Designers tend to speak their own language. This page is here to help you communicate with them effectively, because if you know what you want and how to ask for it, you’re more likely to get it. Conversely, there are some things designers find really frustrating, and we want to avoid that if possible because these people are volunteering their time to help you. (To see an entertaining web site full of mistakes to avoid, check out Clients From Hell).
1. Know what you’re asking for
– What is it? A flyer, a web site, a poster, a social media graphic? All of the above?
– How big does it need to be?
– Are you promoting a specific event, or is it to raise awareness about a cause?
– When do you need it? (Try to make sure you’re leaving enough time for them to help)
2. Have the details ready
If you’re promoting an event, include all the relevant info. That means what, where, when, cost, web site for further info. If it’s promoting awareness of a cause or issue, what’s your tag line/motto/hashtag?
Remember, one email with all the relevant details is way better than fifteen emails over a day and a half with little changes and revisions in each.
3. Provide good assets
“Assets” in this case means “anything that will be used as part of the design.” Examples include your organization’s logo or photos of event participants or performers.
Assets should be high resolution, or “hi res.” Don’t send photos via text message. If somebody sent you a photo via text message, get them to email it instead. One way to tell is the size- generally speaking, a file that is less than 2MB is not high res. Here are some tips for taking good photos with your phone.
You don’t always need to have photos. It’s better to do a flyer or poster that has no photo at all and good text than to use a bad photo.
4. Provide “Goldilocks” guidance: not too much, not too little.
Think of a designer like a mechanic. You wouldn’t go to the mechanic and say, “I don’t know, just check out this car and do whatever you want.” You also wouldn’t stand over their shoulder telling them “Now pick up the crescent wrench and turn it to the left three quarters.” (If you did, they’d throw you out of their shop).
Designers are the same way. Saying, “we need a flyer for this event, anything is fine,” is too open ended. Saying, “here are fifty people whose faces we want on the poster and we want the logo in the top left next to the other logo above a big yellow square,” is far too specific. Remember, you’re asking for help because they’re the designer. Not you.
Here’s an example of “Goldilocks guidance” for a first email/request.
Here’s an example of not enough guidance.
Here’s an example of too much guidance. Do not do this. If you do this you will quickly find yourself in need of a new volunteer.
5. Give good feedback
This is closely related to number 4. Good feedback is about communicating what you want, not telling them how to do their job.
– “I like it, but it feels a little busy. Is there any way we can make it simpler?”
– “Can we make the guest speaker’s name more prominent?”
– “It’s good, but can we make it more colorful?”
– “I don’t like it, what else can you do?”
– “Make the logo bigger and move it a little to the left and up 3/4.”
– “We need to add fifteen more things to this.”
– “My nephew says it should be green.
6. A word about visual hierarchy
Part of what makes designs work is visual hierarchy. Some parts have to be more important than others, or your eyes don’t really know where to look and the design is a confusing mess.
Imagine playing in a band. If the guitar player turns up her volume, and the bass player responds by turning up his volume, and then the keyboard player and so forth, everybody’s getting louder but it’s not helping anyone.
The same is true of design elements. When you ask the designer to make it bigger, or brighter, or more colorful, that’s a way of drawing attention to it. Sometimes people make one element more striking, then want to make the other elements more striking “to compensate.” What you end up with can be terrifying. Here are a few examples of terrible design.
7. Different formats will have different amounts of information
Just remember – not every Facebook post and Instagram photo has to have every single detail in the image. They’re a lot smaller than a full-size poster or flyer, and besides, a lot of that information can go in the accompanying text or caption. By contrast, a poster will need to have all the relevant details in the design itself. So don’t worry if a designer sends you a poster with all the details, and an instagram post that just has a photo and the title of your event.
8. We’re all on the same team
These designers are volunteering because they know you need help, and they know you don’t have a lot of experience with design. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; if you’re polite and respectful of their time, they will be polite and respectful of yours.