How to work with designers and ace creative project - Design Buffet

Working with “creative” people can be difficult. If you work with one, chances are you’ve had trouble expressing your thoughts or speak their language to produce desired outcomes.

As a marketing agency, we’ve been on both sides of the fence – having struggled to sell our creative work, and witnessed clients as they get frustrated to tell us what they really want. Not exclusive to Vietnam, this scenario has happened everywhere in the world, and usually results in mediocre work with disappointments that later transform to distrust towards marketing / design industry.

It doesn’t have to be such a irritating journey. Designing is not rocket science, but a process essentially based on logic and common sense. Within this process, we identify problems and look for suitable solutions – a common ground for clients and designers to communicate effectively and get the job done, which we’ll show you in this article.

First: what is design?

Logos, brochure or business cards tend to pop in our minds whenever we talk about design, but that’s only a small piece of a big pie. In reality, design has many applications across different fields aside from graphic: experience (UX), product (smartphones), system (OS) and culture (organizations). In terms of noun, design is a solution to a specific problem, while the verb indicates the part where designer turns their visions into concrete results.

Ever got goosebumps when watching a movie, or feeling motivated when working in certain place? If you do, that’s the proof of what a good design is – bringing a memorable experience that make it seems like there was never a problem in the first place, or that it’s easy to achieve. Good design is often intuitive and a pleasure to appreciate, yet tend to be undervalued until we experience the poor ones.

Most of the time, design is often thought as very simple e.g. creating User Interface for a website, and the looks are more focused on than how it works. However, if the website doesn’t work, the design is a failure. This is why communication is vital in any creative project – to avoid simplification of what design is, and to make sure functions and visuals are aligned for the ultimate goal.

Communication gaps

Before we discuss about communication, what you need to understand about marketing & design is that, they aren’t art, but science. This means for every problem, we take a deep look and form hypotheses on how to solve it, then test them. Ineffective results are casted away, and those that work are tested again until they bear fruits. It’s an constant trial-and-error process before we can arrive to that Aha! Moment. Do you think an iPhone was created in one shot?

Like the best generals and leaders of the old world, we do make mistakes. Instead of blaming and hating, take a deep breath and calm down, no designers want to shoot themselves in the foot. Empathize, communicate and work together to get the job done, isn’t it what we all want?

Now, let’s take a look at some gaps that put both sides on edge.

“It’s terrible. I don’t like it”

To some, it’s an insult on purpose to intimidate designers. To others, it’s an honest comment before moving on to other feedback. The truth is, this kind of comment will severely affect designer’s morale and creativity, which will hurt the commenter in the end. Even professional designers will develop resentment towards you, who may be patient to guide you back to the right path, but can only endure so much before they have enough.

Why so serious? It’s because you give a judgement, not communicating the feedback that can be analyzed for proper revision. Remember: designing is problem solving, not guesswork. Every element used in a design has a purpose, ask about it and how it helps solve the underlying problem.

Demand a trial work for free (Spec work)

Do you go to a restaurant and demand a meal, and only pay if you like it? If you’re the restaurant owner, would you agree? If you do, you have to commit ingredients, labour work and facilities to cook – all of which are limited resources that have opportunity cost. Indeed, the cost of creating such meal for a free trial and not getting paid is much higher than the cost of finding new customers. This applies to every job, including design.

Don’t misunderstand spec work and pitching. A pitch requires a formal Request for Proposal, detailing your requirements, judging criteria and timeline, as well as a negotiable pitching fee. With spec work, you just give designer a brief and ask for a demo. The problem with spec work? The results are only a fraction of what a designer is capable of, no matter how thorough your brief is. This is due to the doubts that they may not win the project or being taken advantage of.

How, then, can you know if a designer or agency is capable enough? Ask! How do they approach problems? What suggestions do they have for current issues? Any case studies? When you’re done asking, put your FBI hat on and look into their profiles online. Are they associated with fraud? Is their work applied in real life or is it just a dream? Keep in mind that designers can do the same to you to decide that you’re worth of their time.

Telling designers how to do their jobs

We all have ideas on how a certain job should be done, and we can’t help but want to be a part of the solution, or at least help creating one. Yet, you don’t tell a chef how to cook, you don’t tell a doctor how to cure, you don’t tell an architect how to build. Why would you tell a designer how to design?

Similar to other admirable jobs, Design as a craft requires observation, logic and years of practice to become a professional. They should be treated as consultants, not tools. Don’t tell them to use this color, that elements, move X to Y or how to ideate. Instead, question the purpose of ideas, the placements of elements, the use of colors and link them back to the problem you want to solve.

If you’re an experienced designer, the rules still stand.

How to improve communication?

The root of all communication problems is assumption. As clients you want to have quick results, but sometimes too busy to invest proper time into the brief. Therefore designers have to assume what you want, which later results in something you don’t want. Why not start properly in the beginning? Always spend a block of time to talk with designers, make sure they understand everything about the problem that’s bugging you.

Ask, ask more, ask further, and ask again if not clear, leave no stones unturned. Better ask stupid questions than to look stupid when shit hits the fans. It is expected from both  designer and client when engaged in a project. If clients can’t answer questions about the problem, there’s no problem to be fixed, and the outcomes are just art. If designers can’t explain simply and clearly the reasons behind the designs, they’re actually artists, not designers. Art is for entertainment, design is for solving problems.

While it’s for intended audience with designer’s viewpoint, it’s hard not to feel the design is your brainchild, and that it should bear your mark. This is understandable and doable – just share your preferences with the designers and discuss how such elements can be implemented in the design, then work together to a mutually agreed solution. However, be ready to compromise as you don’t want an unrecognizable mess in the end.

Give input and feedback that builds and completes the design, not undermining designers or blaming them for failing to provide the “perfect work” in one shot. Own your project, be an active partner and everyone will benefit. Empathize with fellow humans, communicate well, don’t guess, and have faith.