Working with designers for the first time is a lot like learning another language.
And even after you master the best ways to collaborate with them, there are always new ways to improve your workflow.
It’s hard enough to get work done without having to wade through unclear instructions, head-spinning feedback loops, and out-of-context edit requests.
The good news is that there is a better way to collaborate. We’ll help you figure it out!
Here are eight of our favorite tips for working with designers that will make the process as smooth as Italian gelato.
Let’s get into it!
Table of contents
- Tip #1: Know what you want
- Tip #2: Communicate clearly and promptly
- Tip #3: Give your project context
- Tip #4: Provide assets and other materials in advance
- Tip #5: Leave space for flexibility
- Tip #6: Set attainable deadlines
- Tip #7: Give detailed feedback
- Tip #8: Don’t micromanage
Tip #1: Know what you want
To get the gelato flavor you want, you need to speak the language of the gelataio 🤌 (the ice cream seller). This will save you from playing charades in front of the locals.
The same principle applies to collaborating with a designer.
The starting point of creating productive, solid business relationships with designers is to know what you want from them and how to put it in words you both understand.
There are two ways to try and get you and the designers on the same page.
- The right way: Provide creative briefs that outline essential project details.
You give details about the scope of the project, the target market, what issues you’re hoping to solve, and other relevant information.
- The wrong way: Have no idea what you want and make no effort to figure it out.
You write an email with vague instructions and hope the designers will magically ‘get it.’
Then, the designers come back to you with questions and countless drafts you reject. After long, frustrating feedback sessions, you finally get something you like.
The second method not only gets you on designers’ bad sides, but it’s a productivity killer as well. Not defining the parameters of a design project from the get-go leads to delays and endless, unnecessary revisions.
Successful businesses with strong brand identities and digital presences follow the first example. They understand their needs early on and create a basic project outline for the designer, thus removing time-consuming guesswork.
Also, by clearly and confidently mapping out what they want, brands help designers focus on what matters most: creating visual content and digital experiences that engage the customer.
But a creative brief alone is not enough for a frictionless creative collaboration.
On top of that, you need to make sure every bit of info directed toward your collaborators is as clear as possible. Here’s why and how to do it.
Tip #2: Communicate clearly and promptly
You envisioned pink unicorns, but the designers delivered black cats. Now, you find yourself browsing graphic designers online again.
However, instead of immediately blaming the designer, first, ask yourself:
Did I give them clear, meaningful instructions from the start? Did I communicate my vision and expectations promptly?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you should look at ways to improve your business communication skills. Searching for another graphic designer because your first choice ultimately “doesn’t understand your vision” won’t cut it.
But before you commit to an online course, a quicker way to improve communication within a design project is with design briefs.
Yup, another brief.
Design briefs contain key information about how the design should look and be used so that everyone involved in the making of it is on the same page.
Design briefs are a valuable communication tool with multiple benefits, including:
- Better understanding of design decisions
- Improved communication among stakeholders
- More accurate product presentation
- Higher quality prototyping
- Faster project approvals
However, not all design briefs are created equally. To fully reap these benefits, you need a high-level structure for your brief.
A good place to start is by asking these five questions:
- What pain point do I want this design project to solve?
- In what way does this project solve this pain point?
- How will my design enhance the user experience?
- Why is my design better than others, and how is it original?
- How do I want it to look and feel?
This will sound like an overstatement, but if you can precisely and accurately answer these five questions, your design process is more than halfway to success.
After you have your briefs in place, it’s time to build a story around them.
Well, not an actual story.
The next step is more about setting the scene for the designers to fully understand what role the project will play in the grand scheme of things.
Tip #3: Add context to your project
Have we mentioned information yet?
Yes, we have, and we’ll do it again. Providing the right information and context about a design project lays the foundation for its success.
In other words, the more a designer knows about a project, the better equipped he is to complete it successfully.
When it comes to interactive design solutions, context is key. Unimportant details, unrelated to the task but which describe external processes and factors, are contextual information that can make or break the project.
Let’s say a designer receives instructions to create an interactive web design for a site that publishes articles about autism.
They start working on it, and by the time it’s 70% complete, they discover that certain visuals or sounds might trigger people with autism.
They weren’t aware of this contextual information from the beginning, so they must waste valuable time editing the design to match the context.
That’s the power of information.If you’re unaware of it, it may cost you time and money.
So, the next time you meet about your project, include your designers. There’s no such thing as too much background or context about.
