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-Smart ways to use designers

Smart ways to use designers

-Knowing when and how to use a designer means better results

Sometimes we hear clients exclaim "Hey, I didn't know designers did that." Understanding how and what way to use designers is important to producing good work. Here is some helpful advice.

- Start early (not at the eleventh hour)

You may think designers should come in at the end of the development process and "make it pretty," right? This is actually a common mistake. Design is best as a planning practice. Bring a designer in early within the planning process to leverage their assistance in planning a product or service. Professional designers are architects and builders of visual communication. Not only are they helpful in visualizing –and therefore clarifying– the rough thoughts that evolve to become ideas, they also can provide advice on how to mesh a product or service with the communication around it. Does it involve a story? What is required to make it easy to understand? How does it reflect the client's brand image? How does it complement other related products and services? Simply put, a designer can provide valuable assistance in making sense of it all.

-Think about how you explain what you need

A designer's ability to provide a solution is affected by the instructions you give them when meeting and presenting your problem needs. This is where the potential for innovation separates from just styling.
Tell a designer to design a dish rack, and the result will likely be a dishrack that is pretty much what you expect, maybe with a unique color, or pattern style. Tell a designer to design a way to dry dishes and he is no longer likely to think exclusively "within the box" of conventions. The latter approach is an example of instructing a designer to innovate the means to a goal without suggesting a solution. If you are looking to really tap a designer's capacity for flexibile problem-solving thought, consider how you describe your need. Sometimes you might want the dish rack, but maybe you want something more?

-Give defined objectives

It is important to be specific with your objectives when starting a project with a designer. Keep in mind that designers, for better and for worse, are innovators at best, dreamers at worst. They will want to push the envelope if you let them, but they can also be prone to loose thought or over-analysis if not given clear goals beforehand. Project briefs, bulleted lists of your communication or task objectives can go a long way to ensuring that the design project will run smoothly and efficiently. Just because you know what you want, doesn't mean that you and your designer have communicated clearly and are on the same page. A clearly defined scope of work –before the work begins– will translate into a much smoother, efficient design process.

-Be an engaged, involved client

Don't be afraid to participate in the design process if you want to. Design doesn't work well in a vacuum of silent knowledge. The more successful design efforts are like a conversation that involves continued exchange of ideas, preferences and observations. Rely on a designer's expertise and experience in certain matters, but don't be afraid to challenge them in a constructive way. You know your customers and clients better than the designer do. Share your daily knowledge.

-What if I don't know what I really want?

There is a saying among designers that often the client doesn't really know what they want, and it is the designers job to tell them what they want. This isn't exactly true. Good design isn't about "telling" the client anything. A professional designer's job should be to listen, ask questions, and work together with the client to identify and fulfill the design need.

-The bottom line: Communicate with your designer

Let's say you need a design, like a sign that identifies your business, but don't know what it should say or look like. Designers operate best with clear constraints, so here are several tricks that can help you work together to define your design need and find a solution:
First, collect as much material about the topic to share with the designer. This includes other examples you like, any related items to what you want to design, etc. Such background material is essential for providing context to a design.
Second, consider writing a simple, one sentence problem statement, like "Design a sign for our building that communicates our business and reflects our history, commitment, and fast service." Having such a statement helps to distill your thinking and helps the designer understand the priorities that he or she has to translate into a visual form.
Third, be sure to stay involved in the design process by requiring documents such as progress reports that are essential for keeping a project (especially larger projects) on-time and on-budget.