The CEO’s Guide to Working with Graphic Designers

Updated Jan. 12, 2022 Published Dec. 12, 2017 10 Min. Read

There is one simple constant that ensures a successful relationship between a graphic designer and their client. It has nothing to do with your designer’s geographic location, the nature of the project, or the price of the work.

To ensure your graphic design project is a success, you have to know how to communicate.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, communication is the holy grail of any relationship. Great communicators move visual mountains. It can turn fledgling designers into Picassos. It can turn beginner entrepreneurs into marketing maestros.

Clients who are poor communicators risk imploding into a flurry of four-lettered critiques, sometimes swearing off the graphic design community completely.

One of the most helpful books to improve communication with a significant other is the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Reading this book is not a prerequisite for our spin on the concept below, but I recommend putting it on your reading list.

Having founded Design Pickle in 2015, I know a thing (or twenty) about getting what I want out of a graphic designer. My entire approach is focused on one simple concept: being the best communicator possible.

If communication is not your forte, do not fret.

These communication skills are simple to understand, easy to implement, and vastly effective. Used even half of the time, these skills will elevate the success of your relationship with any designer. And the more successful your relationship, the happier you’ll be with the resulting designs.

How to Work With A Graphic Designer: A CEO’s Guide

1. Start with a Clear Vision

The success or failure of your project depends on whether you know what you want. Too often, clients expect their designers to magically know exactly what to do.

But graphic designers are not mind readers. #FACT 

You are the driver. You must set the course.

“Graphic design” without a vision or a commercial purpose crosses the boundaries from the marketing world to the art world. If you are looking for art, there is nothing wrong with allowing the designer to take full control and set your vision. Just be willing to accept the final result!

If you need relevant creative work to impact your business, enter the design relationship with a clear a vision as possible for what you want to accomplish.

How do you create a vision? Great question.

Anytime I am working with a designer I answer key questions in my initial brief or conversation.

  1. Target Audience. Who will see and experience this creative work? What response do you want from them?
  2. Style and Branding. Do you have a visual brand guide your designer can follow? Recently, we updated the Design Pickle Platform to allow clients to save multiple Brand Profiles so they don’t have to give relevant files and instructions over and over again.
  3. Project Specifications. Let your designer know exactly how and where the design will be used. Since this can be tedious, we sped up this process in Design Pickle, allowing request forms to automate size and dimension options depending on request types.

No one — in any relationship — can succeed unless both parties keep the end goal in mind from the beginning. So how do you stay on the same creative page as your graphic designer throughout the entire project?

2. Use Visual Inspiration

Creativity is subjective. When I say the word “awesome,” a skateboarding ’80s dragon pops into my head, while you might think of a Fig Newton. The same words can have very different meanings to different people. I’ve seen an endless stream of clients get into a frustrating place with their designers because they struggle to communicate their ideas with words alone.

Don’t stress. Communication challenges happen to the best of us. Explaining a design in your head can be as hard as describing a map.

There is, however, a massive shortcut you can use for any creative project. A shortcut your designer will swoon over: Share visual examples.

Cut out the words! You have much better things to do during the day than type out an essay to explain your project idea. To help your designer get a better picture of what is in your brain, show them; don’t tell them!

Provide examples of what you like and what you don’t like. Humans are visual beings, and images sometimes communicate faster than words.

When presented with a visual, we can immediately respond with “YES! Rad!” or “NO! Terrible!” Your designer is no different.

Sharing inspirational visual examples to a graphic designer, whether it’s a Facebook event cover photo or an Instagram story, is like feeding steak to a carnivore. They are genetically engineered to ravenously consume and love your meaty content.

I constantly save visual inspiration. I take pictures of advertisements, signs, and billboards. I rip out ads from magazine pages. I even have an entire folder dedicated to screenshots of websites and inspirational content from my Facebook feed. You can also compile Pinterest boards to easily link whole collections of inspiration to your designer.

Anything I connect with visually, I’ll file away for future use.

When you SHOW your designer what you want, you undoubtedly save hours, days, or even WEEKS on your project in revisions.

3. Give Constructive Feedback

Designers live and die on quality feedback.

The biggest mistake you could EVER make with a designer is not sharing your honest, and constructive thoughts on your project together.

Remember, your designer is giving their best effort to create something you like that satisfies the project brief. If they have created something you’re not a fan of, relax!

Creativity is a PROCESS.

You may need to go through several rounds of designs to dial in the vision of the project with your designer. The more feedback and details you can provide at each step of the process, the sooner you will get to the final product.

