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

Creative work is what gives your brand its spark–a spunky voice, a noteworthy personality, and kickass visuals! Each of these elements can give your brand that extra somethin’ somethin’ that will attract an audience and make them want to stick around. What can be challenging is learning how to communicate with the creatives (visual designers especially) so they can develop these elements for your brand in an efficient way and get you exactly what you want. Let’s take a look at how to outsource creative design services, how to communicate with designers, and how to get exactly what you’re envisioning for your brand.


How to Outsource Graphic Design

While small businesses might outsource tasks like social media, content marketing, website design, and graphic design, even large companies take some of their in-house work and hire someone else to get the job done. Alibaba, China’s largest eCommerce business, outsourced their copywriting to an expert in the Philippines. Outsourcing can sound intimidating–cost, trust, and communication can feel like an obstacle. And if your small business thinks they can get tasks done internally, then why outsource? Outsourcing leaves you time to serve your brand and your clients in the best way possible by handing off tasks that could be completed more efficiently outside of your brand. Because of this, outsourcing improves your opportunity for growth. You can outsource almost any business task you can think of–bookkeeping and social media to graphic design and creative work.


How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Designer?

Outsourcing graphic design is certainly a lot cheaper than the upfront cost of hiring a full-time employee at your small business to do all things design. When you consider the amount of money, time, and opportunity you’re saving, the thought of paying someone else to do the work doesn’t seem so intimidating. Having a full-time designer working for you and only you seems convenient, but it certainly isn’t always a cost-effective decision for a small business owner. Unless your small business has a HUGE graphic design focus, the consistency of needing graphic design work is up and down. One week you might need 35 hours of design for a large-scale project while the next week you could need only one small design completed. So how much does it cost to hire a designer to work with your small business? Expect to pay anywhere from $80-$200 per hour for graphic design. Of course, this all depends on location, the company or freelancer you hire, and your needs. This price range can also differ revolving around the type of design work you need to be done, the extent of your project, how much experience the designer has, and whether you hire a freelance designer vs. design agency.


Freelance Designer vs. Design Agency

As we said, the cost of outsourcing a designer can vary, and one of the scenarios that can drastically shift the price range will depend on whether you hire a design agency or a freelance designer. Let’s look at the difference between hiring a freelance designer vs. a design agency so you can decide which type of creative might be best for your small business.

Design Agency Freelance Designer
Communication with agency designers is usually more formal and time-bound. Communication with freelancers tends to be more sporadic, but you might be able to reach them at times you wouldn’t normally reach an agency (i.e. Later at night, on the weekends)
Agencies hire designers that are professional, experienced, and can handle the expert design jobs they’re hired for. Freelancers may or may not have the extent of professional experience that an agency designer has.
They have fixed working hours, so you always know when they’re available to be reached. They don’t usually have set schedules, so you could be playing phone tag or going back and forth in emails at odd times during the week.
You’ll always get your designs on time! Agencies are almost always loyal to their deadlines. Freelancers tend to take more time completing design projects and are more comfortable extending deadlines.
Agencies tend to charge a bit more for design work than freelancers do. Freelancers are generally a bit cheaper than agency designers.

The choice between freelance designers vs. design agencies is a business to business decision. One might be great for a small tech company while the other could be a perfect fit for an eCommerce business. Decide how you like to communicate, what you’re willing to pay, and what feels best for your brand.


Communicating With Designers

“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.”— Paul Rand

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 aren’t mind readers, and if you hire them to design brand elements for your business, they need to know your vision. How do I explain what I want? Do I give them examples of what I’m looking for? Can’t they just read my mind?! 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 with designers about your vision in a way that resonates. 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.


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. Find specific ways to communicate your vision by showing examples and having a clear direction instead of a jumbled mess.


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. (Optional)


Use Straightforward, Specific Language

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 “creative” – This one is a major slap in the face, though you probably don’t mean it to be that way. You want more of a dynamic design, something that doesn’t make you think, “I’ve never seen something like 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 communication with designers 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’s 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 like how communicating with designers about your vision takes practice, designers need time to translate that vision too. 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 such as 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

Just like deciding whether to hire a freelance designer vs design agency, communicating with designers starts with knowing what you want too. Then you have to make sure to convey 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 that you’re an expert on the subject, get out there and talk to some graphic designers!