The more designers know about what is happening inside and outside the project, the better equipped they are to meet its requirements.
While we’re on the subject of spamming (in a good way) your creative collaborators with project-related knowledge…
Tip #4: Provide assets and other materials in advance
You know what else helps designers stay in line with your project’s guidelines? Having early access to your brand assets.
Brand assets like logos, colors, and style guides define your visual identity.
If you already have them, share them with the designer before the project starts. This will allow them to create a product design consistent with your brand identity.
If you don’t have a set of brand guidelines established yet, you might want to hurry up and create them. Why?
The terms “brand” and “business” are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the same. Many people can create businesses, but few can build a brand.
The power of brand consistency lies in its capacity to generate brand recognition.
Let’s test that theory quickly. Can you spot what’s wrong with this picture?
Of course you can! Who doesn’t recognize the famous logos of the Pepsi and Coca-Cola brand identities?
One of the key steps in building your brand is to create a visual representation of it. Important brand guideline elements include a logo, color palette, typography, graphics, website design, etc.
To build a visual identity, you have to:
- Evaluate your existing visual identity. You might find out you don’t have one or that the one you have is very limited. Whether you’re creating your brand guidelines for the first time or rebranding, an audit of the state of your current visual assets is required.
- Define your brand. Keep in mind that branding relies on human psychology. So, when you start defining or rethinking the principles that drive your brand, ask questions like: what’s my brand’s story and mission? How does it impact and add value to my audience? How do I want people to feel about my brand?
- Create a complementary relationship between your visuals and brand identity. If your visual elements don’t match your message and support your brand identity, people won’t believe you. Consistency is, again, key in branding. To build loyal customers who remember your brand, you need to earn their trust. One way to do that is by creating visual designs that match your identity.
After you’ve provided designers with your brand assets, you need to give them space to create the masterpiece you want to see.
Tip #5: Leave space for flexibility
Once you provide designers with the roadmap that contains your brand guidelines and project expectations, take a step back. Otherwise, you risk hindering the designers’ creative workflow and compromising the overall quality of the design.
Designers need the freedom to explore their creative thinking and experiment with different ideas.
So, let them take the lead.
We know it can be difficult to trust someone you’ve never worked with.
However, establishing trust in business relationships is necessary as it helps boost productivity and leads to more successful negotiations.
According to American Psychological Association (APA) research, business partners who trust each other are more open to new perspectives and work more efficiently on growing their businesses.
So, your ability to build a trusting relationship with your designer is one of the key ingredients to successful collaboration.
That’s easier said than done, however.
But here are some principles that will help you get one step closer to your goal:
- Understanding will get you far. Getting to know the people you’re working with, especially for long-term projects, is not a waste of time.
People become more open and engaged when you show interest in understanding their points of view. Moreover, if you don’t listen properly, you risk misunderstanding, which may cost you valuable time in the long run.
- Empathy is not a buzzword. One of the deepest human needs is to be seen and heard. Showing empathy when your designer has a bad day and can’t work at his best validates him.
Do you know what validation does?
It builds relationship trust. So learn to put yourself in your designer’s shoes once in a while, and you’ll create stronger business relationships.
- Honesty is the foundation for trust. The fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf tells the story of a shepherd boy who constantly fools villagers into thinking that a wolf is attacking the town’s flock. Because they eventually lose trust in him, they don’t believe him when an actual wolf attacks, so all the sheep get eaten.
The moral? If you want to build trusting relationships, always be honest and have the courage to talk openly about project issues. Or, you’ll get eaten by a wolf. 🙃
Trust is not the only thing that can help you stay flexible. A project timeline with some wiggle room for slight delays can take the pressure off designers.
Here’s what we mean by that.
Tip #6: Set attainable deadlines
Design projects take longer than other non-creative projects. The sooner you accept this, the better you’ll become at setting deadlines.
Working with a designer often requires a lot of back-and-forth, time-consuming revisions, ‘creativity time,’ design thinking, and edits.
It’s a creative and subjective field. This can make it challenging to express visions and ideas clearly, so misunderstandings often happen.
Another way to set attainable deadlines is to learn how they work. More exactly, deadlines mean discipline, and with the right strategies, deadline management doesn’t have to be dreadful.
Here are some tricks to ensure you set and manage deadlines realistically:
- Divide big project goals into small tasks. Big goals can be harder to tackle because multiple steps are involved and unexpected things may derail the project timeframe.
By breaking down your project into smaller tasks, you can prioritize and focus on one task at a time, which is much easier.
