How to collaborate better with designers

Aug. 31st, 2010

For many people, the most fun part of creating a website or publication is the visual design aspect. I know it is for me. It's what I call "fun" creativity (as opposed to "not so fun" creativity, such as trying to transform a product data sheet into an interesting and engaging article for readers). And yet because visual design brings together people who are visual thinkers and people who are, well, not visual thinkers, projects can often go awry. Understanding and embracing the creative process, and keeping the channels of communication open, are the best ways to ensure a design that will meet your goals. In that vein, here are a few tips I've picked up from working on creative projects. Tips for working with visual designers:

  1. If you're not sure, ask. Visual designers don't expect everyone to know their jargon any more than a rocket scientist does. So don't worry about anyone thinking you're ignorant if you need to ask what sans serif means. Designers are always happy to explain terms. If they aren't, find a new designer.

  2. Use examples to illustrate what you mean. My interpretation of "modern" or "fresh" might be different than yours. It's always helpful for designers if you can point out examples of what you mean by certain descriptions.

  3. Define how you're using visual design terms. Or, ask your colleagues to do so. Many terms are misused, so you might think you're communicating clearly when you really aren't. (For example, I've seen the term wireframe used to represent everything from a content outline to a fully functioning HTML page mock-up.)

  4. Start with a creative brief. Sorry folks, but "I'll know it when I see it" just doesn't cut it. No one expects you to design your project yourself, but you are expected to be able to clearly articulate the goals, audience, key qualities, and/or characteristics of your project for your designer. Otherwise, you're just wasting time and money.

  5. Be patient. Except in rare circumstances, no designer will produce exactly what you want the first time. And maybe not the second. This back-and-forth process is perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of design (and writing!). More often than not, your ideal design is reached through feedback, discussion, and collaboration that happens during the design process.

By keeping these tips in mind, you can avoid some of the potential pitfalls in the visual design process, and instead focus on the fun stuff. Enjoy! Have some tips of your own to share, or disagree with any of mine? Leave a comment to tell me about it.


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