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Preventing Frustrations with Graphic Designers

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Recently, I needed some design work done for my brand. Under a tight timeline and with many of my go-to designers busy, I headed to 99designs.

I scoured the site, found a portfolio I absolutely loved, then contacted the designer and sent over some quick examples of work I liked and my requirements for project deliverables.

We agreed on a price and she got to work, however, when I received the designs back, I wanted to cry. They completely missed the mark for me.

We went back and forth a number of times, but I felt each edit just moved further and further away from what I was looking for. I decided to close out the engagement and send it to someone else.

Now, as tempting as it was for me to blame the project’s shortcomings on the designer, ultimately, I blame myself. I was so rushed to receive a design, I didn’t take my customary approach of sending over a creative brief to kick the project off.

Whether you own a one-person business, a neighborhood restaurant, or a Fortune 500 company, it is inevitable that you will work with a graphic designer to create collateral and marketing material for your brand.

Like my experience with 99designs, I see many business owners become frustrated with the design process. They spend money to receive designs that are completely off base from what they were picturing, or they go through an endless cycle of edits only to receive work they are resigned to, or worse yet, never use. Wasted money and wasted time.

To prevent this from happening, it is critical that you take accountability for your role in the design process. As a client, you need to clearly articulate your expectations for a project.

Here are some helpful tips for making the design process go as smoothly as possible:

1.    Send over examples of work that you like and don’t like and explain why.

Always send designers examples of similar designs you like and descriptions explaining what you like about them. Conversely, send the designer examples of work you dislike and what you dislike about them.

2.    Make sure your feedback is specific.

Instead of saying, “I don’t like it,” comment on specific aspects of the design you’d like to see edited. Examples include font, layout, use of pictures/illustrative elements, colors. When commenting on these aspects of design, be as descriptive as possible. Saying it needs to “pop more” is vague and subjective. Instead, give descriptive feedback like, “The colors are too muted, I think we should use brighter ones.”

3.    Ask questions.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions before you dismiss designs. Understanding why a specific design was proposed and what the thought process was behind it can help you narrow down a design direction that will lead to more effective edits without having to start from scratch.

4.    If you’re going to invite others to provide feedback, be very intentional about who they are.

Treat this part of your business as seriously as you treat the rest of it. Sending out a proposed design to your mom, neighbor’s sister, employee’s cousin and other random constituents so you can get “objective feedback” is a dangerous game to play. Without being involved in the entire design process and understanding the context or goal of the design, their well-intentioned remarks can adversely impact the design process. If there is a group of people that will oversee approving designs, communicate that early on to your designer and get very intentional about who those people are. (I.E.: Our VP of Sales will sit in because she has frequent contact with our clients and understands how they perceive things.)


Engaging in the design process and hiring a graphic designer should be done with as much care and attention as you pay to the other areas of your business. It is important to map out your specific goals, intentions, timelines, and expectations for your project before you engage a graphic designer.

If you’re looking for a framework that will set you up for success, go ahead and snag the one I didn’t use in my anecdote above.

It covers the 11 key areas you will want to outline to your designer, along with examples of each so you are clear on what you’re looking for and the design process can go more smoothly.


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