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Working with a graphic designer 101

You'll Discover:

  • What you need on a design brief to save money and hassles.
  • Why it’s crucial to agree on an assets list.
  • How to provide feedback and request changes.
  • Finishing tips and how the money works.

Working with a graphic designer should be a quick and positive process.

There are a number of tricks to help you make the most out of your graphic designer and in turn, create wonderful graphics with clear messaging for your business, band or event.


Start with a design brief

Any graphic designer worth their salt should have a process to develop a design brief for you. It can save you both time and money, and avoid confusion and hassles.

As Canva explains “A great design brief is like a roadmap.” It is “a short document—usually just one or two pages—that clarifies the strategy for a creative project. It documents the goals of the project and starts the plan for how you'll get there.”

A detailed and thoughtful design brief will lead to a successful end product—whether it’s a logo, poster or entire branding campaign. If you’ve nailed the target audience, know the budget, have a detailed list of all materials needed (eg, logos, photos, text); know what the ultimate goal is and how it will be measured, you’ll end up with a good-looking campaign that everyone will be pleased with.

Below is a very basic example of a basic design brief, sourced from Pinterest (original author unknown). Often a designer will provide their own blank design brief template to you, and fill it in with you (during an initial chat) or get you to complete and submit it to them. If they don't have a template for you to complete, you might want to create your own, using the one below as a reference.

Image shows a Creative Design Brief that you can submit to a designer. Information required includes contact name and email, business name, description of your business, if you have existing brand guidelines in place, do you like/dislike any colours, scope of project, what problem the project solves, who your audience is, who your competition is, what's the tone or feeling of the project, how will you measure it's success and the due dates for the project.

There are lots of different design brief templates online so it's worth googling around if you're after a particular style of brief or you're looking for a fancily formatted template.

Once your brief is drafted you should get a copy to approve before the design work commences.

Getting a good design brief in place reduces confusion, and will steer design ideas and drafts in a direction that suits your needs.

Your graphic designer should be able to look at the brief and know exactly who you are and what you’re after.

We also recommend you nut out the following details in the design brief to save yourself time and money:

  • How should presentation of design concepts and approvals be handled? This is important to avoid a designer making a full piece of work without checking that you’re happy with the concept.
  • Provide previous design/marketing materials you’ve had made, or examples you’ve seen that you like. You can then discuss what’s good about them or what areas you’d like to improve in the new design.
  • Are there other people responsible for other pieces of this project? Will someone else from your venue/act be liaising with the designer?
  • How many edits/changes of the design will you get before the designer starts charging you more than the agreed budget? Establishing this avoids costly surprises if you want the designer to ‘tweak’ the work, but they want to charge you more than you budgeted for.
  • What assets will be provided to you on completion of the work? (see below).
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Confirm your asset list

Your asset list is an essential part of the design brief. If your design brief doesn’t include an asset list, you might incur additional unplanned costs. An asset list is a list of formats and image dimensions that you that need the design provided in for publication.

For example, a venue or band creating an event  poster might ask for a single design to be provided in six different formats:

  1. 1xA3 sized poster (printable, with ^bleed lines^)
  2. 1xA4 sized poster (printable, with ^bleed lines^)
  3. 1 x A6 flyer sized image (printable and postcard sized with multiple versions making up an A4 page)
  4. 1x web poster (where the colours and size will be optimised for web instead of printable poster)
  5. 1 x Facebook cover photo (for Facebook event page)
  6. 1x Facebook shared link thumbnail (for social posting)

Think about where and how you will be sharing the design!

E.g. on your website? Social media? As printed posters? You should be able to give the designer this information so that you get a version of the design in each suitable format (there are different specifications for each). Get this info added to the design brief and agreement on the budget, and extra charges if you decide later you need an additional asset.

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During the design process

Feedback and advice

The way you communicate with your designer can go a long way in ensuring that get the best result for the design project on time and to budget. Sometimes email communication is practical, but at a certain point a phone chat may be more efficient.

99 Designs offers some decent do’s and don'ts which we have paraphrased below. You can read more on their website here.

1. Feedback basics

Design feedback should be precise so that your designer has enough information to move forward. Some types of feedback are too vague to be useful - often these are described as ‘emotive’ types of feedback. They include phrases like “I don’t like it” or “Make it better”. Instead, you might say “I don’t think that the colour scheme is currently working - can we tone down the bright oranges a bit?” or, “Can you tidy up the images so that they more symmetrical and closer to the centre line?”

