A few years ago, my husband took me to Japan to meet some of his family. We spent a few nights at a ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn – that was well known for its onsen, or hot springs. I was excited at the prospect of experiencing these natural hot springs, until I found out that I would have to go to them alone, and would likely be surrounded by strangers as this was a public bath.
My husband assured me that it’d be just fine; all I needed was some coaching beforehand, and once I knew what to expect I wouldn’t be so intimidated. He was right – mind you, my first 15 minutes in the women’s onsen felt a bit like one of those bad dreams where you realize you are on a stage in front of a large crowd in nothing but your birthday suit (and at the onsen you actually are in your birthday suit!) – but I was able to ignore the curious glances of the younger girls and the quiet chatter of the older women and go through the steps that had been carefully explained to me by my husband. Once the other bathers were satisfied that the foreign girl was not going to break any rules or get soap (or dirt!) in the pristine waters, they went back to ignoring me.
I found something quite empowering about going through the right steps and knowing the proper etiquette, and by the time I took my first soak in the earthy-hot water I was able to relax and do a little self-reflection. I even went back alone several more times during our stay! I haven’t forgotten how learning some basic rules and knowing just what to expect got me though what could have been a very embarrassing situation, and turned it into a great experience.
Just as I didn’t automatically know the right etiquette for an onsen, most people don’t know what to expect when working with a designer. It would be great if every single designer automatically walked their new clients gently through their process and the design-world-etiquette, but we’re only human and we tend to forget that this may be your first time working directly with a designer. So to help, I’ve put together a few tips and guidelines on how to work with a designer and what to expect out of the relationship.
First, get your ducks in a row. Before you find a designer and get the process started, make sure you have all of your content finalized, and all of your assets handy (these are things like brand guidelines, logos, photographs etc. that you may want to use in the design). Approaching a designer before you have all of these things pulled together is like putting the cart before the horse – and while some designers can help you get organized or wait while you feed them your content in a piecemeal manner, keep in mind that the more back and forth you create, the more you bump up your costs and add to the time it takes them to develop the finished piece.
Identify your goals. Yeah, yeah, it sounds overly business-speaky, I know! But you’ll be doing yourself a favor and helping to guide the process in the right direction if you take some time and really think about what you want to get out of the piece. I must caution you: be realistic and reasonable; you can’t achieve everything and sell to everybody with one brochure. Instead, think about who your ideal customer is, what three things might matter to them most, and what one thing about you might stick in their memories. If you approach a designer with this knowledge in hand, they will think you are the bee’s knees!
Communicate your needs clearly. I have actually heard this sentence more than once: “I’m not sure what I want. I’ll know it when I see it.” I have to be blunt – that is some of the most unhelpful guidance you could give. If you really aren’t sure what direction to go in or what it is you need, be honest about this with your designer – after all, designers don’t sit around doodling pretty pictures, they help find creative solutions to business problems. But, if you’re looking for something specific, be clear about what you want. Put together any resources or examples that help demonstrate your vision. Use specific words to describe it; “jazz it up a bit” or “make it sexy” are not descriptive, but “colorful and energetic” or “minimalist and sleek” are helpful ways to describe what you’re picturing.
Ask what their process is. It’s a good idea never to assume anything – so don’t assume you’ll get as many mockups as you want until you are happy, or that the fifth edit round won’t cost extra. There’s no shame in asking what the milestones for the project are and what exactly you’ll be receiving. If you want to put it into “designerspeak”, you can ask things like: how many initial mockups they will present to you, how many revisions you can request, what the estimated schedule is for each milestone, what file format or formats they will provide the work in, and how you can use the final design. If you want to be extra detailed, ask how much time you have to review the artwork and request revisions before you throw off the schedule. Don’t forget to double check that the contract or agreement states what is to be included and what will incur an extra charge.
Remember that you are all on the same team. I think for most first-time design clients, the process of creating something beautiful or engaging can seem pretty fun – it’s exciting to see something go from imagination or idea to reality! But as difficult as it can be sometimes, try to keep focused on your goals – you may not like orange, but it might be a big hit with your target audience. Keeping personal opinions out of the mix takes effort, but it’s important.
When you’ve found the right designer for you and established a good rapport by following the standard design steps and etiquette, you’ll have a much easier time trusting your designer’s recommendations and easing into the relaxing hot springs of the design world.
I'm a graphic + web designer/developer and closet airbrush artist (the 80s called and I answered). I'm passionate about sustainability and community, and I'm a big fan of my hometown, Pasadena, California.Follow @bethkuchar