27 Feb How to talk to graphic designers, or things you should never say to people trying to help
In all sorts of industries, there are phrases that sound constructive and insightful but don’t actually mean anything at all. The design industry is no different. When you boil it to down to its simplest definition, graphic design is the communication and organization of information. The problem most people have working with graphic designers is that they don’t know how best to communicate with them, so they rely on ‘fluff phrases’ that sound nice but really don’t mean a thing.
Nobody is perfect, so try not to let it get you down. So let me take one of these “fluff” phrases and explain why designers hate hearing them.
“You’re the expert here.”
I am convinced that this is meant to be a compliment, but it really isn’t. It pops up when a client isn’t sure what they want, so they rely on the designer to come up with something that articulates everything they are not able to put into words. “You’re the expert here” basically says: we defer to your judgment to read our minds and give us something we didn’t even know we wanted.
That is a lot of pressure to lay on a graphic designer. But pressure is something we can deal with. It just goes with the industry. The bigger issue is the amount of freedom it gives the designer. This phrase gives us the unlimited freedom to try to tell the story that you know best. We can deliver Picasso, but if you were looking for Rembrandt there’s gonna be an issue. It is a little-known fact that graphic designers love restrictions. We crave them. We long for them. We will also never admit to this; you’re just going to have to trust me. Limit us. Tell us what we can’t do. Some of our most creative and interesting designs come when it seems like we had no options at all.
It is okay to not know what you want. In fact, as helpful as it is to show us what you like, it can be even more useful to show us what you don’t like.
Before you (client) and I (designer) set up a meeting, please do your homework. Think about the message you need to communicate. What are the important points? Know your brand. Know your visual language. Know your restrictions. If you have an idea but can’t put it into words, don’t be afraid to sketch it out. Then we can still talk about it. Assuming that we have all the answers because we “are the experts” is a mistake. We know design. You know the content. Let’s collaborate.
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