As online business owners, we’re so lucky to have easy-to-use design tools like Canva and PicMonkey that mean we can turn around a project in record speed—without the usual time lag of the formal creative process. However, these tools for designer wannabes, amazing as they may be, are still no match for the honed talent of a professional graphic designer.
So then comes the question, if you’re under a tight deadline but you still need highly polished graphic elements to get the job done, what should you do? Do it yourself or delegate to a designer?
My philosophy has always been to go with the very best person for the job unless… the deadline is so ridiculously tight that you risk impinging on your good standing with that contracted creative person.
Believe me, this happens all the time, more often than clients realize.
Ever heard of a designer doing a Houdini and vanishing into thin air mid-project? Or more commonly, getting the “Sorry, I’m full,” or no response when it’s time to go in for a second project?
Sometimes it’s brushed off with the myth of “flaky creative people.” But more accurately, it’s usually a case of a talented, busy person who simply doesn’t have the time or inclination to educate you on how to work within their boundaries.
Here’s my solution to avoiding that kerfuffle: educate yourself and set your own communication standards. Learn how to delegate clearly and cleanly, using simplified designer speak.
Here is what this checklist will do for you:
- Allow you to have stand-alone graphics turned around in half the time.
- Save you dollars, by reducing the amount of time a designer needs to spend pulling a brief out of you, email by email!
- Enable you to build a good, strong working relationship with a graphic designer by virtue of the fact that you don’t drive them crazy (too often!)
- Save your sanity too by dramatically cutting down on assumptions and miscommunication.
In effect, we’re aiming to see if we can wrangle the rules a touch when it comes to working within the confines of this here diagram below.
Yes, without doubt, right there in the center is an Impossible Utopia, but if you play your part well you may just edge that little bit closer to it!
There’s one final important note before we get started. This particular checklist below doesn’t pertain to larger integrated design jobs like full websites, sales pages or eBooks. That’s a whole different kettle of fish. We’re strictly talking about singular graphics here, those you find yourself needing in your online business marketing efforts day in and day out.
Step 1. What size will it be?
What is the exact size your graphic needs to be? Note the width and height in pixels.
Sometimes you need your graphic to be created at one size, but it will eventually display at a smaller size in certain locations. For example, you’ll want to create an image for a Facebook ad at the optimal size of 1200px x 627px, however when people see your ad in the Facebook newsfeed it will be displayed a lot smaller at 470px wide.
So in addition the set size of the graphic, also give your designer:
- The smallest display size dimensions if you know them, or
- Further context on the graphic’s use (see step 2 below) so the designer can work this part out for you.
Take just a couple of minutes to think this through in advance, and give your designer the deets up front. That way you’ll ensure all text or other important elements are still legible (if needed) at that smaller size.
And there’s two other reasons why specifying the size is really important:
- Even though graphics can be reduced in size, generally most file types can’t be enlarged. Doing so reduces the resolution so that the image becomes fuzzy.
- The intended size of the graphic has an impact on the font sizes used, and therefore the overall layout of elements. So changing the size later may mean layout re-work is needed.
Moving on to the next step…
Step 2. What’s the context here?
In what location will this graphic will be used, and what is the purpose? Provide your designer with either:
- A brief note if it’s something straightforward like: “It will be used as a featured image on my blog post titled [Post Headline] and I’d like it to be the optimal size for Twitter sharing,” OR
- A web page link, document or design file if the graphic is going to be used within the context of an existing design.
Step 3. What is the exact text to be included on the graphic?
This is THE essential item in successful graphic design delegation—what will the graphic actually say?
Word. For. Word.
It sounds quite obvious doesn’t it, but so often as business owners we can fall into that subconscious trap of thinking if we just delegate it out that little bit sooner (without all the details clear) it may just get done sooner.
As it pertains to graphic design, this means we send an email with a concept, an idea for the kind of graphic we need, but don’t actually sit down and brainstorm out what the actual thing needs to say, or get feedback and review from the team before we involve the designer.
Think about the difference between:
Could you create a graphic for my sidebar that sends people to my opt in page?
Could you create a new graphic for my sidebar with the following text: [Insert Exact Text Here]?
Now yes, you certainly can find graphic designers that are also marketers or branding consultants and will consult with you to come up with the specific text or call to action needed in each case. But if it’s small one-off singular graphics we’re talking about here (rather than a fully fledged web design project), then you’re going to save yourself significant quantities of money and time if you figure out the text yourself beforehand.
Even changing just one word after the fact can entirely change the layout needed to make the graphic work. And you know what that means, more expense and more delay. Save yourself the hassle!
Step 4. Will there be a background image or pattern?
Will your graphic require an image, pattern or a solid color for the background?
Would you like to make this decision yourself or leave it for your designer to determine?
These days full image backgrounds (with various effects) are extremely popular. If you are going with an image, here are the helpful tidbits that will put you and your designer on the same page:
- Do you have any preferred stock photo sites that you use?
- Do you have any existing brand guidelines on the types of images you use to draw everything together?
- If not, do you have any specific image themes or concepts in mind for this specific graphic?
- Do you want to see multiple image options before the designer goes ahead, or do you want them to use their discretion and get the job done as soon as possible?
On that last point, here’s one really helpful thing to keep in mind. Image research can often take the designer as long as (if not longer) than the actual creation of the graphic itself. But it’s an essential part of the process to come out with a good looking end result.
Your designer has a trained eye for being able to visualize the potential and fit of any given image, almost subconsciously, so there’s enormous value in leaving the image research in their hands.