In short, be very specific about the feedback you are giving using clear descriptions to get your point across. Compose your feedback in clear and simple sentences.

2. Following design conventions

Image shows a block of centred text that has certain letters in bold throughout it. The bold letters form the shape of a lightning bolt. The full text reads The logo is a lightning bolt. It should look realistic. But also minimalist. And you should only recognise it when it is revealed to you. Only the initiated should be able to see the lightning bolt.
by Marla Zebra

A designers goal is to make your creative vision come to life. They can only do this within the conventions of design and using aesthetics of design - and this is so that your messaging comes across professionally and clearly in your design!

Unfortunately that means not everything you have asked for will work. You can still ask but trust your designer if they say that they can’t make every aspect of your design work.

You can approach these challenges by asking questions and listening. Also consider, what are the most important aspects of your design and how much do you want to compromise on the fundamental messaging of your design project?

4. Using the correct terminology

Part of working with a designer is getting your head across basic design lingo. It doesn’t have to be an intimidating process and if you’re unsure of what technical descriptors to use, just ask!

Examples of where you might confuse a designer include things like; saying ‘bleed’ when you mean ‘trim’ or asking for a ‘darker shade’ when you want a ‘lighter tint’.

You’ll cut out confusion and get your results quicker by using the correct terminology. Here’s a glossary of design words, courtesy of 99 designs. Also, check out our more in-depth guide on graphic design here.

5. Collaboration is a huge part of the process

Even though you should be very specific about your feedback, trusting your designer to use their creative flair will give you an incredible design, and the best outcome possible.

So for example, you wouldn’t suggest that they use a very specific colour (unless it was a logo update) or provide detailed technical information on image placement.

Image shows a Pantone colour grid showing 6 different stages of process. Stages are make it blue, that's too blue, make it green, that's too green, I forgot to tell you, I'm... and Colourblind.
by janeaminafelstead
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Finishing tips

Check and double check the work before approving it

Your designer might need to tweak images a bit for each format so you will need to approve each one towards the end of the process (particularly relevant to a Facebook cover image versus a printable poster where you are dealing with both a landscape and portrait style image).

With so many different assets based on a single design, it’s very important to check information (eg spelling, dates, weblinks) before ‘signing off’ on the work.

Make sure you get every asset you asked for.

Get the designer to provide your assets once the design is approved, and make sure they haven’t forgotten anything as you don’t want to discover versions of the design are missing when you need them.

What files should I ask my designer for?

The answer to this question really depends on what asset you have asked them to design for you. Broadly speaking you must have a high resolution version of every asset you have asked for.

Usually in the format of:

  • A vector EPS file for digital (RGB) formats
  • A vector EPS file for print (CMYK) format
  • A web preview file (PNG, JPEG, PDF)

Read more on dimensions, size and pixels in our toolkit guides images for print and making your images look great online.

Don’t use colour designs on black and white formats.

If you need a black and white version of your design ask for a greyscale version. The designer may need to tweak the brightness to make the design look good when not in colour.

A word on asking for the original photoshop, InDesign or illustrator files from your graphic designer:

Designers are often hesitant to hand over their original design files. This is because these aspects of your design construction contain their own ‘tricks of the trade’ (or special sauce!).

But usually a client (you) wants these files so that they can amend something simple down the track. Designers generally say ‘no’ to this kind of request because it is considered to be their own intellectual property.

It depends on the designer and what you need the files for. You'll need to work that out with your designer!

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Paying your designer

Generally graphic designers charge hourly or per project. Per project is good for you, so long as the design brief and payment terms cover everything you need.

To charge per project a graphic designer needs a good grasp on how many hours it will take them to design your project and calculate from there.

Some graphic designers limit the number of revisions (i.e. design amendments) you can make before they charge you extra. If they have specific charges beyond 2-3 revisions. For any extras you might want, get it in writing before you start. That could be either in email form or drawn up as a simple contract.

According to Payscale, as September 2019, of the current rate for a freelance graphic designer in Australia is $29.14 per hour so you could use this as a starting point. Of course, this varies from the city to the regions. A designer’s level of experience has a lot to do with how much they charge also so keep that in mind when putting together your project design budget. A designer will usually set their own pay rates. Some experienced and talented graphic designers even charge up to $300 per hour.

Freelance graphic designers will invoice you for their work, usually for the entire job, after they have delivered it. Some might request a deposit or payment in instalments after each section of the project has been completed. It’s important to work through these details before you start so that you can stick to budget.

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