Who doesn't agree that design is important in marketing? Design not merely helps to reinforce your message, it can make you drool in the way that mere copy never can (and I say this as a verbal person who loves reading). The flip side of the importance of marketing design is, of course, that you have to work with designers.
Once in a while you work with a designer who can take your "I want something pretty, but corporate, and use our brand colors but do something different and fluid" and turn it into a fabulous design. (Thanks, Mel!) But lets face it, that's really rare. So here are some tips for marketers and business-owners on working with web or graphic designers (whether they are employees, freelancers or a business services provider).
Give detailed instructions.
This is the most obvious but also most important tip. Especially when you start out working with a new designer or provider, make sure you write down every little thing you can think of. Here are some common aspects I often forget to specify:
- The size of the design (in pixels or inches or whatever works for you)
- The purpose: Is it for print or web? Will it be used in your blog and have to fit into the blog column? Is it a direct mail piece that has to fit into a certain size of envelope?
- Do you have preferences on how the design should be laid out? How many columns? How much space should the image take up?
- When do you need it?
And make clear what you cant do: e.g., change the colors in your logo, use serif fonts, whatever your guidelines are. Which brings us to . . .
Share your brand guidelines (if you don't have them yet, create them), samples of your current or past materials. Explain clearly how much creative license they have.
Tell your designer about your audience and what you're trying to do with the piece (website, brochure, whatever). Ask for ideas that will help you better reinforce your message through the design. This is what your designer does best, so use her expertise.
Build in time for revisions in the plan.
Never assume that the first iteration will be perfect. Build in time for at least one major revision (you hate the whole layout) and a couple of rounds of minor revisions (changes in copy or stock images).
Ask for options.
Especially if you're unsure of how you want the design to look like, ask your designer to present multiple options you can choose from. That way, you can be more specific about what you want and pick and choose elements of each study that you like. ("I like the header in study 2 but the cool colors in study 4.") Of course, elements of different studies might not work together, but this gives you a chance to decide what is closer to the ideal design for your purposes.
Be willing to revise copy.
Often, once a piece of copy is inserted into the design, there will be hanging lines and clunky bits. Instead of having the designer work extra-hard to fit your text into the design and have it look perfect, it helps if you're willing to give your copy another pass and edit it to work better with the design. If I have a two-column email, for example, I wont know until the copy is inserted into the design whether the two columns are of the same length. While you can play with the widths of the columns, you might want to shoot for a certain proportion between the column widths and achieve the desired length by editing the copy down (or up).
Keep lines of communication open.
Tell your designer that you're willing to answer any questions at any stage in the process (and be sincere!) Ask to see works in progress and be quick with your feedback if you think something isn't working. By no means should you micromanage, but don't leave your designer hanging and have them work for a week to perfect a design that you then realize you hate.
Work with your designers communication and working style.
Does your designer prefer formal emails or free-flowing IM chats? Does she like the structure of a daily call or the freedom of knowing she can Skype you whenever she hits a rut? Does she work well with clear instructions ("I want you to use #7093DB blue and #737373 gray") or with creative freedom ("We want something that catches the eye and really reinforces the message in the copy")?
As far as you can, accommodate their working styles so that you're encouraging their creativity and not stifling it.
Be clear on who's the boss.
Take your designers advice as long as it doesn't interfere with your brand and your message. Even if you have a brilliant designer, you might not want to change your logo colors for one ad campaign (though if I trusted the designer, I'd definitely consider their advice). Do not accept a web design that makes for bad usability or SEO, however amazing it might look. Let the design accentuate your message, not dilute it.
At the end of a project, offer positive feedback on what worked in the process and what the designer did that you liked. (For example, "I love how you incorporated our logo colors in the design" or "I like that all the elements were well-balanced, despite there being a lot of copy.") This helps to build a relationship, lets the designer get to know your style, and sets the stage for even more efficient engagements in the future.
Do these tips work for you? What is your favorite designer horror story?
Succeed at your web design:
Unmana is the co-founder of Markitty, a tool that recommends actions to improve your online marketing. She writes about marketing for startups and small businesses on the Markitty blog and can be found on Twitter @Unmana.