Imagine hiring somebody to cook for you, but not giving any feedback on how things are going. The chef would never know that you don’t like onions, or that you prefer chocolate over vanilla, or even that you think his stew is a little salty. It would be a frustrating nightmare. The same goes for teaching, parenting, even running a business; as soon as you assert your opinions, the receiving party can adjust accordingly.

When you receive your designs, the best way to approach feedback is to let your designer know these specifics:

  1. What part of the design do you like? Let the designer know where the focus should be.
  2. Point out any material errors or omissions. Designers are often in a rush to get the first draft complete and may overlook a detail in your brief.
  3. Give an honest and detailed critique of their visual approach. What specifically needs to change? What needs to stay? What needs to be slightly revised?
  4. Give examples of what you are looking for in the next round of revisions. Try using a different source of visual inspiration examples if the look of the first creative round was not what you had envisioned.

Even if you LOVE the work, and no edits are needed, let your designer know! Positive feedback is just as valuable and improves your relationship for any future projects.

And speaking of improving future relationships…

4. Manage the Copywriting and Proofreading

Most designers expect your written content (AKA copy) to be ready for design.

After more than a decade of experience working with designers, I can assure you that no matter where your designer lives, how experienced they are, or how long you’ve worked together, designers will make a mistake with the copy and content of a project.

Here are tips to minimize errors and maximize accuracy in the creation of your design:

  1. Prepare copy right away. Ensure your copy is delivered as soon as possible in the design process. I recommend (and use) Grammarly to self-proof everything I write.
  2. Isolate your copy and make sure it can be copy-pasted. Deliver your content in a standalone document, like a Google Doc. Isolating copy in a word processing document ensures you’ll get one more pass at the spelling and grammar check. This also allows the designer to copy and paste, minimizing retyping errors. Because this demands precision, we’ve built a separate field for sending copy into the Design Pickle request platform.
  3. Label the elements. Where appropriate, label parts like the header, body copy, subheader, etc. Sometimes, I’ll even align, bold, underline and resize my content to mimic the preferred layout.

If those things mean nothing to you, do not fret! Just do your best to describe how you want the copy laid out in your design. And when either you or your designer make the occasionally inevitable minor copy mistake, give detailed feedback on the first round of revisions. What do you like? What needs to change?

  1. Check and re-check. Always, always, always proof your designs. I’ll have a few other people read through the final design proofs for critical projects to ensure we catch every mistake.

Despite taking the best precautions to avoid errors, you sometimes get caught up in the project and mistakes happen. I once printed thousands of T-shirts with the word “Philippines” misspelled. This design was seen by me, my marketing director, several people on our Philippine-based design team, and the T-shirt printer. No one caught the mistake, so we had a huge error to fix quickly before our first trade show.

This problem would have been avoided if I ran the copy and content through basic spellcheck (which we didn’t). Always, always, always spellcheck.

5. Trust the Process

My final piece of advice — perhaps the hardest to fully grasp — is to trust in the creative process to deliver on your request.

Graphic design can be like constructing a house. We know what we are looking for in a house, yet very few of us understand the level of detail and skill required to build a house from scratch. Building a house is not an immediate process. Even prefabricated houses take significant time to complete. When we begin the building process, we trust our builder and the teams we’ve assembled.

Things might not be perfect, but we learn along the way.

We are exposed to great design every day, from the iPhone to Target stores. Our world is flooded with billion-dollar brands reflecting the highest of design sensibilities.

This experience gives some folks an unrealistic idea of how the design process works. I see a lot of clients get very anxious when their initial designs aren’t perfect; some even call it quits when their very first design ever is not 100% perfect.

But I can assure you that if you follow the previous I’ve outlined, the last step towards a healthy and fruitful relationship with your designer is allowing them to get to work.

To Recap

  1. Good design starts with a vision.
  2. When words fail you, use visual inspiration.
  3. Revisions are inevitable; practice giving good feedback.
  4. Proofread your copy before requesting and before publishing.
  5. Trust in the process — let your designer work!

Design Pickle’s subscription workforce model means that our clients have more than just designers on their side. We provide the human friendliness of ready customer support, quality assurance, and world-class designers — all resting on smart-working custom tech.

While these tips are useful for working with designers in any context under the sun, the Design Pickle team believes we can always make the process friendlier. We’re constantly adding helpful features to the request process, like auto-size and format suggestions, Brand Profiles, and more. Check out our plans or request a demo today.



Hosted by Russ Perry, CEO & Founder of Design Pickle, Jar of Genius is a podcast that uncovers the strategies and mindsets of today’s most innovative creative leaders. Get actionable insights on groundbreaking business models, successful campaigns, and the cutting-edge tech that’s changing the game. Learn how to build a thriving creative business in this fast-paced world.

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