- Establish a solid communication system. Deadline management relies on good communication.
There are plenty of project management tools out there that can help you take your communication skills up a notch and make it easier to share updates, timelines, and project milestones.
- Track progress and adjust accordingly. Even if you set realistic deadlines, things will sometimes go differently than planned.
To stay on top of your project and ensure everything is running smoothly, track progress metrics regularly and make changes to your design project when necessary.
- Optimize your review process. A quick way to remove wasted time due to miscommunications is to rework your review process. Our visual commenting platform, MarkUp.io, can help you achieve that.
The platform helps you escape the feedback loop and manage your time more efficiently to get to project sign-off faster.
MarkUp.io adds context to feedback and makes edit requests visual, thus helping users skip endless email chains and deliver projects on time.
Lastly, when setting deadlines, leave enough buffer time between the review and implementation stages. (This only applies to those of us who still use email or Slack as a way to provide feedback.)
Of course, if you establish an effective review and approval process, you’ll not have to do that.
Here’s one way to optimize your design proofing processes.
Tip #7: Give detailed feedback
The thought of receiving feedback can be scary for many professionals, including even the best designers.
Although the word feedback doesn’t hold a negative connotation, many of us instantly think of it as something dreadful.
But if we look closer at its origins, the word feedback combines the verb ‘feed’ and the adverb ‘back.’ So, what is it about this word that makes professionals and designers fear it?
In most cases, it’s the way feedback is delivered. There’s a huge difference between constructively providing negative feedback and leaving feedback that makes designers hate their lives.
To get a clearer idea of how to deliver constructive, detailed feedback to your designer, here are some points:
- Remember, design is a step-by-step process. Creating a design, whether it is your brand visuals, UX design, or website design, takes time. Detailed feedback at every stage is mandatory to make sure the design project goes in the direction you want.
- Honest feedback is valuable, but being open and friendly is more valuable. When offering feedback, you want to be open and honest, otherwise you risk compromising the quality of the end result.
However, there is no excuse for being rude about it.
Avoid bringing too much emotion into the feedback and focus on what you can do to fix what’s wrong.
- Be clear and provide reasons. When leaving feedback on the design, remember that it isn’t designed for you but for the end user.
Personal preference isn’t really a reason to provide feedback on a design meant to attract users.
So, think about functionality and do your user research before reviewing, and clearly explain your feedback.
With a design collaboration tool like MarkUp.io, feedback sessions become easier, quicker, and more meaningful.
Our feedback platform streamlines reviews by enabling users to request and provide visual feedback on creative deliverables.
You can just drop a pin on the element you want changing, add your comment, and voila — clear feedback that takes seconds to understand.
Check out our guide on annotating an image to see how easily you can review design files with MarkUp.io.
Spoiler alert: It only takes three steps. 🤭
We know how eager you are to try out MarkUp.io, and we get it. It simplifies reviews a lot.
But before you go on to check our pricing plans or create a free account, you need to know more about how to work with designers — you have to trust the process and have faith that your collaborators are doing their part.
This means that you shouldn’t constantly ask for updates on any teensy project milestone.
Tip #8: Don’t micromanage
If there is one rule to collaborating with a designer, it is this: Never treat a designer as a tool used to execute your project plan.
As we mentioned before, all people have a deep desire to be heard and seen. Keep this in mind when the urge to micromanage clouds your judgment.
When you micromanage, you not only question your designer’s skills, but also make it look like you don’t trust him. This will most likely result in lower productivity, poorer communication, and a loss of revenue as the design process stretches on, and on, and on.
If you’re finding it difficult to resist micromanaging, here’s a new mantra for you: let go of what you can’t control.
Focus on facilitating rather than directing, and learn to manage expectations, not tasks.
If you master these approaches, you’ll create a much healthier collaboration with your designer based on trust and mutual understanding.
As promised, this was the last tip on our list. Now, designers you collaborate with in future will think you’re cool as ice (cream).
If being hip is what you’re after, we have something for you — a thing that’ll impress any creative professional. 😎
Over to you
Just like designers need to be seen and heard, business owners who have never collaborated with a designer must also be acknowledged.
This type of coworking can be overwhelming initially, but with the insights shared above, you’re better equipped to venture into your next design project.
You can take MarkUp.io’s easy-to-use design feedback tool with you.
We promise it will help you ditch endless email chains and make your reviews seamless.
Fasten your seatbelt and claim your 30-day free trial with MarkUp.io to make design reviews as easy as ordering dessert!