Like any content provision, good graphic design is about understanding a client brief, showing a degree of flexibility and working in collaboration with the client to achieve the desired result. At the same time, to deliver the desired outcome, your designer needs some clear parameters to work within.
Graphic design may be a creative process, but there is no room for ambiguity or misalignment.
Here are 7 rules of engagement:
1. Finalise the copy first
If there is a copy element – which there very often will be – finalise and sign it off before it goes into the design.
Your designer will place the written content into the design layout page-by-page and make the necessary adjustments to ensure it sits perfectly in the most readable and aesthetic way. Asking them to start laying out text before it has been finalised will inevitably duplicate work, as further text editing will impact the design layout.
You will compound the work repetition still further and increase the chance of error by asking your designer to replace cherry-picked passages of text.
MA Technical Copywriting is skilled in offering both copywriting and graphic design services, but that is by no means the case with every provider. Often companies or freelancers provide one service independent of the other, and a designer is not necessarily a wordsmith.
2. Be realistic in timelines
A good graphic designer will make it clear whether they can meet the completion timeline you give them. While they should be able to work quickly and efficiently, you should also be realistic in the time they need.
Once you are clear in agreement on timelines, don’t push on the timeframe at the risk of rushing the designer and compromising the quality of work. One option might be to agree on the milestones that your designer can send through work completed for your review while they work on the next sections – in the case of a longer designed project such as an annual report or large bid for example. This is a good system to keep the work flowing which MA Copywriting often uses.
3. Agree on delivery formats
Graphic designers need the right tools to work with. Most commonly they use a professional design programme such as Adobe InDesign and/or Illustrator. You may, or may not, have these programmes and an inhouse resource to edit the layouts your graphic designer provides.
Microsoft programmes such as MS PowerPoint, are notoriously volatile and will not always produce professional-standard design quality. For this reason, most designers aren’t keen on using such programmes as they take greater time to generate the desired result. Some designers will work in MS PowerPoint – others won’t.
Where you need a template you can edit – if you send out regular proposals or reports in a standard format for example – a very practical option is to design the document in a professional programme as mentioned above, then convert it to an editable format such as MS PowerPoint. That way, you get the best of both worlds – a beautifully created document visually and the practical editable solution you need. In this case however, it is important for your designer to ensure that every single element is editible – images, icons, tables, text boxes, graphs and all other aspects, even if they need to create some features such as graphs need in MS PowerPoint from the outset.
Your designer should deliver the final product in both high and low-resolution PDF format – ‘print-ready’ if applicable. Make it clear from the beginning if you also want the Adobe format, as this is not always a given – some designers will be happier to do this than others.
4. Get a sample design
It is common – and good practice – for a designer to produce 2-3 design concepts for you to choose from and which then can be refined. There is no such thing as too much clarity. But this is after you’ve awarded the project. Producing a design concept takes time and your designer should factor this into the project cost at proposal stage.
You should also test your graphic designer’s credentials by asking for a portfolio of work, which will give you a feel as to whether they are a good fit for you.
5. There is no such thing as a ‘going rate’
If you’ve ever booked an airline ticket, bought a shirt, or eaten out, you will know there is no such thing as a going rate. It will depend on the quality of your designer or the nature of the project.
Much like copywriters, different graphic designers often have their own skill sets. Some are stronger in web pages or magazine layouts for example, while others are great in producing infographics or commercial designs.
The way a graphic designer charges will also depend on their skill level and the size of their overheads (do they run a large premises with multiple designers, or are they a smaller operation?). The main rule of thumb is that your designer will have calculated how much they need to live on and what they feel they can charge.
6. Decide on image use
It might be that you have a bank of images your graphic designer can use. If so, they need to be to the resolution your designer specifies – not snaps taken on your smartphone. As a rule, they will need higher resolution for print and lower for digital.
You should also establish early on whether you or your designer will supply images, as it will impact price. If your designer is to supply images, do you want bespoke photography which will mean more budget, or will stock images suffice?
If you opt for bespoke photography, does your designer have a photographer they can suggest, or do you need to source one? Like graphic designers or copywriters, photographers often specialise in people, food or buildings for example.
7. Don’t push the scope
Once you have agreed on the design concept and volume of work, you have set the project scope. Of course, there needs to be certain amount of flexibility, but if there are any add-ons or changes to the concept, you should understand they will incur an additional cost. Just as if you order a perfectly good green salad, then after it is served you decide you want a Caesar instead.