Selecting and Working with a Graphic Designer

Brochure for a University Arboretum. Design by Communication Results

Brochure for a University Arboretum. By Communication Results

Lots of great offline feedback to my last post, Why Design Matters. Designers and writers can be great partners for improving communication effectiveness and meeting business goals. Following these tips can improve your communication tools and your business results:

Focus on audience and outcome. What do you want someone to do as a result of your piece? This is where you should start when determining how to approach any tool you need to put together. First ask, “Is this the appropriate vehicle or venue to reach decision makers?” Then, “What do I want the reader to feel or do as a result?”

Hire a designer who understands business communications. Your designer should understand that the role of business communications is to influence behavior and achieve business objectives. Err on the side of a designer with a communication degree rather than (or in addition to) an art degree. You need someone who will read and even challenge your copy and grasp your intent. If you are using an outside design firm, make sure they clearly understand the culture of your organization and have a sense of your current visual identity. Many designers come with their own “look.” What you need is designer who can create or work within YOUR look.

Newsletter design for a law firm. Designed by Communication Results.

Newsletter design for a law firm. By Communication Results.

Leave time in the production schedule for design. Since design is a close-to-last stop, designers are often asked to make up lost time in the production schedule. Leave time for your designer to read copy and develop clarity around the goals of the piece. It is helpful if the content owner or client has been thinking visually and has secured available photos or at least cleared the path for the designer to set up photography or art.

Simplify your message and your visual presentation. Remember two important facts: Most people live in a constant state of information overload. Because of this, people skim—they don’t read. The writer should ruthlessly pare down the copy before it gets to the design phase. Some designers can help you simplify your message. My personal design goal is this: if no one reads a word of your body copy, are they still getting your message through the pictures, heads/subheads and captions? These are pieces that I am usually developing or honing for my client.

Design also needs to be simplified. Today I see frequent examples in which design is more about “maxing out” technology/fonts than it is about focusing on the needs of the reader.

Learn the Language. The writer or project manager should learn how to communicate with a designer. Remember that design possibilities are infinite. Have an idea about what you want. “I’ll know it when I see it,” is not clear direction. Even sharing sample of things you like and don’t like is a great help to your designer.

Understanding the value added by graphic design will help you to forge a better partnership with your designer, which will ultimately improve message delivery and lead to better business results.

© 2009 Jocelyn Canfield, ABC

This article originally appeared in IABC’s Communication World Bulletin


About jocelyncanfield
Graphic Designer/Writer/Photographer and owner of Communication Results

One Response to Selecting and Working with a Graphic Designer

  1. CASUDI says:

    This is excellent advice, and I say this from the agency side, where we were far more involved in the graphic design side of marketing communications. The challenge was; not only did we have to explain to the client what WE required from them; but more importantly, we also had to educate them as to what questions should they ask us! Your outline would have been the perfect introduction!

    The same is very true in the client collaboration process when we’re creating a one-of-a-kind residential design; it seems the hardest point to get across is the importance of time spent planning at the very beginning of a project. It seems to the client that nothing is happening, and why aren’t we calling in the demo crew to get started! When we are successful in getting the client to understand the value of planning, it results in budgets met, completion dates on schedule, and a successful design for our clients and a win for us.

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