Get the Most from Your Design Partner

What is it that makes a design project glide along, on-target, and on-schedule vs. a project that ultimately goes off the rails? Sure, every job is unique, but after more than 25 years working in the industry, we’ve noticed common practices that can make a job a success or doom the project from the start.

Here are five insider tips to help you get the most out of a design partner.

Tip 1: Meet in person

At Planet Studio, we’ve found that it is more effective to meet in person, preferably face-to-face, for at least the project kick-off meeting and whenever we present creative. (The second best option is face-to-screen.) Design, on many levels, is intuitive. There is a vital part of design that requires an unspoken understanding and meeting face-to-face allows designers to read your body language and better understand the direction you are giving. We call this “observational intake” and it is much more difficult to do on the phone than in person.

Tip 2: A creative brief is your best friend

We love it when a client comes in with a clear strategic direction. The best way to start a creative project is to develop a “creative brief.” Getting your direction down on paper is a great way to ensure that everyone is on the same page and heading in the direction you want to go. Remember, you are the captain, we are your sailors, and as a sailor it is a whole lot easier to steer the boat if you are clear on the captain’s destination.

A creative brief is even helpful for small projects. Some design firms require extensive, lengthy creative briefs, however, even a shorter summary is better than none at all. For example, just answering the four questions below would be a great start:

  • WHO is the intended audience for this project?
  • WHAT do you want them to know/understand/do?
  • WHICH elements should be considered? (logos, colors, copy, etc.)
  • WHEN is the project due?

Questions like these help to quantify and convey many of the complex ideas in your mind to your designer.

Before sending a completed creative brief to the designer, pass it around to anyone who will need to approve the project. This can help you gain consensus on the strategic direction and save the project from being derailed later in the approval process.

Tip 3: Be open to new ideas

“I don’t know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do.”
— Frank O. Gehry, FAIA

The same thing applies to designers. This may seem a little counter-intuitive based on what was said above. Remember, a creative brief should give strategic direction and allow the designer to make tactical (design) recommendations. Let’s go back to the sailing analogy. You are an experienced captain, but you are sailing in new waters. Wouldn’t it be wise to hear what your local guides have to say? Perhaps they know about hidden dangers or quicker routes. In the design world, we are your local guides. We have been in this field for years, and we have already learned where a lot of those dangers lie. You’ve hired us BECAUSE of our experience and expertise in this area.

Allow us to do our thing — because our ”thing” is helping you!

Sometimes, designers present ideas that might seem strange at first, so ask questions and allow them to share their design logic with you. Just like a local sailing guide may pick a longer route around an island because there are hidden dangers below the surface, sometimes designers have strategic reasons that aren’t apparent. You are still the captain, however, so if you’ve considered our decisions and heard our explanation, we are open to feedback and direction.

Tip 4: Give all of your feedback at one time

If possible, we would love it if you would share the first round of creative with all your stakeholders before you give us any feedback. When you show the creative, let them know your opinions and proposed changes. This allows them to participate in the process, create “buy-in,” and support the finished project. Additionally, by designating one person in your company to be responsible for compiling and prioritizing feedback, you are able to reduce conflicting directions to the design team. Remember, sailors like to take direction from only one captain. So, for efficiency’s sake, please gather all feedback before presenting it to us.

Tip 5: Not all opinions are created equal

Be confident that your local guides are looking out for your best interests. The better we do our job, the better we can make you look. Sometimes jobs go awry because clients have gotten advice from a spouse or a buddy. (“Make the logo purple, my wife likes purple.” — actual quote from a client.) These people are great guides for you as a person and for your life, but they aren’t always the best people to go to for design advice. If you feel like their advice is good and has you re-thinking your decisions, go back to your creative brief. If their advice is bringing you closer to your end goal, by all means, bring it up to your design team. However, sometimes advice is just that: advice. You are the captain and need to make all final decisions with your original destination in mind.

These basics will get you started in getting better creative from your design team. By leveraging these ideas, you can prevent some of the common missteps that derail the design process and begin creating a partnership with your design team that helps you better accomplish your goals.

James Bizzell
Creative Director at Planet Studio.