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A STRAIGHTFORWARD GUIDE TO GRAPHIC DESIGN AND WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR!

A STRAIGHTFORWARD GUIDE TO GRAPHIC DESIGN AND WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR!
Graphic design is about crafting solutions to real problems. This requires understanding and for understanding, there must be information.

A straightforward guide to graphic design and what to look out for! – If you’re reading this, then chances are you are (or have been) involved with a graphic designer at some stage in your career.

If so, then there is little doubt that you will have experienced each and every one of the emotions known to man. From confusion (when they ramble on about vector vs raster, CMYK vs RGB and .eps vs .png files). Anxiety (what if they’re too busy playing table football to meet your deadline?). To outright euphoria when they present you with their latest mindblowing concepts.

Of course, a graphic designer (and their work) can often be misunderstood, and we’ve been wondering why. The answer, we’ve decided, is simple…

Designers are problem solvers. But our solutions come from our own imaginations, unlike many other industries where products and services can be automated, processed or algorithm-driven. The design experience is one that is always unique and often very personal too.

We create carefully considered, crafted, analysed and refined until it’s nothing short of perfect.

It’s highly probable that for every piece of creative your graphic designer presents to you, there’ll be another ten that they eliminated earlier in the process.

The problem? While designers are masters in their creative craft, they’re not always quite so masterful when it comes to articulating our thought processes. And the journey we’ve undertaken to reach the result we have) to our clients.

Within this series of posts, we’ve done our best to rectify that by offering you a brief, but hopefully an insightful glimpse into our minds. From the reasons we ask all the questions we do; to why (and how) what we do adds value to your business. We’re laying it all bare so that you can see that. While our creative heads may be in the clouds, our business feet are firmly on the ground. No jargon, just a straightforward guide to graphic design.

THE IMPORTANCE OF INFORMATION SHARING

Are you a client who has provided a rough creative brief, given your designer ’a blank canvas’ but found the final result lacking? Are you a designer who has found yourself working to what you believed to be your client’s objectives? Only to discover (often too late), that you’ve missed the mark completely? You’re likely to have been missing one crucial ingredient – information.

There is a saying in life that ‘You get out what you put in’. This is never truer than in the case of graphic design. Graphic design is about crafting solutions to real problems. This requires understanding, and for understanding, there must be information.

Without information (and a meaningful insight), designers will inevitably have to resort to an awful lot of guesswork. That’s not an excellent basis for a successful project. While they may produce something that looks great (that should be a given with a professional). Will, it really hit the mark when it comes to solving your problem, achieving your objectives or generating results?

A designer who takes the time to unravel your mind and really get to know you will always deliver better results. Put simply, if your designer doesn’t understand you, your audience won’t either.

Need to know basis…

As a graphic designer, hearing the words “you’re the experts” can be both a blessing and a curse. Sure, it’s fantastic that a client has faith and trust in your ability, but that’s not a reason to bypass the all-important ‘getting to know you’ phase. That process can sometimes take a little time – but ultimately, it’s time well spent for everyone and can mean time and money saved.

The onus for this process falls to both the designer and the client. While a client should be willing and able to provide a detailed insight into context, challenges and preferences. Any designer worth their salt should also have the skills to probe further to leave no stone unturned.

Of course, exactly what a designer will need to know will vary from project to project. As well as the mandatory requirements, here’s an insight into just some of the questions we’d be asking. (We’ll be unpacking these in more detail in our forthcoming blog post ‘What makes you tick’ so be sure to check back!)

Define the problem – what do you need and why?

  • What are the short and long term strategies/objectives? Where does this project sit in relation to them and other campaign plans?
  • What is your market position, and who are your competitors?
  • Who is the target market? Define and characterise as clearly as possible.
  • What is the life expectancy of this project?
  • What are the key messages and/or selling points?
  • How have you communicated with the target market before? Did it work/fail, and why?
  • What response is needed and what action do you want people to take?
  • What would you consider to be the key challenges for this project?
  • How would you define success for this project?
  • What is your budget?

Far from being a comprehensive guide to being rigidly adhered to, questions like these simply form a basis for successful projects and client relationships.

So what happens if you skip this essential stage?

