Demystifying the Design Process | What To Expect When Working with a Graphic Designer

When I first started blogging in 2008, and before I learned the skill set that put me where I am today, I briefly worked with a graphic designer to create a custom header for my very first blog, The Hungry Yogini.

At the time, blog's were still relatively novel (or perhaps I was just not aware of the more advanced and progressive ones!). I can vividly remember reading from several fellow bloggers who had worked with a designer to create a custom header and thinking THAT'S WHAT I NEED. There wasn't much talk about logo design, branding or web development, but I knew without a doubt...

I needed a custom header.

On a mission, I eventually found someone who at the time was working with quite a few other healthy living bloggers on creating custom headers for their Wordpress sites. $150 later and there it was, my custom header. I felt like Ralphie from "A Christmas Story", only replace Red Rider BB Gun with custom Wordpress header. Put me in a pink bunny suit, and call it Christmas!

Fast forward quite a few years, lots of experience, books, design classes, and trial and error, and I myself am a designer working with clients who were just as I was back in '08 - unaware of what all went in to working with a graphic designer but knowing that I needed something to take my blog and business to the next level. 

My goal with today's post is to provide you with some behind the scenes insight on what you can expect in working with a designer. I'm here to demystify the process, help you to know what to look for in a designer and what to expect in the process. As a bonus, I've also included a free 6 page in depth pre-planning worksheet that will you help you feel prepared for your first conversation with your designer, as well as give you a good sense of what your design needs are for your business.

Demystifying The Design Process | What to expect when working with a graphic designer + a free pre-planning worksheet!

Demystifying the Design Process - Designer Expectations

If you've never worked with a designer before, it can be hard to know what you should expect throughout the process. Even in starting my own business, it was tough to decide exactly what I wanted to do (and not do) when working with my clients. While you'll find that each designer has their own process, there are a few KEY things you should look for before signing on with someone.

001 | Consultation

A designer should provide a consultation before you commit to working with them. It is so important to make sure that your designer is a good fit for you not only in their aesthetic and what you've seen in past work, but in their personality as well. Do you feel a sense of trust? Do you sense their commitment to your project? Are they easy to talk to? The design process should be fun and enjoyable, and when you are with the right designer, it will be. That initial consultation is key in making sure that you get good vibes from your prospective designer, and feel that they are going to be committed to helping you create your brand and website. 

002 | Contract

I know, I know. I just said the design process is fun and then turn around and throw the word CONTRACT around all willy nilly. But don't leave yet. Any good designer will have a contract for you to sign before you commit to their services. I don't like to think of it so much as a contract, as it is an agreement. When I provide my clients with a contract, I bundle it into the back of a Design Proposal that has been customized to their potential project. It includes verbiage that not only protects me as a designer, but also protects my potential client. It specifically outlines the services your designer will provide, who is doing what in the arrangement, and a breakdown of the projected cost for the project. It's important that both of us know exactly what we're doing, what the cost will be, and who is going to be doing what during the process.

003 | Project Timeline

When I work with my clients and provide them with their contract and design proposal, I also build in a page that contains one of the most important elements of the whole project - The Project Timeline. Most of my projects are on a 6 week time frame, so after speaking with my client about my availability and their ideal project completion date, I create a comprehensive timeline that lists who does what and when. In it, I breakdown the deadlines for each step of our project, as well as deadline's for my client to provide their feedback. That way, there are no concerns about project delays, lack of correspondence, or questions as to what either party is doing in any given week. 

004 | Communication

Communication is so important when working with a client, and your designer should be available to you to answer questions and work with you every step of the way. Communication not only includes being available by email or phone, but also encompasses information delivery. How will deliverables (meaning inspiration boards, logo concepts, final design files, etc.) be sent to the client? What's the best way to communicate? To keep communication open, each of my clients get a private project homepage on my website that holds a ton of information about the process and guides them through each step. On this page they have access to questionnaires, homework, deliverables and final files. That way when I'm not available right away, they have a quick resource for finding information. It's important to feel like you know you will get the information you need from your designer, if and when you need it. 

