interpretation. This will help you get your initial vision across and provide constructive, usable feedback.

    • Instead of flair – You want bigger, brighter, or more dynamic images and graphics. You want more engaging copy.
    • Instead of fun – Do you want fun like a 6-year old’s superhero birthday party or fun like skipping class to smoke in high school? If you think the design needs more “fun” you might actually be looking for brighter colors, softer lines, and light-hearted copy.
    • Instead of pop – If it’s not popping then the design isn’t drawing in the eye the way you want it to. Ask the designer to put more emphasis on the logo, key points or visuals so they direct the viewer’s eye.
    • Instead of creativeThis one is a major slap in the face, though you probably don’t mean it that way. You want more of a dynamic design, something that doesn’t make you think, “I’ve seen this before.”


Provide Visual Examples

If verbal communication isn’t your strong point, save yourself the stress and share examples of design work you connect with or you’re drawn to. This will help guide your conversation and give you both something tangible to reference. Once you’ve compiled your examples, give notes on what you specifically like about the design. Think objectively.


No: I love that this poster feels simple, but it’s not.

Yes: I like the monochrome palette because it makes my brand colors more dynamic.  


No: These Illustrations are fun! I’d like some on my website.

Yes: I like how these illustrations make complex topics more approachable.


No: I like how this stands out from other websites in the industry.

Yes: I like the use of geometric shapes, whereas competitors typically use rounded edges.  


Don’t Ask For “Quick” Photoshop (or Formatting) Fixes

While Photoshop is much more user friendly than its earlier years, it is not a magic wand that instantly adjusts images for you. If that were the case, you would just do it yourself. There is time and work that goes into changing graphics and photos, so respect that time. There’s also a strong chance you’re asking for edits that won’t require Photoshop, but maybe Illustrator, InDesign or another software.

For example, you might think that changing the size or version of a logo on a business card is a quick fix. But once you dive into the project, that logo has to change on the business cards of all of your employees. Plus, if you don’t like the size on the business cards, it’s likely you don’t like the size of the logo on other printed pieces so, for the sake of continuity, this could take much more time than was initially requested. If you’re unsure how long something will take, just ask. Assuming might cost you extra money down the line and require extra time that the designer may not have accounted for.


Respect The Creative Process

Just as communicating your vision takes practice, designers need time to translate that vision. Your end result will only be as good as the time it is given. Some of this time can be cut down significantly if your designer is familiar with your brand or has the resources to familiarize themselves with it quickly. If you’re requesting a major project like a full rebrand, then the designer might produce different versions of the same core design to see what you are drawn to. There will be some back and forth, and there will be some back-to-the-drawing-board moments. As long as you’re both committed to project and respect the creative process, you will get there.


The Takeaway

Communicating to designers starts with knowing what you want, and then conveying your vision in unambiguous terms. Once you’re clear on your vision, be sure to:

  • Communicate your priorities
  • Be specific
  • Use visual aids
  • Respect their time
  • Respect the creative process


Now get out there and talk to some designers!