Collaborating With Designers: 10 Effective Tips


15 min read

Collaborating With Designers - Best Tips

Whether you’re a business owner, a project manager, a developer, or even a creative yourself, at some point you work with other creatives. You will always need a designer to work on your brand visuals, design your app, website, or any concept that requires the expertise of a specialist in the field. As in any other area of work, good results require good collaboration. So why are we talking about collaboration with designers in particular? How are they different than other specialists? That’s the thing, they’re not.

Effectiveness and efficiency in business depend on professionalism in all areas. Who is the best person with the right skills to do the job in the best way?

When you hire a lawyer or an accountant, you do so because you don’t wish to defend yourself in court or going into battle with the tax authorities without the correct training and experience. You would cooperate with them, giving them valuable information and every important detail so you’ll know they have all they need to do their job properly.

The same should also apply to designers. Unfortunately, for many business owners, managers, and even teams, who work with creatives, graphic design is one of those “leave it to someone creative” areas where proper collaboration is often overlooked. Briefings often end with directions such as “I’ll know when I see it” which pressures designers to guess and overthink every area of the design and have to prepare complete prototypes before they even show the design to anyone. Such a lack of communication can prove disastrous for any project.

This is why today we’ll go through the principles of collaboration with designers. Web, graphic, UI/UX designers, and working with creatives in general. All with practical tips for more efficient collaboration that will give better results for everyone involved.

Why Collaborate with Creatives

Designers have years of training, their lives are often centered around the creative process, they are professionally training with the skills and techniques that take years to master and they know what they are doing. They also have the time, focus, and technical abilities at their fingertips to put the ideas into practice. However, just like any other professional, they need all the input they can get to provide the exact results you need.

Many business brains are happy to hand off to professional creatives, with little input. “Make the design POP!”After all, these are the professionals who know what they should do, so let them get on and we’ll see what they come up with. This is a high-risk strategy. You end up with something genius but it’s far more likely that their vision and yours don’t match up. Back to the drawing board?

To prevent this outcome, collaboration is the key to success. And collaboration with designers is down to communication, not just what you say but how and when you say it. Not only how you see things but how you are prepared to listen and take on board the opinions of others.

Collaboration is a two-way process, you do it all the time in life. Should it be so difficult with designers? No. Are they a different breed? Maybe. But that should be a good thing.

So, let’s look at how to get the best out of the collaboration and create our dream win/win scenario.

Principles of Collaboration

Collaboration is literally about working with somebody. This should be the central focus of all great collaboration. The idea is that graphic designers aren’t working for you but working with you to produce something better than each of you would do alone. There are ways to encourage this two-way approach that are highly successful. How much and exactly how you go about this, depends on the relationship and the situation:

  • Learn about each others roles

One of the best ways to create a good relationship based on understanding and communication is to get to know exactly what the other person’s role is. This includes the ins and outs of what they do, the processes they go through, and what can make these processes easier.

If you work in close contact with a member of staff or a different team you can pick up this information along the way, but it may take time. To cut this time or to find out about the creative process of the designer who is working remotely, then you need to take a more active stance.

Of course, you don’t have to learn all the skills of the graphic designer, however, you can get familiar with their language and terms. It is also possible and advisable to do some research into the study, training, and skill set that designers have. The best way to learn about the role of the graphic designer is to go through the process with them, get them to explain and listen. The better you understand the issues they face and go through, the better your communication can target these issues. Therefore, the more effective your collaboration with designers should be.

  • All for one, not you & us

If you’ve taken on graphic designers, then they become part of your team for this project, not a separate entity to it. Many people have the view that creative people are a step apart from the rest.

This is especially heightened in the world of IT, with creatives and developers often seen as absolutely opposite personality types. Simply put, this is not true. Whilst some designers may fit the wild, extreme, loner stereotype the vast majority do not. In the same way, not all developers are geeky, nerds who spend their lives huddle over computer screens or discussing gaming.

