A successful creative project starts with communication

Guest Author

October 22, 2019

If you’re hiring a designer to create a logo or brand, or a website that sells, you need to be on the same page. Designers and agencies all have varied processes for handling client briefs, and while face to face is usually the best way to get to know each other, when you’re working with a remote designer, it gets tricky to nail this first, crucial part of the process. 

What to expect when you contact a designer to work with you

If you’ve just sent them a message with “how much for a logo” there is a very, very slim chance you’ll get a reply or a number straight off the bat. Why, you may ask?

That’s like asking how long a piece of string is, and many designers see a client approaching with little to no information as a bad sign because the client may not even know what they’re looking for, and it often takes a lot of time for them to figure out what you actually need and then quote it appropriately if you’re not able to give them enough information when requesting a price. In the same manner as a carpet cleaner asks for how many rooms and size of your rooms before booking you in, a designer has certain information they need too.

Being able to provide your designer with some key information about your goals, budget and expectations, is crucial to getting them on board. While they will usually have their own briefing process they’ll happily involve you in if you seem like a good fit to work together, they may also disqualify clients who seem unprepared early on.

Most of this early stage briefing to outline the businesses needs, goals and project scope on happens on tools such as zoom or skype or via phone call and questionnaire, and then clients email in visual inspiration and references through to each other, but that creates a long chain of what I call “idea ping-pong” and is often a bit disjointed.

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The alternative a lot of agencies use in the early stages, is a written questionnaire, but this unfortunately has some pitfalls too, because the designers definition of what buzz words like “luxe” means, could be different to your idea and you need to really clarify what “luxe” looks like visually to each of you.

The other issue with questionnaires is that simple questions like “what is your target market” don’t really break down what the designer actually needs to know. 

A good creative brief should be easily broken down into many, small and specific questions or segments, around the business as well as the target audience. If you’re approaching the designer, these are the questions they are likely to ask, and are also things you should have put some thought into before embarking on a creative project.

  • Is this project a new business or rebrand of an existing venture?
  • What age range are your customers usually?
  • What price range are your products and services and how much does your average customer spend on your service or product?
  • Is this website to encourage sales, newsletter sign-ups, or provide information?
  • Are your audience and customers primarily male or female?
  • What location are they in, and what language do they speak?
  • What is the primary occupation of the demographic the design speaks to?
  • What are your business's long term goals for growth, and how will this design help?
  • Is your budget fixed or flexible, and what is the maximum you will spend on this?
  • Do you value a speedy delivery, or more room for strategy and revisions? 
  • Is there a deadline for this to be completed?

Be quick to offer this information and you’ll get higher quality designers wanting to work on your project, and a well defined scope that’s unlikely to change or go over the quoted budget later on after too many revisions.

Now, the visual part. This is where things get trickier. Often as a business owner, you’ll know why you need the designer after the first steps. But you may not be too sure on the style and visual appearance you want, and in some cases, those adjectives such as “professional” and “fun” may seem like an oxymoron to you even if you feel like you want both portrayed.

In addition to that, you’re unsure of how to explain the look of a certain font, and you have no idea where to start when searching for examples of those types of design styles.

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The best way to approach this is to search within your niche or industry for similar styles you like to use as a reference point, or look on places such as Behance, which contains high quality design work, rather than Google. 

Make sure you choose high resolution images, and the most helpful thing you can do when sending them to your designer is explain what about it you like. It’s also useful to send them examples of what you don’t like.

Sketches of your ideas also go a long way - don’t be afraid to sketch even the crudest example of your website or logo. You won’t be judged on artistic merit.

If you need help dissecting the “why” around your preferences, maybe have a little conversation with yourself during the reference hunting process that goes something like this:

The thing I like least about this design is ____

I don’t want to use the colour ___ because I feel it evokes emotions of ____

My audience are ____ so I think they will feel ____ about this style of design

The thing I like most about this design is _____

I could imaging using ____ element of this design for ____ within my project

This not only explains your reasoning for your preferences, but it gets you thinking more about the strategy that your designer will use in the work and guides them on how to execute it to align with your visual preferences.

Keep in mind, your designer won’t give you a carbon copy of what you send them in this stage, this is just to ascertain your preferences on a stylistic level.

Often another way designers and clients collaborate visually, is by using things such as mood board. Pinterest is a common method, as it allows easy and quick compiling of images into one board. Others use a simple Dropbox or Google Drive folder to keep things centralised, though these don’t always allow for keeping the visual ideas right next to the scope definition and important business goals.

A great way to keep things centralised is to use a tool specific for creating an online design brief. There are free options clients can use such as My Visual Brief and Holabrief, which enable you to go through a questionnaire process to hand to a designer, and cover the above steps in a simple, easy to understand way. 

If you are more of a visual person, you can even use the curated mood-board within My Visual Brief to pick from a custom curation of images for your taste, which then narrows it down for you - saving on search time. If you’re more concerned about marketing and brand voice or need help figuring out who your target market is, Holabrief is a more lengthy process but provides more graphs and brand-alignment tools. 

Overall, the important thing to note is that regardless of how you display or discuss your preferences and goals with a designer, the way you communicate in those early stages is crucial, so be prepared, be open to really thinking about your “why” and where possible, communicate with images accompanied by thorough explanations.

The author, Shelby Jansen, is an Australian creative industry technologist and brand strategist, founder at Hyperviolet Designs.

Castle Lab aspires to be a hub for the design community, may it be aspiring students looking for advice and case-studies, or professionals looking for a good laugh from awful client stories. We'd love to have you write on our blog, we are open for personal stories, interviews and opinions on the industry!

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