At best, you could end up with something that looks great but achieves nothing. At worst, you could create confusion undo previous successes and potentially even damage your brand. If that’s not worth a detailed conversation upfront, we don’t know what is…

“Design is the intermediary between information and understanding.”

– Hans Hofmann

WHAT MAKES YOU TICK

In this section, we’ll be expanding on that to provide a more detailed insight into some of the things that designers need to know to make sure your creative project is a success.

First and foremost, a designer needs to understand why there is a requirement for a particular piece of design. Have you seen a decline in sales, do you have a new product or service to launch? Way before a designer should be putting ‘pen to paper’ (or mouse to mac). They need to have a solid grasp of the context for a project and understand where it sits concerning the longer-term strategy and objectives. This ‘bigger picture’ insight is an essential foundation. In our experience, it fuels the creative process and allows for more imaginative thinking.

Beyond this, of course, there are a host of additional factors to think about. Answers to which all contribute to making sure that the creative delivers the desired results…

Is your project part of a broader campaign?

The designer will need to know some basics of the campaign. What has come before, what will be running alongside and what will come after?

Not only is this critical, providing an insight into established branding and visual styles. It also helps us understand what stage in the buying process your customer may currently be at. Plus, how this particular piece of creative should perform.

Who is your target market?

The more clearly you can define your target market, the more a designer can work according to their individual motivations. There is a well-known saying that ‘you can’t be all things to all people’ and this is true in the case of design. If you have evidence to support why previous campaigns have (or haven’t) worked well with your target market. That information is precious.

What does success look like?

The design should prompt a reaction, generate a specific response, or encourage a particular action. Without knowing what response you’d like, or what you think ‘success’ looks like, how can your designer hit the nail on the head? If you’re measuring success based on an uplift in sales revenue. But your designer is basing it on the increase in brand awareness or social engagement. You may not be satisfied with the results.

What are the challenges?

In some instances, there may well be obstacles or challenges that your business faces. Your designer will need to bear in mind during the creative process. These may be linked to the competitive environment, factors on the broader market, or even something related to your business. Be they small or significant – we need to know about them.

What are the key messages/selling points?

All businesses have something that sets them apart from their competition. But not everyone is excellent at identifying or summarising what that is. You must understand your own key messages and selling points. This is so your designer understands them too and can convey them in your creative.

What is your budget?

Do you have a ballpark budget in mind? If, so your designer needs to know. This isn’t so that we can go away and start planning our next holiday on the proceeds! It’s so that we understand the full scope and feasibility of what you’re asking for. We can then come up with viable suggestions that will deliver against both your brief and your budget.

As we’ve already established. When it comes to working in partnership with a designer, information sharing is at the heart of that relationship.

If you fall into the trap of not providing all the facts, you want your designer to have complete creative freedom. (or if you want them to prove their worth) you’re doing yourself (and them) an injustice. Sure, you may not want to stifle the creative itself. But do not provide a comprehensive overview of that creative purpose and scope, means you may not get the results you’re hoping for.

“Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it can be disastrous.”

– Ralph Caplan

FINDING AN IDEAL DESIGN PARTNER… DITCH THE PITCH

As we discussed in our previous guide to graphic design posts. Graphic design has become democratised, so when selecting the design agency for you, there is often no shortage of choice. Of course, making the right choice can be somewhat more complicated. In our view, in addition to creativity (which should be a given), many other things are worth looking out for, many of which do not come from a free pitching process.

We understand that it may be tempting to put multiple agencies to the test as a client before selecting one. Still, the value of the ‘free pitch’ has long been called into question, and for a good reason. Despite its allure, this old industry habit is not just wasteful of agency resources; it’s dangerous for the client as well. In short, when it comes to free creative pitching, everyone gets the short end of the stick.

Amongst other things, the pitching process can, in many cases. Completely omit those necessary ‘getting to know you’ stages that we’ve previously talked about and gloss over the actual value that your designer has the potential to add…

“The ‘free pitch’ has long been called into question, and for a good reason.”

Tough on clients…

Design agencies sell an expert problem-solving service. When you hire a professional team, you’re getting a creative team. The creative team will dive into your business, investigate problems, understand the stakeholders, and collaborate with you to fine-tune a solution that takes all of these into account. Much of what makes a solution successful are the insights that come along the way throughout this journey.

