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Saving Sanity: How to Talk to Your Designer

headshotIf life were simple, the design process would go something like this:

You: “Hi, Designer. I want a book cover.”

Designer: “Let me telepathically absorb exactly what you’re looking for and add a couple things to make it better.”

The perfect finished cover is delivered in a day or two. Cue the high five. Everyone is pleased and nobody enters the witness protection program.

As much as we wish it, life is never quite that easy. Often complications and miscommunications arise from the act of living that turn our projects into nightmares. And, if you were to peek into the designers’ bin of hopes and fears, one of their nightmares is the client from hell. So how do you avoid being that client for your designer? By one little phrase: providing good feedback. And how does one go about providing good feedback to someone who thinks in pictures rather than words?

Provide Quality Info from the Start 

Much like you wouldn’t show up to an interview without your resume, you should come prepared when you meet with your designer. Provide as much relevant, rich, and detailed information as you can at the beginning of the process, and it will reap benefits in the long run (and possibly keep you under budget). This principle especially applies if your designer won’t have the chance to read your book before the deadline.

A prepared designer will pick your brain for their design brief, so it’s good to have your thoughts organized.  Do you already have an idea what character/situation/words you’d like on the cover? Let your designer know that. If there’s any specific trend or visual element you wish to avoid, be sure to express that to your designer before he or she spends time on your book cover. Put a little effort into the process before it begins and it will make the experience less frustrating for both of you.

Don’t Micromanage…

I think we can all agree that being micromanaged falls on everyone’s list of “Work-related things I passionately dislike.” So it should be no surprise that it applies to designers as well. As helpful as you might think it is to “check in” every day to see if they have any questions, you are probably making them dislike working for you. Or at the very least hogging up space in their voicemail. If they have any questions, rest assured, they will email or call you.

…and no Laissez-Faire Managing Either

Almost as annoying is laissez-faire managing. This is the kind of managing where there is none. Ever. It’s when you come to the initial consolation with no information and say “I dunno what I want. You’re the designer. Make me something amazing.” (I quote from real-life experience.) It’s also when the designer has to twist your arm to get you to give any hint of an opinion on a mockup. As hinted in the intro, designers can’t read your mind (yet) and like hearing your opinion. After all, it’s your money that you’re spending. You should have something to say about the final product. Give your designer room to use their expertise, yes, but it will smooth the process if you have some opinions on the matter.

Be Thoughtfully Direct

If you don’t like the mockup your designer shows you, feel free to say so in a polite way from the beginning. If your designer is a professional, they will understand. Sparing the feelings of your designer doesn’t help anyone in the long run. It leads to a completed design you don’t like. As a bonus, if you wait until the end to admit your dissatisfaction, it will irritate your designer, probably force a redo of your cover and possibly go over your budget, since you’ll almost certainly be billed for that extra time and effort because you didn’t say anything. That being said…

Mix Some Positive Feedback in with the Negative

You know the motherly saying “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” Applicable in some circumstances, but not in this case. However, there is something to be said for mentioning what you like as well as what you dislike. Besides softening the blow of any harsh negative feedback you might have, this also lets the designer know what not to mess with when they go into revisions. For example, if you really liked the colors, but hate the photo chosen, say so. Then the designer can look for another photo that incorporates that color scheme.

Be Specific

Inspect the design thoroughly. What works? What doesn’t work? What can make it better? These are the questions you should be answering for your designer as specifically as possible. Instead of saying a general “I don’t like the title,” think exactly why you don’t like the title. Do you think it doesn’t fit the mood of your book? Is it too big or not big enough? Is it hard to read? And whatever you say in your feedback, please avoid subjective, vague words like “edgy” or “cool” or “pizzazz.” Besides not being specific at all, designers are secretly rolling their eyes at you if you use them.

Keep the End Goal in Sight

As you and your designer communicate, always keep the buyers of your book in mind. It might be tempting, since you have spent good money on someone, to fall into “What I want” mode. You might absolutely adore the color purple, but is that the best color for your book cover to attract readers? What would be the most appealing, truthful book cover for them?  In the end,this design isn’t about a pretty book cover to hang on your wall, it’s about what is best for your readers.

Good feedback and communication is absolutely necessary for a good relationship between your designer and you. Without a good relationship, then your book cover, and the words beyond, will suffer for it.

Rachel Giles is a professional graphic designer who graciously donates her time to the Consortium. Every Tuesday she shares an article about quality cover design.

One Response to “Saving Sanity: How to Talk to Your Designer”

  1. […] Focus on providing specific advice. You’ll notice that the biggest client challenge listed in the infograph image above is that clients do not provide feedback. You, as the leader, are that client. It is not sufficient to say, “I don’t like the way this blue looks.” You have to take it one step further to discuss, for example, that the mid-blue tone doesn’t contrast the text sharply enough so the text isn’t legible to you. […]