Working With Your Agency’s Graphic Designer

By Jessie Ford

A graphic designer is an integral member of any PR team. Working right alongside with copywriters, project managers, social media gurus, and the rest of the gang, in today’s fast-paced agency environment, it’s essential to have a designer on staff and in-house — a creative mind to which a team can have instant access. Sometimes, we often get mistaken for being the people who just “make things look pretty” and while that’s (kind of) true, we definitely have a multitude of skills and talents that run beyond just that gamut.

It’s important to know how to work with a graphic designer within an agency, in order to reap the full benefits of the creative mind you have at your fingertips. While there are many tidbits of advice I could give to non-designers, I’ve narrowed my list down to five good, solid tips for working with a creative professional. Following these will help someone (like me) help someone (like you) to deliver the exact product that you want – the perfect picture – one that isn’t just pretty, but indeed serves a purpose, communicates a clear message, sells an idea and reaches a target audience.

1)      What you may think is “quick” or “easy” is not always. It’s “easy” to use terms like “throw this together” and “simple” when referring to a specific round of edits/revisions and a turnaround for a project, but you may not always be aware of all of the “behind the scenes” work that actually takes place for those results to happen. Finished logos, brochures or booklets may look extremely simple, clean and straightforward as finished products, but they certainly took more than just 2-3 hours to create. Keep in mind all of the creative brainstorming, sketching, drafts, revisions and more that it took to get that finished piece to the high level of quality it is and to prepare it to be professionally printed. Good designers are equipped with the talent and skills to work quickly and efficiently, but not lightning fast, 100 percent of the time. Take these thoughts into consideration the next time you’re thinking of putting together a budget and timeline for a project. Most people know that it takes significant time and effort to take nothing to something — and anything worth doing is worth doing right. The same applies to graphic design.

2)      Think about the point you’re trying to make, to the audience you’re trying to reach. What is your vision for your piece? You don’t have to picture it perfectly in your mind, but have a general sense for what you like (or don’t like). Think about colors, available logos to use, basic layout, a page count, document size, the use of infographics, pull-out info or quotes, and the messaging that you will be trying to communicate. Remember that less is always more. No matter how great your content is written or the terrific meaning behind it all, nobody is going to read an entire page of nothing but words. Everyone is drawn to visuals, colors and pretty pictures – so consider the use and placement of these, as well as call-to-action items, to break up your copy. You want to engage an audience immediately and keep them there, not make them run away. Remember, white space is a GOOD thing!

3)      Avoid using terms like “make it pop” or “surprise me.” During brainstorms and pre-design conversations, it’s very common for a designer to hear these words, but not gain anything useful from them. Maybe you don’t know exactly what you want, but try to be somewhat specific and organized with your general thoughts and ideas. Do you want your piece to resemble something else you’ve seen/done? A designer loves to have “creative freedom” – but he/she also needs to know a few limitations, or at least what their client DOESN’T want. They may seem like little things, but let the designer know what colors you might absolutely hate, types of photos to stay away from, or fonts that you don’t care for. This will help the designer in a few small ways, which will result in less wasted time later.

4)      Give the designer finalized copy and don’t make revisions piecemeal later. Basic design and copy edits are a given with any design job and a couple extra rounds of revisions are completely normal and to be expected — but try to limit it to no more than two to three. Also, try to collect and send revisions in one email, or discuss during one phone call – avoid sending John’s revisions separately from Jane’s, not to mention the other three people’s changes involved in the reviewing/approval process.

5)      Know some basic designer lingo. While it’s not your job to be the designer, it definitely helps when you can communicate to one with basic terminology. When you speak (even just a little bit) of a designer’s language, he/she is more likely to create and deliver the end product that you want, because they’ll have a better idea of what you want. Having some very basic knowledge about color systems and low and high-resolution photo usage will also help you to understand what a designer has to take into consideration, sometimes before even starting work on a project. Being familiar with the following will make a designer very happy:

  1. Try to avoid grabbing a logo or photo off of a company or organization’s website — images that get pulled from the Web are low-resolution and do not reproduce well on printed pieces. They may be OK to use in a digital piece, like an HTML newsletter, but not in an actual newsletter.
  2. Know the color modes that designers work in — they’re actually pretty simple to understand. RGB stands for (red/green/blue) and it’s used in electronic or Web formats. For example, a website would be setup in RGB mode. CMYK stands for (cyan/magenta/yellow/black) and gets used in most printed materials. You might also hear a designer call this “4-color process.”
  3. Remember that certain colors stimulate specific types of emotion. Cooler colors like blues and greens evoke a sense of calmness. Warmer colors like reds and oranges will make someone feel more of a sense of energy and passion. Think about these theories when considering and choosing a color palette.
  4. “Bleeding” is not a bad thing! When a designer asks you if you want your artwork to “bleed,” he/she is simply referring to the description of images or colors that run off the edges of a page. For example, if a big photo doesn’t bleed all the way off of a spread or cover it’s laid out on, and is left with space around its edges, it may have a less-powerful impact on a viewer.

Most of the time, a designer has a good reason for doing something. Maybe you never considered the effects that certain typefaces, colors, space and photos have and the way they all work together in design before, but they’re the basic ingredients that a designer cooks with every day. Put trust into the designer and give them creative freedom — but don’t send them into battle completely unarmed and unprepared. Communicating your basic ideas, visions, target audience and giving him/her a few references will only benefit the both of you. Understanding and respecting what a designer does, the time and effort that goes into what they do, and speaking (just a little bit of) their language will ultimately result in a better quality end product, which will only make you both happy!

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