However, if you need your graphic live like yesterday, then I recommend doing the image research yourself (or if you have a virtual assistant or team, they can do it for you). Next, purchase it or make sure you’ve got license to use it freely, and then send it along to your designer, all ready to go. Even if it’s not the ideal image, a good designer can generally make it work and you’ll halve your lead time and email correspondence.
Step 5. What is the budget for raw materials?
What is your budget for stock photography or other stock graphic components like icons, patterns or illustrations the designer will require to put the end product together?
Are you happy for the designer to source a $5 image, $10 image or even a $25 image if it’s for something at a large size like a Twitter cover image or landing page hero image?
Let them know upfront.
And here’s why… if you don’t, often designers will take the path of least resistance and just go with what they have on hand already or the free/cheaper options that they have access to. They have plenty of resources at their fingertips. But, if you are proactive in letting them know there is a small budget on top of their service fee for raw materials, you may just find they’re able to produce an even higher quality standard than you were expecting.
If you’re working with solo freelance designers (that is, not a big design agency or firm), it’s generally good practice to purchase those images yourself once the designer finds them. Just ask your designer to send you the stock gallery link to do so, and get the purchased file back to them as soon as you can. That way you also have the raw image stored away for use elsewhere in future.
Step 6. Do you have preferred colors and fonts?
Do you have set brand colors or a specific color palette in mind that you’ve seen somewhere online? Share the hex codes for each, or if you’re not sure on that, just send along a link or file where the colors can be found, and your designer will use a color picker tool to determine the specific hex codes.
It’s the same deal with fonts–if you have set fonts in your brand guidelines, let your designer know the names of those particular fonts. If the fonts aren’t standard or free, share the font file if you’ve purchased it in the past, or even a link to where they could download it for free.
Step 7. Which branding elements would you like included on this graphic?
Which core branding elements would you like to feature on this graphic:
- Your full logo
- Just the icon component of your logo
- Your primary website URL
- A separate landing page URL
- All of these
Just say the word.
Don’t leave your designer guessing!
Along with that, share the relevant logo files with your designer in all the file types you have on hand. You can load them into a folder in Google Drive or Dropbox, or share through your project management space. Just get them up somewhere – in one place – in the cloud – always at the ready.
Our mission here is to cut down on as much of the back and forth (read: time and money) as humanly possible. It’s easily done. If you actually aren’t sure which branding elements will work best, that’s perfectly fine too. You can still share your logo graphic files upfront and simply let your designer know to pick and choose what works once the job is in progress.
Step 8. Any variations needed?
Are you happy for the designer to create just one graphic version, or is it important to see multiple versions before making a final decision?
Creating more versions, even with apparently slight variations, can add on to your lead time significantly. Sometimes it’s definitely needed though, so in that case just make a note of what type of variables mean the most to you.
For example, do you want to see two different background images, or two different fonts, or two different image filters? Get specific and direct with your language and requests, and your designer will love you for it.
Step 9. What file type do you need?
Do you need a PSD, a JPG, a PNG or something else? If you’re not sure, no problem, just ask the designer to let you know what will be best based on the context you described above.
Two things to consider here are last minute revisions and future changes.
I’m often delegating graphic design on behalf of other business owners (our clients), and sometimes I’ll receive feedback on a design that needs to be implemented pretty much right away so that we can take a whole project live. I’m personally not a Photoshop pro, so in those cases when it’s a small one-off graphic that may require last minute revisions, I’ll actually ask the designer if they’re able to create it in Canva instead of Photoshop. They send me the editable Canva link accessible in the cloud, and I can hop in to change something immediately and re-download the finished graphic.
Be warned though, you need to have a good relationship with a designer before asking them to do that! They’re professionally trained Photoshop purists, so you may get balked at at first. Save this one for people you have an ongoing working relationship with.
With potential future changes in mind, ask for the PSD file if the graphic was designed in Photoshop and keep it safe on file. Even if you can’t open the thing, you don’t have to worry about trying to follow up for it a year down the track when you find out you actually need it.
Step 10. When do you need it by?
What is the real, hard deadline?
Don’t be scared to state it. Often we can make the assumption that we’re being polite by instead asking the other person when they can have it done by. But the reality is that unless they’re crystal clear on your expectation and brief upfront, it’s difficult for them to give an accurate answer.
Whereas if you just come out and state the required deadline, not as a demand but simply as an honest requirement, you give that person the ability to respond succinctly. And that usually makes for a faster response.
They have the option to say “Yes, sure” or “No, sorry I can’t,” which is a whole lot quicker than writing out an “It depends on x, y, z” and getting into a grand charade of unproductive and costly ‘metawork’ – work about the work.
Here’s the important thing here: take responsibility for leaving space in your communication for someone to actually say no or suggest a later deadline. That way you can move right on to finding someone else who does have availability or re-working your overall project timeline if that’s possible, with minimal impact in either case.
If there is actually no hard deadline, and what you really want is a specific brilliant, busy person to do their thing once it’s your turn in the queue, well, that’s a perfectly feasible choice too. Just be aware when you’re making it.
Kind of like when you wait 4 hours in a hairdressing salon holding out for the ‘senior stylist’ at 3 times the rate. You know what your options are, but sometimes speed and budget aren’t the primary motivating factors!
It’s really good to know that lead times are highly malleable things – the clearer your brief, the more possibility you have to influence them in your favor. Even if you’re only providing that designer with a comparatively small volume of work. (Being composed and paying your invoices on time certainly contributes too!)
Well, that’s about all then. Just a few little items there on the list, right?
If you’re feeling at all overwhelmed by the detail involved in briefing a graphic designer, no need to worry. I’ve got you covered. I’ve put all the points above into a handy Google Doc template that you can copy to your Drive ready for next time you need to have a graphic put together. Subscribe here to copy it over to your own Google Drive.