Before you dive in, let’s go over eight key steps to prepare for working with a graphic designer to ensure it’s smooth sailing from here on out. We’ll cover crafting a creative brief, clear communication, defining your workflow, setting due dates, and wrapping up projects. It’s important to note that each designer has a different process and it’s recommended to follow their lead to achieve the best results. If your designer doesn’t discuss a topic listed below, be sure to bring it up.
First up, let’s discuss the information you’ll need to have ready at the beginning of a project. Creative briefs should include an overview of the project (objective, target audience, deliverables), specifications (size, color, file format needed), mandatory visuals (logo, photos, icons), past samples, and new inspiration if available. You’ll also want to provide your business’s brand guidelines as well as the copy. Copy should be finalized, proofed for spelling and grammar, and in a format that is easy to copy and paste such as a Google Doc.
Next, decide which channels you and your designer will use to communicate. Do you both prefer email over phone calls? Or maybe each project starts with a kickoff phone call and then communication moves to email? Is texting okay or discouraged? Some designers, especially those with multiple clients, use project management systems like Asana and Basecamp. It’s best to only use one channel to ensure a streamlined workflow and no missed information.
If you are on a team, assign a main contact person for the designer. This person will be in charge of requesting new projects, compiling team feedback, and sharing proofs with the team. It’s important to only have one point of contact to prevent confusion, miscommunication, and wasting time. Imagine if multiple team members sent emails with conflicting feedback to the designer. Sorting through the emails and deciphering changes would be difficult and confusing and likely result in the changes being made incorrectly. It’s best to solve this internally before handing it off to the designer. Likewise, if the first proof isn’t on target, the contact person and designer can discuss and refine it before involving the rest of the team.
Ideally before hiring you’ll have outlined your graphic design needs for upcoming projects. Space projects out to provide your designer with a manageable and steady flow of work. Create a status report that both of you can update to keep track of projects.
Consider at what point in project planning you’ll want to involve the designer. For conceptual projects, it’s best to include the designer from the beginning. They’ll be able to provide insight on creative concepts, unique formats, technical know-how, and more that the team might not be aware of. For small, straightforward projects it’s best to compile all the details in a creative brief before handing off the project.
Consider how you’ll share files with your designer. Email is great for smaller files like copy decks. For larger files like photos or repeatedly accessed items such as logos and brand guidelines, an online storage service like Google Drive or Dropbox will work better. Depending on the designer, they may provide proofs in their project management system and store final files on their online storage service.
If you are paying your designer hourly, it’s important to discuss time tracking. Usually, the designer has predetermined the increments, for example, 15, 30, or 60 minutes. The designer will track their time in a spreadsheet or using an app like Toggl. Weekly updates are recommended so you are both aware of how much time is being spent. Let the designer know if you need monthly reports to submit to your billing department.
At the project kickoff, remember to agree on deadlines. At a minimum, you should decide on due dates for the first proof and final file delivery. For more complex projects like direct mail, you may want to include dates for additional proofs, sending the files to the printer, and the mail date. To establish dates it’s easiest to start at the end of the project and work backward. Using the direct mail example, start with the in-home date, then the mail date, then the date the files are due to the printer, and so on.
Ask the designer what is the best way for you to provide feedback. Depending on the number of revisions, sending marked-up PDFs or scanned prints through email or their project management system is fine. A phone call may be needed to discuss more extensive changes. For copy edits longer than a sentence, send the text in a way that is easy for the designer to copy and paste.
At the beginning of the project, ask your designer how project completion is handled. Will they provide print-ready PDFs or the source files? Obtaining the source files often requires an additional fee. If the designer is storing the final files on their online storage system, is it only for a set period of time? For example, 30 days after the project completion date. If so, be sure to download and back up the files on your end before then. Determine who will send the final files to the vendor and if the designer will assist you in reviewing the proofs.
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