Whether you are the client, the designer, or a project manager, everyone who has a stake in the creative process contributes to its success. We’ve compiled these tips from years of experience working on both ends of the spectrum (as the client, and the creative), and the best combination is always when everyone understands the process and participates in full.
1. Know What You Like
Find websites, magazines, ad campaigns or any design that has elements you like (color palette, layout, font, image placement, unique design elements). Identify what parts of these designs you want to emulate. Take screen captures and save them as a touchstone. Everyone can contribute. Use Pinterest or Google docs to collaborate on creative direction by uploading style references and discussing them before design begins.
2. Have Your Assets Ready
Have branding elements (logo files), and starter photos ready to go. Gather a handful of photographic options to play with. This may be collaborative with everyone searching, or assigned to one person to search. It’s helpful to have the branding files, and approved images in a shared location such as Dropbox or Google drive. Whatever the case, a designer can’t design without any assets.
3. It’s Not Just About Art, It’s Technical Too
What are the specs? For a designer, it costs time, money, and patience to have to redo good work because specifications weren’t established. That means before you begin, communicate and research your target platforms and mediums. This means specifying things such as: resolution, color space, pixel dimensions, and target devices. We’ll talk more about this in our blog “Thinking Mobile.” The important point is this: settle on the spec’s and if they change make sure everyone knows about it. Often times a designer will know the right questions to ask. Just make sure the questions get asked before a single pixel of color is pushed.
4. Establish Look & Feel – First
Before you try to design a whole website, catalog, or ad campaign start with one representative piece. If it’s a website, it’ll be the homepage; if it’s an ad campaign, choose 1-2 representative mediums; if it’s a video, do a style frame, etc. Use that selected sample to explore, color, layout, fonts, images, messaging, and overall feel. Don’t try to do too much. Get the vision right first, and the rest can follow.
5. Engage in the Creative Process
In the early stage of setting look and feel don’t just settle with the first version. See many. Consider something completely different, or at least keep it on the table. The design process is not always linear, it’s more like peeling an onion, just when you think you’ve reached the center you find 5 more layers. The key is to let it unfold, and don’t shortchange it. 3-4 rounds of discovery to get the look and feel right is reasonable, even advisable.
6. Not Just Any Font Will Do
Every unique design has a suite of fonts that become an integral part of its look. Typically a design will have 2-3 fonts. One for the branding, one for headers/big message, and one for your talking font. Notice our site. We have one unique font for our logo, one font for our big headers, and one font for body copy. While sometimes you can get away with one font with different styles applied (bold, book, light), typically there are 3. And be on the lookout for any design that has a lack of self-control (4+ fonts). Of course there are always reasons to break these rules, but the reasons must be justified.
7. Margins Matter
Just as every design has a suite of fonts, every design also has a rule set of margins. This is of course the job of the designer to make sure everything is spot on. But if you’re the client you’ll get a better result if you take the time to notice the details. That means if something doesn’t look centered, question it, or if the copy jumps up and down, or if the gutter (space on the left and right of a page) seems to shift, question it. Spend time with the design. Often these details are a matter of polishing, and the polish will be better applied if everyone involved knows what to look for.
8. Consistency is King
Every design has rules, fonts, margins, color palette and design elements. If you are using a thin 2px black rule to separate elements, don’t use a 1px black rule somewhere else. If you bevel the corner of buttons do it everywhere. Don’t have a squared button and then a rounded button. Decide on the look and stick to it. Follow this same principle for colors (called HEX VALUES in web) If header fonts are a particular grey, use that same grey (exactly that same grey) elsewhere. Anything less is sloppy.
In your creative brief you should have established a number of goals. Themes and ideas about who you are and what you want to communicate. You may even have a set of adjectives or phrases that represent your values, and demographics about your target audience. Take pause throughout the design process and ask: Am I holding true to these objectives? If not take another pause and ask why. Then pivot.
10. Don’t Forget a Style Guide
No, you don’t have to have a full set of design guidelines. BUT you should have the key information. What fonts are we using (make sure you have them!), what are the colors HEX, RGB, CMYK, and have the raw Photoshop or Illustrator files. It happens all the time that client does not ask and then they do not receive. Then down the road when you want to use that design as the launching point for other materials you’re out of luck, and the backwards engineering begins.