In a past life my job was to work alongside graphic designers to make sure they understood what the client wanted and the client understood what was realistic and possible. It gave me great insight into how designers think (I often say, "I speak graphic designer"). And it also allowed me to see how many people did not understand the role or abilities of designers. Which is why I am so glad designer April Matthews is sharing how to work with a graphic designer-- because it will save you time and money (I promise!)
If you're considering working with a graphic designer for the first time, it can feel a little intimidating to break the ice and reach out. As an entrepreneur, you might worry that you're taking a big risk by putting an element of your business in someone else's hands, or that the designer is going to be judgmental about the small-ish size of your business or your existing graphics.
As a graphic designer, let me tell you-- just like it's a thrill for you to get a new order notification, hearing from small business owners makes us designers do a happy dance! Entrepreneurs have AMAZING ambition and imagination. There's nothing I love more than listening to a passionate person's vision and playing "Fairy Godmother" to bring it to life for them.
I've put together some insider info that I tend to take for granted from doing this for years, but realize would be super helpful for people who don't have experience yet in working with graphic designers.
#1 What to look for in a graphic designer
An awesome designer's website will have a variety of graphic styles in their portfolio. This shows that they listen well to their clients and can be "style chameleons." Look for great feedback from clients as well-- there's no better sign of a great designer than happy customers.
Also, their personality will show through somewhat on their website-- do you like them? Working with a good graphic designer tends to be a very collaborative process.
And, most importantly, you should see work on their website that you love!
#2 Say "hi!"
Really, you could write a novel in your first email to a designer and they probably won't mind! But if you'd rather dial it back a little, here's the minimum to include:
- Your name
- The name of your business and what you sell
- Your website (an Etsy shop is fine!)
- What design services you're interested in or considering, or what goal you're hoping to achieve with new graphics for your business
- If you have a deadline for the project
- Any specific vision or ideas you might have for the project
#3 Help your designer see your vision for your business
Once the designer gets back to you, they'll have a list of questions for you to fill out to get a solid feel for your vision. Although it may feel a bit like "homework," it's so important to put together both written ideas and visual examples to help communicate to your designer what you need from them. Every graphic designer will have a different list of what they'll need from you to get started, but here's my own list for logo design as an example:
- A two sentence description or manifesto of your product line.
- What makes your products unique from your competition?
- Describe your target audience (their gender, 10-year age range, typical background and ambitions)
- List 4-5 words you'd like your business to be perceived as (in the eyes of your target audience)
- Provide links to 3-5 logos or branding graphics you like.
- Provide links to 2-3 logos or branding graphics you don't like.
#4 You may not be ready for a graphic designer (yet!)
If you're not sure about the answers to the questions in tip #3 above, you might want to wait until your business has been on the market for a few months before making the investment into professionally designed graphics. It often takes a trial-and-error period to learn what products or niches your audience responds to best, and for you to find a "personality" for your business that customers love. You don't want to get a logo to define your business-- your business should define your logo.
Professionally designed graphics are super smart step towards getting your customer audience as pumped about your products are you are. When customers feel like they know your brand, they can feel trust, excitement, and even attachment towards your business. 😍 It's a sparkly, magical thing.
Even if you're at the stage where it's not time to invest in graphic design yet, you can cover your bases for now by taking your best DIY shot at it-- make sure the colors, fonts, and vibe of your business's graphics have a strong consistency to them. It's a great way to get devoted customers who remember you, recommend you to others, and come back for more!
April Matthews is a graphic designer and small business owner specializing in small business branding identity, illustration, and event stationery. Her work has been featured in blogs like The Huffington Post and Brit + Co, and has worked with clients on everything from meaningful personal projects, to branding businesses with 600K+ social media followers.
Header photo credit Charlotte Dupont.