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Ask a designer: Client-designer collaboration


This post is part of the Ask a Designer series. You ask me questions, I answer them to the best of my ability. The questions can be about design process, branding, software, technical things – or even completely unrelated. Want to play? Leave me a comment here, or use the contact form.



How can a design-savvy-ish client work with a designer without driving him/her crazy with “ideas”?

by StoryHouse


As I hinted on Twitter, the answer that instantly comes to mind is collaboration. The only way to prepare the designer for continuous input, to be ready to explore other possibilities as they come up, to share their process with you as it happens, to welcome your feedback is by making it clear right from the start that you are looking for a creative collaborator, and not just a professional to outsource to.

It’s not as simple as it sounds, of course. Finding someone to effectively collaborate with requires a similar work flow, a process that makes sense to you both — not to mention having similar views on what makes a good design – otherwise there is no point in starting. In other words, you are looking for someone who is on the same wavelength – not an easy task. This is true for all kinds of collaborations, not just with designers.

So how do you find this elusive designer who is on your same wavelength? I really wish I could give you a definite answer, a step-by-step guide that ensures 100% satisfaction. Unfortunately, there isn’t one.

As with many good questions, the answer depends on the specifics you are looking for. The first step is simply to start looking at some websites and portfolios, and to talk to some designers. Here are some things to consider, in no particular order:

Do you love their portfolio?

I don’t mean analyze and take notes of bits you like and those you dislike. What I mean is, are there some design examples in there that you fall in love with at first sight? Are there pieces that make you go “I have got to print that and stick it on my wall!” (Or Pinterest board, or some other bookmarking site.) Yes? Then there is an excellent chance they will create another design you love. The portfolio is leaving you lukewarm? Move on, you clearly don’t share the same tastes.

Do they talk about their process?

Or are they willing to answer your questions about it? If they do, and if the process makes sense to you, and you can easily see the steps in a project realization where you could leave additional feedback and add your ideas, this is an excellent sign.
For example, when I take on a project, the first step is putting together an approximate time line, which includes clearly marked checkpoints when something is submitted to the client for their input, or when there is a time we should plan to chat.

What is your preferred way of communication?

How do you collaborate most effectively? Skype, email, phone, in-person? Is it a feasible way to communicate with this designer? (If you choose in-person, and they live on a different continent — as in my case, it might not be the best idea.) Your second-best choice may work as well, it depends on how much importance you give this.

Talk to the designer before starting the project.

It is important to get to know each other for a collaboration to work. I’m not saying you have to become best friends, but this is an excellent chance to see how they respond to ideas and suggestions, and whether you are on the same wavelength.

Make it clear from the beginning that you expect to be involved in the process, and to contribute ideas.

Just like in any other profession, there are different kinds of personalities among designers. Some will be thrilled at the idea, others indifferent, and some might run in the opposite direction. Needless to say, you are looking for someone from the former group.

When you think you have found a match, don’t just jump in.

Define the boundaries from the start.

Every designer will have a process they generally follow. Integrating extra interaction into this process as seamlessly as possible will prevent possible problems. For example, I generally like to take 3-5 days to just take in the information, research, brainstorm, and let the ideas take shape. Input at this stage might be a distraction – but talking at length about the possibilities before, as well as evaluating the directions that develop after are pretty logical steps. On the other hand, coming up with yet another idea/changing your mind after the initial concept has been approved would create extra work for the designer, and might be frustrating if the possibility was not discussed early on. If this is something that you think might happen, make it part of the agreement, discuss the possible extra time and cost beforehand. Knowing what to expect from each other is another important part of effective collaboration.

Last but not least, have fun!

This back-and-forth creative exploration should be fun, exciting, stimulating for both of you. If that isn’t the case – for either of you – then the match isn’t quite right. Build in a testing stage into the project timeline, and if fun and excitement are not part of the process, it’s best to stop before it’s too late and look for someone else.

I am sure I am forgetting many other important points, but I think if you get most of these right, everything else will fall into place.

Good luck, and keep me posted!