Get the Best from Your Graphic
by Keren Taylor
Working with graphic
designers, illustrators, and artists can be challenging, whether the project is
a book cover or a bookmark. Designers need a context for their designs. They
need to know about vibe, feeling, tone, space, shape, and message. If you
aren’t used to talking about such things, you can get into some frustrating
conversations and, even worse, cause delays.
But certain tactics can help you
navigate this relationship. You probably know the points you need to convey and
just need to find the right ways to communicate them. Here are seven steps to
Educate your designer. Before any
significant conversations can take place between you and the designer about
design, you need to explain what your project is all about. Create a document
that explains, as concisely as possible:
· the concept or story
· who the author is (in the case of
· the primary audience and any
· the project’s purpose and goals
· how the project is unique in the
context of similar works
· how it will be used or marketed
Does this sound like the press kit
for a book? It should. The very same information that a reviewer or reporter
needs is what a designer needs as well. So now you might be thinking, “OK. I’ll
just give the designer the press release and publicity materials for the book.”
You could certainly do that. But designers are not editors or writers, so
inundating them with material that they need to read may overwhelm them. And,
like you, they probably are working on multiple projects. So, help them out by
giving them a condensed document. Use bold headings and bullet points to keep
it interesting and make reading easy.
Follow up with a phone call to
clarify and answer any questions.
for options up front. Design is a
matter of personal taste as well as specific goals and standards. Great
designers stay on top of current trends, colors, and styles, and they act as
your visual translators in getting your message out to your audience. But designers
can go astray, for a million reasons. You know your project and your audience
better than anyone, and you need to be able to guide and direct their work.
That is very difficult to do if a designer gives you only one version. A
reasonable approach is to ask a designer—at the very beginning—to
provide you with at least three different versions. These should be drafts, not
finals, so the designer won’t have to sink a ton of time into the project at
Take time to reflect. When you
have drafts to review, it’s extremely important not to respond to the designer
right away, no matter how euphoric or frustrated you might be. Print out the
designs. Share them with colleagues whose opinions you value. Share them with
people in your target audience. Sleep on it. Think about the goals of the
project, and, most of all, give yourself time to come to a clear understanding
of your own perspective on each design. Ask yourself what you like, what you
don’t like, what confuses you, and what aspects really work.
Then, pick up the phone.
Comment without emotion. Imagine
your designer is on a steep ladder, paintbrush in hand, and your job is to
provide guidance on painting the perfect ceiling mural. An outburst of rage or
ecstatic approval from you only makes revisions more difficult.
Tell the designer what you
think—what you like, what you do not like. Be clear. Be calm. Hopefully,
one of the draft versions is close, so you can ask for further work on that
one, or perhaps you like some elements in each that could be combined. Keep
things light. If you need to ask for drafts in a completely different
direction, say so, but curb any inclination to show anger, frustration, or
disappointment. Think of this as a joint construction project or a joint puzzle.
Communicate in more than one way.
You might not need to resort to smoke signals, but it can be very useful to
give feedback by email as well as by phone. This helps the designer understand
your ideas more fully. When you are speaking, repeat your points, using
different adjectives or examples. Try to avoid broad, vague comments such as,
“It needs to be stronger.” What does that mean? Bigger fonts? Bolder colors?
Fewer design elements? If you are struggling to say what you mean, try to find
some printed examples that produce the effect you want. But be sparing with
this approach—it can limit designers’ creativity and make them feel
confined. You need to encourage and inspire, not restrict. If you suggest
specific images (such as a fountain pen to signify writing, or a hamburger to
represent fast food), you run the risk of designers taking your suggestions
literally. Instead, give them the big picture of what you are trying to
accomplish, and let them unleash their creativity to give you what you want.
to goals. In the middle to later
stages of a project, it is easy to get off track and lose sight of some of the
basics that you discussed at the beginning (see #1 above). It is your job to
keep the designer focused on your project’s specific purpose, audience, and
message. You may feel as if you are repeating yourself. That’s okay. Repetition
brings clarity, and that’s a very welcome thing in this sometimes nebulous
process of creating a visual representation of a concept.
Celebrate success. The project is
completed, and you have a fantastic product. Thank your designer and
acknowledge the design’s contribution. Give the designer credit on your Web
site, inside the book, or on the back of the brochure. Recommend good designers
to colleagues. Pay them promptly, and most of all keep them in your posse.
Keren Taylor is the editor
and art director for seven anthologies from WriteGirl Publications
(www.writegirl.org). She has worked with dozens of graphic designers on
everything from books to business cards.