Top 5 Tips for Working with Designers

May 13, 2011

1:30 pm

This is a guest blog post written by Tyler York, CEO of  Trisse.

A few months ago, before we started working on Trisse, my co-founder and I created a 99 Designs submission for a side project called We never ended up implementing the project, but we learned a lot about how to work with designers and help them maximize their results through your feedback. We wanted to share our five big lessons learned to help other entrepreneurs get better results from the designers they work with.

Tip #1: Make a clear outline of required features, then leave the rest to the designers

We found that many people are too specific when they create requirements for their design, digging into details that limited the scope of what the designer can create.

Our advice is to do the opposite: be vague about the details while keeping a clear list of requirements that the designer can build around. If you are looking for something interesting and new, you don’t want to limit the designer’s options on things like color, aesthetics, and content placement. You need to give the designer room to be creative in order to get their best work and getting too specific too early can hamstring their efforts to create a great design for you.

Tip #2: Avoid mockups if possible

I made a mockup for our project, and there were many times where I wished that I hadn’t. We found that including a mockup of your design can be a blessing and a curse.

On the plus side, a mockup is a great way to get your ideas across in a concise fashion that designers understand immediately and giving designers a baseline to follow ensures that you won’t get something completely off.

On the negative side, sometimes a less inspired designer will simply take your mockup and reproduce it for you! OK, so maybe she added some gradients, but when the layout and text are exactly the same, you know that the designer worked straight from the mockup.

That said, I think the worst outcome is when a great designer thinks that this is the layout that you want! Be clear in your instructions that your mockup is just a rough guideline that can be thrown out, or you may get exactly what you wished for.

Tip #3: Encourage creativity

We highly recommend that you encourage creativity when working with your designer by giving her open-ended suggestions. As we mentioned before in Tip #1, you need to leave room for designers to be creative in order to get their best work. Designers will appreciate this because it gives them the ability to exercise their creative judgment to improve a project, and it is great for you because it gives designers the opportunity to come up with something that you haven’t thought of before.

This is especially important in your feedback, since designers are making small modifications to their original design to make it look better in your eyes. If you give them a specific instruction, they will do it (you’re the boss, remember?), and there is no opportunity for any new approaches.

Compare the feedback of “make the images 300×300 pixels and spread them out two inches apart” to “I would like to see the images be larger and more spread out so that the page is filled with content”. Which do you think will yield better, more varied results?

There will be times where you want something specific, but I have found that as a general rule, broad feedback gives designers more room to improve their design than specific feedback. And as an added bonus, even if a design that isn’t up to par includes a great idea, you can still file it in your mental notebook for later.

Tip #4: Engage your designer

Engagement is the magic word of 2011, and it’s no surprise that giving your designer prompt feedback yields better results. By responding to their requests for feedback on the same day, you ensure your designer stays interested.  Many designers have multiple projects going on at once, and losing their attention means losing a potentially awesome design.

Yes, it can be quite time consuming to give feedback and respond to questions, but this doesn’t mean you should skimp on your responses. The feedback you give is incredibly important and the better feedback you give, the more the designs will improve. By showing them that you are invested in your design, they will invest their time right back.

Tip #5: Keep your feedback positive, but be honest

Like your employees and business partners, you want to build a lasting, valuable relationship with your designer, and you will build a much better relationship by keeping the tone of the conversation positive. This makes designers feel good about working with you and gives them more motivation to get back to work on fixing the parts that you weren’t as happy with.

The most straightforward way to do this is to highlight the things that you liked, especially if you like a specific feature. This gives your designer some insight into what you prefer, and it also ensures that the features that you do like won’t get changed.

When there is something about a design that you didn’t like (and there will be), tell them how you would like to see it improved instead of criticizing it. By focusing on ways to change the design, you focus the conversation around improvements rather than faults.

However, be sure that you are clear about what the designer needs to improve: if you are not honest in your feedback, everyone loses. You won’t get the design that you want, and the designers won’t understand why you are not happy with their work or what they could do to improve their designs in the future. You can still be polite and positive while being honest about what you don’t like in the design, and while it is difficult to master, striking this balance is crucial in working with designers of all skill levels.

Tyler York is an entrepreneur and foodie from San Francisco, CA. After graduating with a degree in business from Carnegie Mellon, he moved to California to pursue his passion for food and marketing. He is the CEO of Trisse, a startup that connects foodies with great deals on artisan food. If you made it all the way down here and liked the post, you can follow him on Twitter or send him an email.

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