005 | Guidance

While your brand is ultimately about you and the vision you have for your business's logo, website, print items, etc., your designer also has a unique skill set and view and SHOULD be offering guidance and direction throughout the process. A designer is not simply someone who has the software that creates a logo, or the ability to get a website up and running. Someone who is willing to give you exactly what you want with no input or guidance should be a red flag.  Yes, we want to get you what you want, but if your vision has some fundamental issues, your designer should be able to provide insight as to why and guidance as to how to resolve it to still get you what you want in a way that makes sense. A good designer will provide you with their reasoning behind a certain logo design, the purpose of using a certain color instead of another, and the thought process behind your website layout for user experience. A good designer establishes trust early on, so that their client knows their guidance is intended to create a comprehensive brand... and not just a custom header. 

Demystifying the Design Process - Client Expectations

So we've talked about what you should expect from your designer, but what should you expect as the business owner and design client? 

001 | Homework

So you have your business idea, you've got a plan and you've hired a designer to create your website so you can start making some seriously awesome things happen. Time to sit back and relax, right!? Not so much. The design process is not without it's homework. Homework is such an important part of the process, and is key in making sure you and your designer are on the same page and working towards the same goal - creating your perfect brand design. 

The two key pieces of homework I ask of my clients happens before our project even begins. Those two tasks are creating a Pinterest board with images that reflect the mood and tone of their brand, and answering a comprehensive questionnaire. This questionnaire dives into what their business is, who their business is for, and even gets down into their business's personality. That's right, it's personality. One of the questions I ask my client's is "If your brand were a person, what would he or she be like?" I encourage clients to get specific, down to where this person lives, what they like to do for fun and how they take their coffee. Seriously! And you know what? My client's love it. It is a great exercise to define their brand's purpose, and hone in on what it might look like visually before we even get started. 

Another key component of homework? Your feedback. As I mentioned before, I include not only my deadlines for getting logos, website design, etc. to my clients, but I also include deadlines for their feedback. I build in a few days for things to sink in, and give instruction as to what I'm looking for in their feedback. Providing detailed feedback to your designer will go a long way in helping them create designs that meet your needs. 

002 | Cost

I got off pretty cheap in 2008 with my $150 investment. But it's true what they say; you get what you pay for. My custom header was just that - a custom header. While it made my site much more visually appealing, it didn't create a cohesive and comprehensive look to my site and business. The design process is not without cost, but it is a major investment in your business. Your website is often the first thing your potential clients and/or readers see. First impressions are everything and can make or break a potential sale, subscriber or follower. Making sure the visual elements of your brand are in line with who you are and what you do will go a long way in starting your business, or refreshing it on the right track.

003 | Fun

Working with your designer should be fun. It should be inspiring and spark new excitement for your business. If you are just starting out, seeing your idea and vision come to life is an invigorating and exciting process. There is a sense of "officialness" (totally made that up... but you know what I mean) that comes with having a cohesive brand - a beautiful logo, a crisp website, and print items that complete the package. As a designer, I love seeing the confidence that comes over clients who have gone from idea, to living breathing business just by having a brand package that fits perfectly. For those who are re-branding, and perhaps changing direction in their business, the design process brings on a sense of renewal and recommitment to your business. The change can spark new excitement and new ideas, much like those first few days of fall that make you feel like a new person. After days that felt long and stagnant, finally a rush of crisp air. Re-branding is a fun and exciting way to get that fall feeling and re-spark your commitment to your business. 

Pre-Planning Worksheet

Below is the link to the pre-planning worksheet that will get you prepared for working with a designer, and honed in on exactly what you are looking for. Knowing what you want before speaking with potential designers is key in making sure you find the right fit. After completing this in-depth 6 page worksheet, you'll know what questions to ask, have a clear definition of your brand's purpose and vision, and an understanding of your website and print needs. Enjoy!