10 tips for an effective design process OR you have more in common with your designer than you think

“Great clients share many of the traits of great designers: curiosity,…perfectionism, energy, confidence, idealism, wit. And they also love their work.” —Ellen Shapiro

1. Request a creative brief. If you haven’t been offered one, ask the designer or strategist for a creative brief: an outline of the project goals to be adhered to over the course of the project. Both you and the designer should sign off on the brief.

2. Identify the decision-makers. Before beginning a project, identify who in your organization needs to sign off on design milestones—and limit the decision-making to only that group. For larger-scale projects, identify concentric circles that range from a small core group responsible for daily tasks, to a decision-making group involved in key milestones and interviews, to the largest group who will be informed of major plans and progress.

3. Discuss visual preferences up front. If purple will never get past your CEO, then tell the designer. By clarifying the “go, no-go” elements up front, you and the designer can partner to problem-solve—and avoid disappointment. It’s also helpful for designers to see examples of designs you like so they can gain insight into your style preferences and expectations.

4. Consider creative assets. If you’re going to need photography for your project, consider what you may already own. Was a professional photographer present at a recent fundraising event? Do you know a student who photographed his classmates for a recent project? Taking stock of what you own and what you need gives the designer a head start on developing a creative concept.

5. Outline your content. Work in tandem with the designer and/or strategist to outline your content and determine headings, subheads, etc. The concept phase can begin without final copy, but having a sense of the hierarchy and copy length will allow the designer to produce a concept representative of the final product.

6. Consolidate edits. Edits are inevitable, of course—it’s hard to really “see” how your copy will look until it’s laid out. You may also be awaiting contributions from other members of your organization. But consolidating edits into a few “rounds” saves time and expense.

7. Align feedback with your goals. Goal-oriented feedback can be more successful than focusing on specific design elements. For example, saying “Our identity needs more presence” instead of “Can you make the logo bigger?” can result in broader, more effective solutions. It is the designer’s job to identify those solutions.

8. Give an honest and concise critique. As students, designers quickly learn the benefit of critique. They’re not looking for praise (okay, a little praise is nice!) and their feelings will not be hurt if you prefer one concept to another. Designers recognize the value of their client’s knowledge and intuition; direct critique is the shortest route to an effective solution.

9. Stay in touch. Let the designer know the best method for communication (do you respond best to phone calls or e-mail?). Introduce other members of your team with whom the designer will need to correspond (making sure to identify decision-makers). Determine the best method for deliverables (hard-copy or PDF?). For larger projects, set time aside for a weekly check-in meeting. It needn’t be lengthy; a simple status update can put everyone on the same page.

10. Trust your designer. Every pixel, every line of type, every hairline rule is carefully considered—the judgments we make on your behalf are based on our collective experience and education. We are good listeners. In Ellen Shapiro’s book The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Clients, Rick Valicenti says the best relationships occur when the designer is perceived as counsel, rather than a vendor (a mantra we echo here at Sametz Blackstone often). Building a good relationship is at the core of an effective design process.