With the pitching process, however. All of this is generally thrown out of the window. This will favour a skeletal brief—some swift guesswork on the part of the agency, capped with a theatrical talent show.

The result? A surface-level solution that might tick all the boxes in a creative pitch but has ultimately cheated you of the full value of the investigative design process.

Why do agencies say no?

Even though they’d likely love to work with you, some agencies may decline to take part in your pitch, leaving you with a weakened field. Here’s the reason why.

As an agency, we’ll be the first to admit that speculative work is time and cost-intensive and can be a massive drain on resources. Inevitably, an agency will only be able to invest a certain amount into your pitch if they are busy delivering results for their existing (paying) clients.

What this means that you won’t get the full benefit of working with them – you’ll get a watered-down solution that will in most cases be ‘style over substance’. While some agencies may be happy with that, there are those amongst us who certainly wouldn’t be – and you shouldn’t be either.

So what’s the alternative?

It may feel like there is no viable alternative for finding your designer, but that is not the case. If you want to see an agency at their best (and eliminate the chance of flimsy, poorly considered creative), invite them in to give a credentials presentation.

While this is a perfect chance to get to know the agency and see examples of the success they’ve done on people, it’s an opportunity to get to terms with their methods. You can then decide if they’re going to be a good match for you and, of course, have insight into their creative abilities as well.

“Graphic design is about crafting solutions to real problems. This requires understanding, and for understanding, there must be information.”

HERE ARE OUR TOP THREE TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THIS PROCESS…

Involve the right decision-makers

Make sure when meeting an agency that all of the decision-makers are in the room. As well as senior staff members, this may well include those who will directly be working with the agency to make sure the project is delivered effectively. Those are the people who have to work with the agency after all – so rapport is essential. It’s far better for all of the crucial stakeholders to witness the presentations in their entirety and ask their questions.

Don’t get hung up on the design.

When evaluating an agency, try not to put too much weight on a specific design concept presented but instead, focus on the bigger picture. It’s more important that you can see that their work is of high quality. They can innovate and demonstrate understanding.

Not all agencies will be a good fit for the personality of your business. Keep an eye on cultural fit and attitude, and don’t underestimate the power of that hard-to-define “chemistry.” (Yep, it’s a bit like dating.) They should be presenting some fantastic design work, but the designs can be changed – the team delivering them can’t.

Look for process

Use the designs presented as a window into each agency’s process. What research did they conduct? How did they get to the solution? Does the agency have a formal way of looping the client into the process from start to finish? All of this is d a great indication of whether you think you could work well with the agency and build a partnership that works.

Ultimately, this is just the beginning (hopefully!) of a long process of creative problem-solving. Using it to understand how an agency works and getting a feel for working together, a more successful union is on the cards. Treat it like a quick competition and, well, you’ll get what you’ve paid for.

Summary

  • A straightforward guide to graphic design and what to look out for!
  • Introduction if you’re reading this, then chances are you are (or have been) involved with a graphic designer at some stage in your career.
  • Without information (and a meaningful insight), designers will inevitably have to resort to an awful lot of guesswork. That’s not an excellent basis for a successful project.
  • A designer who takes the time to unravel your mind and really get to know you will always deliver better results.
  • Put simply, if your designer doesn’t understand you, your audience won’t either.
  • Define the problem – what do you need and why?
  • What are the short and long term strategies/objectives?
  • Who is your target market?
  • But your designer is basing it on the increase in brand awareness or social engagement.
  • You must understand your own key messages and selling points.
  • Ditch the pitch as we discussed in our previous guide to graphic design posts.
  • Why do agencies say no?
  • Here’s the reason why.
  • As an agency, we’ll be the first to admit that speculative work is time and cost-intensive and can be a massive drain on resources.
  • It may feel like there is no viable alternative for finding your designer, but that is not the case.
  • Look for process use the designs presented as a window into each agency’s approach.
  • What research did they conduct?
  • How did they get to the solution?
  • Does the agency have a formal way of looping the client into the process from start to finish?

Let’s work together

From digital design to graphic design, we’ve got you covered.

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