Seven ways to give better feedback to your graphic designers

Graphic design is visual, but it’s not artwork. It’s used to achieve a specific business goal or solution.

Each graphic design request is a collaboration, a problem-solving effort. Since it is a visual craft—one designed to be both aesthetically pleasing and to serve a purpose—graphic designers are constantly getting feedback. We’re used to it.

However, there’s a difference between constructive feedback and telling your graphic designer what to do. Just as professional writers are conscientious in their word choice, professional designers consider every visual decision very carefully. Most are trained to follow structured and logical design guidelines, even in more “informal” contexts.

Here are some helpful tips to ensure your graphic design process—whether it be for brochures, one-pagers, websites, multimedia, infographics, or entire report layouts—is indeed collaborative. Trust me: you will have a better product in the end.

Before you start

  1. Bring the graphic designers in early. We don’t have to be part of every editorial discussion. But when you start talking about structure, sections, main elements, or even charts, that’s a good point to bring in a designer, sometimes even to just sit and listen. Graphic designers are usually excellent listeners. The way a project is talked about will always give the designer visual cues that help to indicate what the client is imagining. The more we know, the more informed our design will be for the project.
  2. Be specific. When you’re ready to start handing over pieces for graphic design and layout, tell us what you envision. Tell us what you do and don’t want to see, especially if some of those things are somewhat arbitrary (for example, a color palate you don’t like). Tell us what you want to emphasize in the hierarchy and structure. And always give us any branding guidelines. You can also show us a graphic design that you like for us to use as inspiration.

Once you’ve got a draft

  1. Start with the positive. Point out what you like, what is working, what is on-point for your business problem. Frankly, this is constructive feedback 101. You always want to deliver the critique sandwiched in positive reinforcement.
  2. Ask the designer questions. We love the question, “Why did you make this choice?” We don’t make many arbitrary choices; there’s usually a concrete reason behind every decision. The rules of composition take into account balance, rhythm, scale, and contrast. There are guidelines for the way you read things and the way your eyes travel around a page. There are stylistic signals that make a design look modern and contemporary or classic and conservative. We think about all of this in the context of your project’s criteria, your company’s brand guidelines, and the ultimate business goal of the piece. We make the choices that we think are most effective to solve the problem but that will also make a unique and beautiful design.[pullquote]The more specific you are, the more you give the graphic designer to work with and the closer she’ll get to what you are hoping for.[/pullquote]
  3. Again—be specific. Design is highly subjective; if you say you don’t like something but not why, we don’t know how to fix it. We will attempt to interpret your meaning and start trying out different solutions, one of which may eventually realize your vision—but this process can waste time and money. So avoid using general feedback such as “Make it pop, jazz it up, I don’t like this”—none of this really means anything. The more specific you are, the more you give the graphic designer to work with and the closer she’ll get to what you are hoping for.
  4. Frame your feedback within your business goals. Saying something like, “I don’t like that yellow color,” isn’t enough (and hopefully you already mentioned that before we began designing). Always include a “because” statement: “I don’t like that purple color because it’s not one of the company’s main branding colors.” “I don’t like that purple color because it doesn’t seem right for our audience.” Such feedback clarifies the reasoning and helps pave the path forward as we work to deliver a design that meets your needs.
  5. Recognize that this is a collaboration. Graphic designers are professional problem solvers. So when giving feedback, be sure to talk about the problem, not the solution. For example, when your feedback is something like, “Make this title bold and put it in the left-hand corner,” you are telling the designer what to do and therefore not using her expertise fully—which is what you hired her for in the first place. Instead you might say something like, “I would like this title to stand out more. It should be the first thing readers notice.” The designer then can work with the composition and find the best solution to make the title stand out effectively. In this way, graphic design is a truly collaborative process and you will rest easier knowing that you’re working with a professional.

That last tip may be the most crucial. As a graphic designer, I try to explain my design decisions as best as I can. And when I feel strongly about certain decisions I made, I push for them. But in the past, I’ve seen projects fall short of their potential due to micromanagement of those visual choices. If your feedback consists of directing your designer on how and where to put things, then the collaboration is lost.

It comes down to this: graphic designers love their jobs because it’s a chance to both make the client happy and produce visually compelling work. As such, we appreciate constructive feedback because it makes our design solutions the very best for each and every project. And when you find a graphic designer you work well with and that you can truly collaborate with, that is a relationship to maintain.

Delilah Zak

The principal visualization artist at Leff, Delilah works collaboratively with the team to conceptualize and create all manner of graphic content, from public reports to management articles to standalone infographics and beyond.

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