kulturspace
LA-Made. Berlin-Based.

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How To Win Friends & Communicate With Designers

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The kulturspace team comes from different cultures, different creative backgrounds and brings together 11 different mother tongues. Finding a common language to talk about creative ideas, concepts and projects is essential to the way we work. 

Creative Director Per Zennström explains it simply: “If a photographer says ‘That's a great image’, you can be sure that he or she means the composition, lighting or anything photographic. But if a hairdresser speaking about the same image finds it equally great you can be equally sure they means that the hair looks great or the colour is well done.”  

Finding that common language is a huge element of the project. It not only goes some way to ensuring you don’t recognise yourself on http://clientsfromhell.net/ but it also helps you get what you want from your project, avoids frustration and gets the result that doesn’t make you happy – it makes you amazed and delighted. 

After spending time observing designers in their native habitat and studying their behaviour in the wild, kulturspace presents: The Concise Guide To Communicating With Designers (Or Other Creatives) 

Trust The Designer

The designer understands you’re great at your job – but design is not part of that. There’s a reason you’ve hired them. Trust their judgement and listen to their suggestions. Often the best way to start this communication is to come to the brief with the problems you want to solve. Having a final concept in mind can be limiting and doesn’t bring the best from either of you. Trust works both ways – the designer has to trust that you know what you want. 
Trusting the designer also involves not coming back to them with feedback from your sister-in-law who makes flyers for her kid’s school. The designer is a professional in their field. While your sister-in-law might make awesome flyers for the school bake sale, what the designer hears with this feedback is that you’re dismissing their professional opinion and not working with them. Trust the designer and work with them on the problems that need to be solved. 
The analogy: perhaps you thought Mick Jagger was a little off with his last performance – giving him advice from your friend who does a smoking version of Brown Sugar on Tuesday night karaoke is not going to be much help to you or Mick.

Give Information

Have you ever gone to watch a movie and said to your friend, “I don’t mind, I’ll watch whatever you want”, then ended up watching Requiem For A Dream when you really wanted something – anything – a bit lighter. The same concept applies to communicating on the brief. Saying that you trust the designer’s instincts is helpful – but saying that they have free reign is not. What the designer hears is “I’m not sure what I want.” When there’s some concept and direction from the start then the designer has something to work from – at least give them a genre or an actor to start with before they get to work on your film. 

Identifying Inspiration, Not Copying

Simply asking the designer to copy the other design is not only mildly insulting, it’s professionally immoral and will certainly start the working relationship way on the wrong foot. Using examples of designs you like can be a good place to begin, but you have to be able to articulate what you like about it. As Per Zennström said, from the start you and the designer will see different things. Talk about what makes that design work for you – is it the colours? The way the text and design work? Some feeling you get from it? Compare it to another design that you see in the same way to help the designer understand what you’re saying. 
Blues music has a rather simple structure. To someone who isn’t familiar with the genre there might not be any identifiable difference between Charley Patton and Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album other than the applause between the tracks. For others there’s a huge difference. Saying to a musician that you like the guitar on one song might mean you like the sound of slide guitar, or the way it’s mixed, or the descending minor scale, or the picked sixth note before the turnaround… If you find another track that makes you feel the same way the musician can identify the specific element you like. It’s the same with the way a logo or website is put together. 

Admit Ignorance & Listen

Ignorance is not shameful. No designer expects you to know all the industry terms and the way things work. The designer is trying to capture the ideas you explain and turn them into a visual. It’s not easy – after all, that’s why you hired them. If you don’t know the difference between CMYK and RGB, that’s ok. If 300dpi and 720dpi doesn’t mean anything to you, that’s fine. The work is about trust and communication both ways – not only are you trying to explain ideas to them but they’re trying to explain what is possible, and the reasons why, to you. 
If your car breaks down and the mechanic says it’s the fan belt, handing over the leather belt around your pants won’t help. Putting it like that sounds simple, but it’s because of a basic understanding. Both are belts, but some things aren’t possible. If in doubt, ask and listen to the designer. 

Giving Useful Feedback

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The first draft is just that – the first draft. Now you have something to work from that you can both talk about. It’s a step in the process. The designer knows that this is not the final version – it’s a collection of ideas along the path. To get the most out of a first draft, accept it as part of the process. The designer hasn’t pulled this design from just anywhere – they’ve worked with the ideas you’ve talked about. Throwing your hands up and saying it is all wrong won’t help the design get anywhere. That comes back to the trust issues.  
Start by talking about what you like in it and where it fails to meet the problems you outlined. Listen to the designer’s suggestions and work with them to identify the problems that still need to be solved. Then take the next step. 

At the end of it all, the design process is collaborative. It’s about solving problems and communication going both ways using some common language between both parties. Designers are people too, and professionals. Communicating with them isn’t too hard. It pays to remember that they startle easily and most don’t bite unless they’re pushed too far. 

Jason Kenny