How do I be a good client?
June 4, 2010 7:41 PM   Subscribe

A graphic designer is working on a new business card for me. I've never worked with one before and he's a recent college graduate. How do I be a good client and make things easy for him while still getting a design I really like. He keeps coming up with designs that are close, but not quite what I want.
posted by 14580 to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For the design phase:
What type of feedback do you give? Is it specific changes (i.e., make this font more like this, change the color to a slightly brighter one, etc) or is it more general (i.e., can we make the card more fun?, can we make it conservative with just a splash of pizzazz?) ?

If you're using specific feedback and he makes the changes and you still don't like the card then my guess is that you don't know what you want but you'll know when you see it, but if that's the case giving specific feedback is counter-productive since it implies you do know what you want. Try giving more general feedback instead.

If you're giving specific feedback but he's not able to make the changes the way you want them, then it's a communication issue and it might be your relationship or his experience.

If you're giving general feedback and he's still not quite getting it, see if you can find examples of anything (doesn't have to be a business card) that expresses the feeling you want the card to express. Show those examples to him and see if that doesn't help get the design closer to what you want.

As for remuneration:
If you know pretty much what you want, then a fixed fee is more appropriate, on the other hand if you're not sure and need to explore, then you should pay more by the amount of effort.

IANAGD, but I've had the good fortune of working with some good ones, and the good ones can take feelings/concepts/ideas and express them. I've not worked with inexperienced graphic designers, so take my advice with that caveat.
posted by forforf at 7:58 PM on June 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The general discussion about the direction of the card (as in "I want it to be fun") should probably have taken place BEFORE the design began, or at least right after you got the first comps.

Be specific as possible, and do be prepared to pay extra if there are a lot of rounds of revisions.

Don't be that client that doesn't know what he likes until he sees it, so you ask your designer to please do 800 variations that are minutely different (do blue! now green! can we go back to blue?) until you figure out what it is you want and then bitch when it's not $15.

Also, I cannot stress this enough... look closely at the proofs he sends you. Proofread the basic information carefully, because he doesn't know your email address or your phone number by heart.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:21 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Through my experience the path to success is to keep communication going, keep fueling him with ideas - images, feelings, thoughts, anything - it's not right until you get the feeling - 'ah, thats it'. Worst case, of course it could be possible he doesn't have it in him. In that case, decide on partial compensation and move on.
posted by uni verse at 8:32 PM on June 4, 2010

I work for a company that does artwork as part of delivering wearables and promo products. Sketch the layout you want. That "leave it up to the artist" thing works if a) you're a clueless corporate suit and b) the artist is part of a highly paid ad agency. And then that just means that you get a better result than if the clueless corporate suit did the art.

OTOH, most of us have a pretty strong mental idea of what we're after, we just don't have the graphic art skilz to make it happen. So get something on paper, even if it looks like a kid drew it, and this is the best way to communicate your intentions to the artist.

If you already have a draft or two that "almost" works for you, put your thinking cap on and think specifically about what would make it perfect. Look through the font websites or your artist's font collection, if possible, at fonts and find the one(s) that complement what you're after. Don't be afraid to tell the artist what you want. I don't buy this "let the artist be the one in the driver's seat and the client takes what the artist dreams up" idea for most practical commercial artwork. Again, if you've retained a big time agency, maybe you should defer to the creative vision you've paid 5-6 figures for, but that's not this situation.

Conversely, be willing to "let go" of your initial vision(s) a little bit in the face of practicality. A good logo/layout has certain constraints. If your logo is super tall and you want a land-scape orientation business card, welll, it'll never work. Most logos are pretty close to square/circular in overall footprint and can be rendered in black and white if needed.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:04 PM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: Nobody will scrutinize your business card as much as you will, so if the name and contact information is perfect and the design as 90%+ acceptable, then accept it and spend your time getting business for yourself instead of being a client for somebody else.
posted by thorny at 9:28 PM on June 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

OTOH, most of us have a pretty strong mental idea of what we're after, we just don't have the graphic art skilz to make it happen. So get something on paper, even if it looks like a kid drew it, and this is the best way to communicate your intentions to the artist.

Agreed, it helps to see a sketch as well as examples of the style, colors and mood of what sort of thing you like (doesn't have to be a business card). However, be open to a designer's suggestions—if they are talented they will have an eye for what looks good and is balanced. Working with inexperienced designers can be more tedious because they are often not as experienced interpreting clients' needs or with production practices. If a client came to me with new requests or "mood boards" after I had already but in the agreed upon rounds of revisions I would be annoyed and probably need to discuss a revised price (I have more than 10 years of experience and young designers usually under-estimate their time).

