Fractured Atlas Sign in/up

This is an archived post from our old blog. It's here for the sake of posterity (and to keep the search engines happy). Our new blog can be found at

Dealing with Designers: 11 Tips for Communicating with Creatives

Many of you are champions at communicating with artists. If you’re a director, you may even have an MFA in it. And we know it takes weeks, even months, for our vision to go from concept to opening night.

So why, when we’re dealing with designers, do we assume what we want can be instantly understood and executed?

The very best web and graphic designers are artists as well as businesspeople. When hiring a designer as a full-time or temporary part of your marketing team, it’s vital that you communicate specifically and effectively.

As a marketing director, I’ve managed many website builds, redesigns, and the creation of every type of collateral. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:

(And for designers, build these tips into your projects to make your process run smoothly and avoid misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and other sticky situations.)

1. Your Designer is Not a Mind Reader
“I want our website to be better” is not a directive. What is “better?” If you’ve chosen an experienced designer and the first design iteration is nothing like what you envisioned, you must take responsibility for miscommunication about your brand and goals.

2. Design for Your Audience
Who will be using the site? Who will be reading that brochure? What is their level of savvy when it comes to print and online marketing pieces? Ideally, you will select your designer with your audience in mind. At Pressler Collaborative, we handpick a different designer for each client based on audience, design level, and budget – but we can do this because we already have a database of designers we know well. If you don’t, consider a creative staffing agency that can back up its creatives and their work. For more on this, see my recent post on determining your target audiences.

3. Know What You’re Paying For
Are you paying for the project or the hours worked? What happens if either side can’t honor the timeline or you end up wanting ten revisions instead of two? Make sure you have an honest conversation about this in the beginning so that you don’t end up with an astronomical bill or designer who decides she’d rather move on to another client than mockup Design Version 42.

4. You Have Work To Do, Too
You can’t just drop a design project in someone’s lap and check out until the day before launch. Before I begin a website project, my clients must fill out a three-page brief asking design questions they’ve never considered before. The more you prep and actively bring ideas to the table early in the process, the better the entire project will flow.

5. Design is Proprietary
Like, no love, another piece of creative design? Definitely use it as inspiration, but never copy it exactly. Respect that it is someone else’s art and hard work, and was paid for by another entity. Ripping off another design is no more respectable (or ethical) than carrying a Chinatown “designer” handbag.

6. Get Organized
Once the designer has started layouts is not the time to start gathering your competition’s posters for ideas. Before you even begin, you should have done your competitor research, brand analysis, audience demographic prioritization, and for websites, drafted your sitemap. See my previous post, Start with Strategy.

7. Use Specific, Objective Examples
This may be the most important tip, whether for creative design or directing any artist. Any adjective that’s open to interpretation is not specific enough. Here are a few examples of concepts that mean very different things to different people:

  • Upscale

  • Gritty

  • Artsy

  • Creative

  • Urban

  • Sophisticated

  • Edgy

  • Professional

For example, “blue” has infinite shades. “Royal blue”… okay, better. “Obama blue”… now we’re talking. CMYK color code… bullseye.

8. Avoid Too Many Cooks
Chances are many people have a stake in your website, but any more than two decision makers and your process is almost guaranteed to be muddled. The most effective, efficient website redesign I ever witnessed was one that stood to be the messiest… until the organization’s digital strategy director decided to drive the process with input only from the CEO. The result: a gorgeous, functional website, and a team that understood exactly which sections were theirs to manage down the road.

9. Be Selective About Your Feedback Team
This is the same advice given to actors deciding on a headshot. Unless she’s representative of your target audience, your mom doesn’t know what makes a good website. Plus, she’s probably too close to be objective. Many of us instinctually know what we like but are dismal about breaking down why we like it.

10. Be Crystal Clear on Timeline
It’s not enough to choose a launch date. You must co-create a specific timeline including due dates for each element and – this is the key part – by when you will supply elements or give feedback, so as not to throw future deadlines off schedule.

11. Manage Expectations
One piece of marketing cannot singlehandedly sell out your show. Know where your website, brochure, billboard, banner ads, stand in your marketing mix and how they will function as part of your big picture, both from a strategy and budgetary perspective.

When in doubt, the more you think of building your website like producing a show, the better off you – and your designer – will be.