The Client’s Guide to Design

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Overview

Why do you need to hire a designer? For the same reasons you hire any other specialist: they can do the job better, faster, and — ultimately — cheaper than you can yourself.

This client’s guide is intended to help businesspeople better understand their role in planning and completing a design project. It is not intended as a do-it-yourself manual; so perhaps the best way to start is by answering the question: Why isn’t it? Or to put it another way: why do you really need a designer?

Briefly, you need a designer for the same reason you’d need any other professional—a lawyer, an accountant, a plumber. A professional designer has the necessary talent, skill, experience, equipment, and focus to do a better job in a shorter time span than almost all businesspeople handling the work themselves. In the long run, hiring a designer saves you time and trouble and, most of all, money.

But that doesn’t mean you can just hire a designer and step away from the process. Even if you’re working with the best designer in the world, you still know your business better than he does: its strengths, its weaknesses, its goals. You know what it is you hope to accomplish, and who your likeliest market is. All of those factors are important in deciding on a design approach. So it’s vital to look upon any design project as a collaboration.

And that’s the purpose of this guide: to help you understand the process better, so you can be an effective partner to your designer—and together, produce a project that will be effective.

If you come away from this Guide with nothing more, you should at least take to heart the two most important rules any client should keep in mind when embarking upon any kind of design project:

1. Keep Your Market In Mind

For clients, the temptation is always there to identify so strongly with their business that logos and layouts are judged according to personal preferences. Sometimes it’s a hunch about what the market will best respond to; but too often decisions are made on the level of a favorite color, or a dislike of grids. And that’s wrong: it’s the market the design is trying to reach, not the client.

That’s not to say that clients have no valid input; still less that every design project should please the designer over all other considerations. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the designer likes (he’s not paying for it), or what the client likes (he’s not buying the product or service). It matters what the market likes.

And that brings us to the second rule:

2. Whatever Works Best, Is Best

There are a lot more rules to graphic design than most people suppose. Since design is communication, it has its own grammar, and flouting the rules should only be done for the best of reasons, and very carefully. But in the end, it’s not the rules that matter: it’s how positively the market responds to your campaign. And if your bottom line is your biggest concern, then whatever draws the best response—no matter how trite, clichéd, vulgar, or even ugly—is the best design solution. Period.

If you (and your designer) can accept that graphic design, for marketing purposes, is not an exercise in fine art or ego gratification, but a clear-eyed and logical attempt to effectively convey a message to a focused market, then it’s difficult to fail.