Get the Best Out of Your Designer


I’ve been a freelance graphic designer for twelve years and one thing I know to be true: clients have tremendous influence on the success of the final product. For better or for worse, the way we work together shapes the design. While a clear, trust-filled process with a client can yield wonderful results–pieces which I add proudly to my portfolio–the opposite can sadly be true, too.

Here are 3 tips for getting the best work out of your creative professional.

1. Hire the right designer.

Check out their portfolio. Do you like their work? Is their existing style in line with your project? Some designers are chameleons, yes, but counting on a designer to develop a new aesthetic just for you is risky. So you should like what they do.

Talk to their past clients. Were they responsive to emails? How did they handle feedback? Here’s a good one: Do they have a creative backbone? You want to hire a collaborator, not a puppet, someone who will push back against bad ideas when they need to and advocate for the best design possible.

2. Present a puzzle with parameters.

Know what you want. Gather inspiration and evocative descriptors for your designer (visual research is great!), but here’s the trick: don’t get overly specificI love when my clients pose an open-ended design challenge with set parameters. Too open-ended, and it’s not clear what they want, but too specific, and there’s nothing interesting for me to do.

Try to present a challenge for your designer to solve:

“How do we convey a sense of danger, but also that it’s a Christmas show?” [GOOD]

Instead of trying to solve it for them:

“Design a poster with a man smoking a pipe and the smoke from his pipe forms the shape of a woman and the whole scene is set inside a snow globe in Paris.” [BAD]

It’s the difference between inspiring your designer:

“We need this poster to feel really political. We want it to pop on a coffee shop wall.” [GOOD]

And giving them no breathing room:

“Make a Shepard Fairey poster.” [BAD]

3. Transition out of the driver's seat.

You’ve hired the right person, you’ve communicated your needs/wants/wildest dreams clearly. Now the process transitions to trust. Not all at once–the early draft stages are still key for big, honest feedback and direction–but as you get further and further into the process, your hands should come off the wheel as you trust your designer’s instincts and allow them to take care of the details.

It’s easier than most clients realize to really hurt the integrity of a design right at the finish line with finicky edits. Take care when pushing past your designer’s advice late in the game.

And don’t forget to end on a good note. If you’re happy with the process and the product, thank your designer by recommending them to others or even write a testimonial for them to use in their personal marketing.


Shannon Loys is Seattle’s premier theatre graphic designer, having designed for Seattle Repertory Theatre, Teatro ZinZanni, ArtsWest, Cornish College of the Arts, Book-It Repertory Theatre, and Intiman, among others. Check out her work.

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