How to Make Any Designer the Designer of Your Dreams

It isn’t always easy to find the right designer for your projects, whether we’re talking about Web designers, logo designers, ad designers, or any other type. But is that really designers’ faults? In many cases, no. It’s ours (as the buyers).

Let’s assume that we’re not talking about newbies, but truly competent and experienced designers here. They can get the job done. So why does your designer not give you exactly what you want? Simple. Designers aren’t mind readers. Problems with design projects can easily stem from a lack of communication (from both parties), but especially in cases where the buyer takes a “I’ll know what I want when I see it” approach.

As a writer I deal with the same thing on the service provider side. As a client of designers I know I’ve caused my fair share of problems too — it’s why I do much of my design work myself and simply outsource the coding these days. It’s not that I don’t trust the designers I know. It’s that I know myself — I can’t always visualize exactly what I want from a design and sometimes I can’t express what I want well enough to help a designer visualize it either.

Many buyers don’t come to this realization though. They expect a design professional to magically be able to figure out what they want and give it to them. Now don’t get me wrong. Not all buyers are like that. My point is just that even if you are fussy about designs like I am, there’s still hope. You can not only find the right designer for your project, but you can help any competent designer be that “right” designer. It starts with you!

A Tale of Two Logos

Logos are one of the toughest things for me to have designed. I come from a marketing and PR background, so branding is very important to me. While I know what the logo has to portray to site visitors, I don’t always know how to explain that well to a designer who is unfamiliar with my work.

I’ve hired several logo designers, and I was never happy with their work until last year. I found a designer to put something together for a project called Freelance Theater. My partner and I are known for having a tough-as-nails approach to covering freelance issues, but we also go far out of our way to really help freelancers succeed. This project was going to be lighter in nature than our blogs, but still on the snarky side intentionally. We needed a logo to convey that. All we knew was that we wanted to have angel and devil symbols incorporated to touch on the “helpful but hard-assed” nature of the shows. I gave the designer a specific color scheme, the site name, and told him to incorporate a pitchfork and halo somehow. He understood what we were going for in a general sense. I was in shock when I saw his design — I absolutely loved it (still do). He didn’t use a pitchfork alone, but rather worked it into a devil tail which worked much better. That’s what a designer should do — take a concept and use their eye to find ways to make it work. I couldn’t have been happier. Here’s the logo I’m talking about:

Logo for

Logo for (owned by Jennifer Mattern; designed by Studio320)

I hired the same designer to do a logo for my main freelance writing blog. While his logo was fine and it did cover what I asked for, I’ve never been thrilled with it and will soon be redesigning it again. It wasn’t the designer’s fault. I know he knows what he’s doing. The problem was that the mission was less clear for the branding of this site (I hadn’t even settled on our new slogan at the time). I couldn’t clearly explain what I needed people to feel when they saw it — what it was supposed to evoke in the visitor. All I knew was a general color scheme, that I didn’t want images incorporated, and that it should be based on a Web 2.0-ish sans serif font, and a thin font at that (very different than the new magazine titling font style used in the updated logo). I didn’t give him much to work with, and as a result it was my own fault that I basically put that designer’s talent to waste (of course he was paid for the logo regardless, so the “waste” was on my end).

The point? If you aren’t 100% clear on what you want and what kind of reaction your design needs to bring about in your audience, you aren’t ready to hire a designer yet.

How to Make Your Designer Your Perfect Design Partner

If you want to pull the best work possible out of a designer (either in-staff or freelance), there are several things you can do. For example:

  1. Know what you want before you ask for it.
  2. Be as specific as possible, but within reason.
  3. Show the designer examples of other work you like (preferably in a similar vein).
  4. Fill out a project brief to make sure the designer has all of the information laid out in a clear manner (most professional designers should be able to offer you one to fill out or put one together at your request).
  5. Don’t expect perfection the first time around. Remember that design is subjective and what you communicate is open to interpretation. It might take a few rounds of edits until you’re completely satisfied, and there is nothing wrong with that.
  6. Don’t rush your designer. If you waited until the last minute, that’s your problem — not theirs. While they might try to accommodate you, the quality of the work can suffer when they don’t have as much time to play with concepts.

Another important step is to get to know a designer’s style before hiring them. For example, I’ve purchased several exclusive WordPress themes from a designer named Christopher Hennis. The themes are pre-made, so I know what I’m getting up front — no custom work involved. As you can see in the theme examples below that I purchased from him, his themes tend to use muted or de-saturated color schemes. That can work very well for some types of projects, and if I needed something along those lines custom-made, I would go to Chris no questions asked. If I, on the other hand, were looking for a very bold, bright design for a custom project, I would look for a designer who specializes in that style, showing that they have a good eye for the specific kind of style I want for the project. Making sure I choose the right one is completely up to me.

Depeche WordPress Theme

Depeche WordPress Theme (owned by Jennifer Mattern; designed by Christopher Hennis)

Soho Press WordPress Theme

Soho Press WordPress Theme (owned by Jennifer Mattern; designed by Christopher Hennis)

calcium wordpress theme

Calcium WordPress Theme (owned by Jennifer Mattern; designed by Christopher Hennis)

None of this is to say that it’s always the buyer’s fault when a design doesn’t work out as planned. There will be problems on both sides. But both sides need to take responsibility for their own hand in any resulting issues.

One Response to “How to Make Any Designer the Designer of Your Dreams”

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