There will, of course, be some differences but in a good team, differences should lead to better and more varied input. In the case of developers and creatives, their skills are surprisingly similar and there will be more common ground than you think. The principle of collaboration means bringing these together and giving the opportunity to learn and work together for the greater benefit of all. Be inclusive, include your designer in group meetings and activities, and encourage communication between stakeholders in the project, and roles.


Practical Tips to help Collaboration with Designers

1. Start with the WHY.

“Why” should be the first question for any person on any project, from the Project manager to the developers. Without knowing the reason, it’s impossible to outline a goal and get the desired result. It also helps establish the overall point of the project and gives a clear destination.

With collaboration with designers, it is vital that they understand the WHY from the beginning, the how can come later.

2. Outline the Creative Brief

The creative brief is the agreed information and strategy of the creative part of the project. It should be presented as a reference document and include key details as well as the overarching strategic concepts.

Don’t be afraid of setting this research in front of the designer and don’t worry about restricting their vision. The job of the graphic designer in this situation is to use the information and work within it on your behalf or the behalf of your client. The better the creative brief the less risk of the outcome not hitting the mark. It’s good for you and good for the designer, so share all the valuable information and research you have.

The creative brief should include

  • Vision and the mission  – What is the aim of the project? What is the expected goal and what will be seen as a good result? Here you can add the unique brand elements that you wish to encapsulate or push, as well as the image you wish to create.
  • Audience – Who is the design for, what’s the demographic?
  • The current situation – What is the present status of the project?
  • Problems and solutions – What is the problem and how are you going to solve it?
  • Guidelines – What is the design criteria?
  • Logistics -What are the deadlines, timelines, and budget?

The creative brief at this stage can still be open to change. However, it is a vital document to establish the rules of the project for both the graphic designer and you. It also serves as a great way to establish your collaborative relationship from the very start.

Creative Briefs are an essential component of any creative project or campaign. They are more than a guide and more than guidance. How you write a great creative brief is another story.

3. Discuss and listen

You the graphic designers you work with to ask questions, so encourage them. Answer all questions with as much clarity and openness as possible. This fosters trust from the start.

Questions from the designers are a way of testing the waters and getting a real feel for the project. Give them space to share their ideas and professional opinions. They need to know how tight the design brief is and if they can push it. Some designers will show their enthusiasm and energy by bombarding you with questions, others will take a more laid-back approach. Either way, by spending some time to discuss the project at this stage, you are setting the ground for positive collaboration with designers and putting the foundations in place for a positive business relationship. It is time well spent.

This is also the right time to iron out the potential misunderstanding, to clarify positions, to discuss the concepts from the outlined brief, and to listen. Remember the two-way process? Good, show it early. Designers have ideas, not just design skills. And that’s exactly what you want: designer’s eye, throwing ideas into the mix, sharing thoughts on solutions and the latest fashions. A designer who feels they are playing an active role in the creative process is more motivated than the one who is going through the motions creating your set idea.

When you are making decisions for the final creative brief document, the designer should be a part of them. This can include the solutions but also the platforms and tools being used. A good designer is not a robot to fulfill a function, a good designer is a fundamental part of the process, so let them know it.

4. Inclusive team management

If you’re a team leader or a project manager, you know that a strong team is a team that has different strengths, different skills, and diverse personalities but when the chips are down they pull together in the same direction to create something better than the sum of its parts.

Disagreement is healthy as long as there is a code of mutual respect. If you are having team meetings, brainstorming sessions, discussions of progress for the whole project, make sure to include the designers. Getting input from different sources is mightily important and so is the show of unity and strength that come from an inclusive management strategy.

Managing teams that are made up totally of creative types can be like being thrown into the lion’s den when you are used to working with cats. However, there are some general guidelines that can make managing creative teams, a whole lot easier.

5. Encourage co-creation

One of the best ways of creating an understanding and team ethic is co-creation. Team members with different roles, actively working together to solve a problem or improve something. Non-designers and designers look at things from different viewpoints and can generate discussion and spot potential problems.

6. Put your systems in place

For business owners and project managers, the systems and processes of a business are some of the essential underlying factors that help your business function. Putting aside the philosophy and core values of the business and looking for practical project management and communications systems will ensure a smooth-running operation. Everybody on the team should be aware of the conventions of the project. Following these conventions helps avoid miscommunication, niggles, annoyances, and arguments. It also forms an invisible glue that tangible holds a team together and adds a comforting familiarity.

