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Make It Pop!


Communicating with Your Graphic Designer Doesn’t Have to Feel like Speaking Greek

My favorite part of being a graphic designer is all of the people I get to connect with. From varying business backgrounds, to cultural backgrounds, to a wide range of skillsets and life experiences, I love discovering how my clients’ brains work and how they ended up doing what they do for a living. Also, I find that this diversity consistently leads to a better deliverable, whether it’s a job aid, a custom e-learning course, or a video.

Getting feedback on my designs, both positive and negative, is essential to keeping me on my toes and making sure everyone involved has their ideas heard and is satisfied with the final product. However, things often go awry when it comes to a common lingo regarding design. A majority of my clients and coworkers are not graphic designers (and I most likely don’t have the specialized skills they possess), so when discussing design, there can sometimes be hiccups in our communication.

I thought it might be helpful to discuss three of the most common issues I run into and offer up some solutions that would make things smoother when talking design.

Be specific.

When you say “Make it pop,” your designer will likely have only a hint of what you’re trying to accomplish. For starters, what is “it”? How does it “pop”? It might be a somewhat common phrase, but “make it pop” may mean one thing to you and another thing to me, and a completely different thing to Sheryl from HR. Instead of using that unclear (or vague) phrase, I recommend trying to explain what the issue is in more concrete terms.

Recently, I was working on a poster, and the client wasn’t super enthusiastic about the designs I was sending. I was getting feedback about the “tone,” the “mood,” and the “feel.” But nothing specific. After a slew of emails and a flurry of probing questions, I finally discovered one of the animated characters on the poster wasn’t hitting the mark. I removed the character, and the client was extremely happy with the “mood” of the poster. This ties in to another common issue…

Use language you’re comfortable with.

Learning new words and phrases is always a plus, but please don’t try to impress your designer by throwing in some “design speak” terms you just quickly Googled while composing an email. Chances are you may make a simple change sound way more complicated. Instead of over explaining with incorrectly used phrases, I recommend just saying what you’re seeing or feeling. If something looks crowded, just say so.

For example, I was working on an e-learning course, and the client, while generally happy, was very concerned about the kerning on a particular screen. Since the client used the specific term kerning (the space between characters), I increased the kerning. The client responded that the text was too spaced out, and asked why I didn’t adjust the kerning. It turns out, the client wanted the leading adjusted (spacing between lines of type) not the kerning. A more straightforward approach would have been to simply say, “Hey, the screen is looking a little crammed here.”

It’s okay to not like something.

Your graphic designers are the best! They have quirky habits, impeccable taste in cinema, and their snack game is strong. How could you ever tell them you don’t like something they did? Maybe if you just beat around the bush a little bit, they’ll get the hint? Yeah, nope!

Design is very subjective, and it would be suspect if someone always hit the mark. So please, save everyone some time and potential frustration, and say when you don’t like something. The most crucial thing here is to always explain why. For example, “I’m not a fan of this layout; it’s too chaotic and hard for me to follow,” or “These colors seem light compared to what I had envisioned.”

I do realize that some relationships can develop their own language and might be able to get away with much looser communication styles (feedback only given via emojis anyone?). But, when those types of bonds haven’t been established yet, being specific, colloquial, and honest is usually a safe bet for getting your point across. When you let your opinions be known, you can trust your designer to do all the heavy lifting.

A woman and some of her coworkers smiling while working in a computer lab.

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