How not to waste money on design

Often by the time an SME walks into our offices they’ve had at least one bad experience of working with designers. Many have been through a long protracted process where the costs have clocked up and after the project has finished they’ve felt aggrieved that they’ve spent so much money and that it took so long to get the design they desired. The frustrating part is that in so many cases this experience could be avoided if the designer had asked the right questions and if the customer knew the best way to brief their designer.

In the same way you’d brief an IT supplier about what parameters you want your new machine to fit or let your interior designer know what colours work for you, you need to brief your designer too. If you come to a designer without a brief the good ones will discuss the detail with you to avoid guessing what you like and don’t like, what your target audience is and all of the other detail they need. A really good designer will question why you’ve asked for what you have and make sure that’s the best option for your business and that this piece of design will meet your business, marketing and branding objectives.

So if you’re putting together a brief, what do designers need to know?

Tell them about your business
They want to know a lot about your business. What do you do? What is your product or services range and what markets do you operate in? What is the purpose of the piece of design you have in mind – what do you want it to achieve? How does it fit in with your business and marketing objectives? How does your business compare to your competitors? What makes you different?

Show them what you’ve done before
You may have branding or design that you’ve done previously. Whether you like it or not it will help us discuss what sort of design you’re looking for now. Try and explain what you like and what you don’t about existing examples and whether or not you felt they worked for your business.

Don’t be afraid of collecting marketing materials from competitors to discuss, or finding examples of designs that you do or don’t like, either physically or online. All of these elements will give us a clearer picture of your business’ requirements and your personal preferences.

Explain your target markets
You may have specific customer base or your may have a set of different and distinct customers who all have different requirements. Unsurprisingly different types of customers, in different sectors will respond positively to different designs. For example our design work for Toyota Motorsport will not be the same as our design work for global IT brand CSC or the HR SME Loates Business Solutions. The more detail you can give designers about your target markets, the more specific we can be in the creation of the artwork and the more effective this will be.

Discuss images
Photography, illustrations or other images are often a vital part of the design of any marketing materials and the importance of sourcing high quality images is often over looked. Unfortunately to make sure your business looks professional, taking some shots with a camera phone just isn’t going to work. Be upfront with your designer about what images you may have to accompany the design and don’t worry if the designer suggests trying something new.

Images don’t have to cost the earth. Firstly stock images may be an option, which can be very reasonable, secondly, the chances are the designer will know a variety of photographers that are suitable for different projects and will either be able to set up some suitable photographs, or if you prefer, put you in touch with them directly.
And photographs aren’t the only option for your design, it might be that illustrations or cartoons are the perfect accompaniment to your copy!

Give them the specifics
You may have existing brand guideline you are working too or an idea of what colours or fonts you wish to use. This may be clear in your historic design or you may want to brief your designer on a rebrand or refresh and new design direction. You may have a suite of marketing materials that this needs to sit within – if you, let the designer know.

You’ll probably have an idea if it’s physical print, what size or format that you’d like and how many you’d like printing – remember designers often have great relationships with printers because they do so much so it might be worth getting them to source your print too.
Talk copy

Are you planning to provide the copy (words) that is included? If so, do you know how many words are required? Too much copy will put most target audiences off so it’s helpful to ask your designer for advice on, for example, how many words will work well on your A5 leaflet.

It’s likely you’ll want to write the copy yourself, however, there are professionals that can help if you don’t, or perhaps would like someone to look over the text when it’s done. Designers will usually know a wordsmith or two so you can always ask them to put you in touch with one.

Tell them the timescales
Creating the perfect design takes time and in an ideal world there’d be lots of time to develop it. But in reality you often need work to very tight deadlines, by knowing these upfront it allows the designer to plan ahead in order to deliver on time.

Don’t be afraid of discussing costs
Don’t be afraid of telling your designer the budget upfront or asking your designer for a fixed price, once you’ve developed your brief.

Writing your first design brief can be daunting, however, it will make a massive difference to the end result. If you’re not sure you’ve covered everything when you’ve finished your brief, show your colleagues. Is it clear to them? Have you missed anything? Can they add something extra? And if you really don’t want to write it down, that’s fine, just make sure that when you sit down with the designer, you know the answers to all of the questions above, as any decent designer will ask you.

The more you can tell them about your initial ideas the better. It gives designers a good grounding and better understanding of what you are trying to achieve, but remember a really good designer will question your reasons for a course of action and may suggest alternatives. Remember, designers are experts in their field and it’s their job to guide and advise you to the most effective solution for your business.

A final tip: As designers we might be a creative bunch but we’re tough cookies – don’t be afraid of telling us how it is. You won’t hurt our feelings or irritate us – it’s vital to ensure your design does the job and is something that you understand and you’re comfortable with.