A practical guideline document available to all members of the team will help smooth these processes and avoid unnecessary problems.

You can include things such as:

  • Tools and platforms for communication
  • File-sharing conventions
  • Format of communication
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Remote team rules

For graphic designers is it also useful to include details such as:

  • Font sizes
  • Naming conventions
  • Margins sizes

7. Correct Tools

For collaboration with designers in-house, you will still more than likely be using some form of online communication and collaboration tools. If they are working remotely it is essential. Luckily, there are many great tools for online communication and collaboration so choose wisely and choose well. These tools should be standard parts of your operating procedure and available to all members of all teams.

Tools like Slack, Google Suite, and Microsoft Teams provide an easy means of communication for messages. Project management boards such as Trello, allow all team members to view the different stages of completion or progress. For video communication Zoom, Teams, or Skype are all commonplace offering virtual meetings but also many other functions for collaboration. The one thing you are not short of is choice.

Using the correct tool for the right kind of communication is a valuable skill. Virtual meetings are time-consuming and can lead to practical issues such as mutual scheduling issues. However, face-to-face meetings of this kind (when done well and for an appropriate situation) are important in keeping your relationship and communication more personal. Asynchronous communication, messaging, etc should be clear, concise, and have a definite point. How well you use the tools will often set the scene for your relationship and therefore your collaboration.

8. Motivate! Designers are people too

Graphic designers are not always bags of ideas waiting to burst at the slightest pinprick from you. Like anyone else you work with, designers need motivation in order to reach their potential. Design can be a long-drawn-out process of drafting, redrafting, questioning, and more questioning. Part of the collaboration process is you offering advice and guidance along the way, and providing a platform and space for the designer to feel confident and therefore creative.

Creativity requires freedom, you’ve created the brief so let’s see what they can come up with within these boundaries. Designers feel the trust, and most thrive on it. Add to this positive energy and encouragement and you’ll find your collaboration with designers much more productive.

9. Feedback  – honest, constructive and open

The value of feedback both during and after the completion of the project cannot be underestimated. Positive feedback is a huge motivational boost, even constructive negative feedback can be tempered with elements of positivity.

As this is a collaboration you need to have input during the design phase, and you need to be upfront and honest about what you see, what you don’t see, what you get, and what you don’t get. Feedback is an expectation for any creative, and the ones who can’t cope with it haven’t got to this stage. So don’t be scared but do it, be fair and balanced, and explain your view.

Even if the design fits with the brief it might not be what you were expecting. Good communication on draft versions should have stopped this before it had gone too far – so speak up loud and clear, early.

It is ok not to like something, no designer has ever got 100% favorable reviews and none will. The key is to remain professional, keep calm and be clear about what you don’t like and what you would prefer.

Negative feedback is best given in person so you can fully explain and sense the mood. The feedback should be seen as a constructive step, not a destructive one.

10. Credit where credit is due

Collaboration with designers on your project, you’re also working with them as people. If you are fair, thoughtful, and flexible throughout the project, you are establishing some pretty good building blocks for success. If you show your appreciation, the often forgotten designer feels that inner glow that made them create in the first place. Appreciation – a simple thank you, a personal email or message, a gift or bonus -will pay you back over and over.


Collaboration with Designers: Conclusion

Collaborative work is a way of using the right tool for the right job. It is nothing to be scared of, even when collaborating in the seemingly mystical world of creative designers. Designers are humans too, and you don’t need a magic wand to transform them into something that is more than another resource.

Good effective communication skills, with little thought and consideration, can produce wonderful results for all parties. And the more you get to know the designers you work with, the better your working relationship will be.

In this case, familiarity does not breed contempt but content. If you’ve found a good graphic designer, you need to work together to get the results you want. Once you’ve worked well together, the bones of the relationship are there. Don’t throw them away, say thank you and we’ll be in touch soon.

You may also be interested in Website Methodologies: The Best Ways to Run Web Development Projects

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