Your designer might be frustrated that you're not seeing eye-to-eye. Try to be very specific when you explain what's not quite right. At this point it might be best to talk about it over the phone instead of email so its is more of an exchange. IAAGD, but IANYGD.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:37 PM on June 4, 2010

OTOH, most of us have a pretty strong mental idea of what we're after, we just don't have the graphic art skilz to make it happen. So get something on paper, even if it looks like a kid drew it, and this is the best way to communicate your intentions to the artist.
As a designer, this is a terrible idea and is the beginning of a bad client. (In fact, my worst clients are always the ones that come to me saying "I know what I want, you're job is to take it out of my head.") Designers are not just tools to implement whatever you have in your head. We didn't just go to school to learn to make things pretty.
Instead, your designer is a problem solver. We know certain things about how using different layouts will affect how people read your card and why certain color combinations just won't work.
If you're just beginning the project, by all means, do what Bunglegirl suggests and sketch something out, but be open to your designer's suggestions. She's also right you will most likely have to be a little patient, since both of you are new to this thing, but that's not a bad thing.
Since it seems like you're already deep into the design process, it's probably late in the game to sit down and do mood boards, sit down with your designer and go through all the revisions that you've both gone through so far, discuss what is right and what is wrong with each iteration, make sure you're both really on the same page. Sometimes, it's miscommunication; sometimes, a design just needs to evolve a little more than most to reach perfection.
posted by thebestsophist at 9:56 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: IAAGD too...part of the problem here might be that you're working with a recent college grad. Also, living in the culture we do, you have been exposed to a LOT of fantastic design work. Your expectations from that experience play a part here.

I used to teach graphic design at my local college, and was once a college-level graphic designer myself.

His lack of design experience may be a big part of the problem. Your background as a modern consumer, seeing high-end, high-cost design around you all day every day, is going to be conflicting with that. Everything from signage at your local mega-super-store to upmarket (heck, even downmarket) cars, all this stuff that's been nurtured and brought to life by agencies with hundreds of years of collective experience.

So: You might not have the budget, but perhaps it is true that you may just need a more experienced designer. You probably don't need a big agency, but somebody who can put you in the ballpark might help you sleep a lot better at night.

If this was a health care scenario, with this designer as your doctor, who would take his side? Most responses would probably be something like, "you need to ditch this inexperienced guy and find a specialist" or "you need to get a second opinion" and so on.

I have about 10 years of post-college experience, and my mentor has 27 years experience. When a client gives us a "doesn't feel right" or a "doesn't fit what I expected," we run down every decision that led to every element in the design, and explain as much as possible. Somewhere in there we usually figure out that:

1) We've been given bad information to start with


2) There is one person who is "really in charge" and in them we are dealing with someone who is really into certain types of "decoration" (stripes, certain colors, etc.) rather than problem-solving, broad-appeal "design."

It's almost always one of those two.

Further complicating your relationship with this designer is his lack of business and client experience (most likely), which may have brought you to Metafilter hoping to smooth the beautiful, yet bristling, plumage of your whipper-snapper of a designer. ;-)

Anyway...I digress but I hope that helps you.
posted by circular at 10:03 PM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: How do I be a good client and make things easy for him while still getting a design I really like. He keeps coming up with designs that are close, but not quite what I want.

If you've made him go back and revise more than three times, you're almost certainly already being a bad client. (Unless you're paying him by the hour, in which case ask for as many revisions as you want.)

Too many rounds of feedback suggests that your feedback is unclear, or that you're changing your mind too much, or that you're just unsatisfiable, one of those people who just keeps asking for random changes because what they're seeing isn't magically grabbing them by the throat.

Or it suggests that you've hired an under-talented or under-skilled designer, in which case you should pay him for the work done so far and go hire somebody else.

With the best design clients, the process goes like this:

Client: "These are the specific reasons we're moving away from our old design. Here's a description of what the company does. This is the specific market segment we're trying to appeal to. We'd like to project an image of a _______ company that will always ________ and never _______ the customer. These are the design constraints: [copies of existing marketing materials you'd like to match, any pre-existing color scheme, cost constraints, etc.]" Here is our [website / old logo / storefront / whatever], and these are our two closest competitors, which we'd like to be as [similar to / different from] as possible, in these specific ways.

Designer: "Awesome. I'll have three samples for you to look at in _____ days."

...time passes, mockups are delivered.

Client: "I like design #2 best, because ______________. But I'm concerned that it makes the company look too ________ and not enough ______. Can you make it feel more ______? Also can you make the logo bigger?

Designer: "Awesome. I'll have revisions in ______ days."

...time passes, revised design is delivered.

Client: "This is great. Here are some tiny tweaks I'd like to suggest before we finalize."

...and so on.

Note what the client does not do here: he does not try to do the designer's job for him. He clearly expresses what function he needs the design to serve, and then gets out of the way. No pencil sketches of what you want the logo to look like. Don't choose a font for them (unless the font is already part of your brand). Don't tell them "I like this shade of pink" unless that shade of pink is already part of your brand. You've hired a designer, which implies that you are not a designer. So don't try to design. Set up the boundaries in which you want them to do their work, and then let them do their work.

(It could well be that you're not doing this, so don't take this too personally -- it's just that this is the most common source of pain from novice design clients. Nobody ever tells a developer "hey I think you should structure your database this way instead of that way" but everybody has an opinion about what color the header should be. And opinions are great, except that when you mix too many different ones the clarity of the design concept gets lost and you wind up with a muddle.)

In any case, you need to look at each revision as narrowing in on a target, not as "let's just try again." Ask for major changes only in the first round; the scope of the changes should decrease with every revision -- if by the third round you aren't down to the trivial tiny stuff that nobody but you and the designer will ever notice, you've gone off the rails.

I'm not saying you need to blindly trust the designer, or completely shut down your taste and opinions in favor of theirs. If something's not working for you do ask the designer to articulate why they feel a particular design works, what their thinking was, what the concept is. (If they can't do this, then you've chosen the wrong designer. If they articulate something but you don't see it in the design, then you've chosen the wrong designer.)

But do remember that you're not the one the design needs to appeal to: your customers are. The designer isn't working for you, he's working for the people you're giving those business cards to. If you find yourself getting overinvolved in the design process, try to remember that. That can help you be more objective about your reactions.
posted by ook at 9:11 AM on June 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

My advice was definitely for working with a young, inexperienced designer. I'm trying to give you the benefit of the doubt that either the designer isn't great' lacks polish or isn't good at communication and client relations. In all honestly, a client who comes back to me with "it just not quite right" comments is usually micromanaging the project and needs to let go and trust my experience. I agree with circular that often these clients have a ""style" or "decoration" that they're looking for and not so much a design solution. Small clients have almost always been worse to work with because they have more personally invested in the outcome and are more emotionally attached — making objective decisions difficult. Might this be the case?

When you hire a designer approach it as hiring someone with the expertise to solve your problem. The most satisfied clients are the ones who come to me with a problem and trust my judgement on how to best solve it.

Although its great to give an inexperienced designer work, you have to adjust your expectations accordingly. I suggest taking a look at the designs again, really determine what you specifically don't like about it, articulate it to the designer and discuss how to proceed from there.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:23 AM on June 5, 2010

Sketch the layout you want. That "leave it up to the artist" thing works if a) you're a clueless corporate suit and b) the artist is part of a highly paid ad agency.

This is terrible advice. If you were hiring a plumber, would you start by telling them where they should put all the pipes? No? Then why would you do it to a designer?

Why would you assume that you're better at putting together a layout than the person whose job it is to put together layouts? If you are, then either you or the designer is in the wrong line of work.

(To extend the plumber analogy: you tell the plumber what function you need served. You need a sink in this room. You don't tell him which wrench he should be using. Likewise you tell a designer what function you need served. You need to appeal to this market segment in this way. You don't tell him which font he should be using.)

Also, you don't have to go to a six-figure "highly paid ad agency" to get good design. That's just completely ill-informed. There are thousands of skilled, experienced designers out there who don't work for one of the high-overhead brand name agencies.
posted by ook at 9:31 AM on June 5, 2010

Best answer: I'm on the receiving end of a lot of business cards. I just want them to have all the relevant contact info. I need, including the company website, in a clearly legible font ... nothing too fancy or hard to decipher for me with my bad vision. A nice logo is fine, but other than that, I really don't care how they look.

Unless you are in an "artistic" or creative business, where the look of the card is designed to show off some of your skills, i.e. you are in art, design, fashion, graphic design, web design, game design, etc. type of business, please don't get too fancy on your business card. No one really cares, and, as a matter of fact, if it looks like you have spent too much time/money on your business card, they may just wonder why you are not just spending that money on building the business.
posted by gudrun at 9:39 AM on June 5, 2010

He keeps coming up with designs that are close, but not quite what I want.

Well, what do you want? Also, how much are you paying him?

There may be a bit of a philosophical disconnect in a recent grad with (possibly) less experience who is stoked about getting some real designs in their portfolio. They may be overreaching and not quite have a handle on expectations and client relations. Hard to know without knowing more specifics about what you have asked for and what you're getting.

I'm with everyone else who says you may need to cut your losses and take the "not quite right" card and get on with life. Especially if you're getting a bargain rate from this designer.
posted by amanda at 10:30 AM on June 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for all the good advice. I see now that he keeps coming back with major revisions to the design, instead of making the small changes I've suggested.
posted by 14580 at 4:46 AM on June 6, 2010

« Older Still hoping against hope...   |   Good version of "The Dream of the Red Chamber" Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.