Or “Why Won’t My Designer Do What I Tell Them?” – by a designer

So you’ve commissioned work from a designer. You’ve agreed on a brief and a fee, and you’re waiting for the first round of designs. Excited, you check your email – there they are.

If all’s gone well, you’re mostly happy. There are just a couple of… tweaks. To some of these, the designer responds: “No problem.” But there’s one where they say, “I would suggest you don’t do that.” Which, of course, leaves you thinking –

“Can’t I have my website/logo/brochure the way I like it? It’s my money!”

How do you determine whether a designer is offering you useful advice, or just imposing their own tastes on your project?

You can’t beat experience

I recently moved house. In preparation, I’d gathered my assorted kitchenware, clothes, chairs, tables and life into the living room.

When Aaron the mover showed up, I explained how it should be done: the de-constructed table could be used as a palette. On that palette we could put those two boxes, and the electricals on top of that… Aaron listened patiently, then proceeded with great efficiency to ignore all my careful planning.

And the thing is, he was right.

Aaron helps people move house every day. He’s a master of getting people from A to B with all their stuff in one piece. He knows what works and what doesn’t, and crucially, he knows it better than me.

On the journey, Aaron shared his perspective: at the beginning of a move, customers will tell him a plan they’ve been rehearsing, because they’re trying to mitigate risk. Some of that will be useful to know (where the valuables are, which boxes are delicate) and the rest of it won’t be. But he never interrupts his customers mid-flow, because the most important thing is that people feel listened to – and get the chance to say everything that might prove important.

We can all learn from Aaron

There’s a parallel here to our practice at Keeper. Because we work with images and design every day, we know most of the pitfalls, and we can see when a client’s taste is at odds with their aims. Our clients’ perspectives are central to our work; after all, we want to make something appropriate. But we filter them through our knowledge and experience, rather than enacting them exactly.

Here’s an example. A client wants a logo that’ll be used across a range of collateral they don’t control. They’ve got a refined taste, and a strong preference for a logo that matches that taste. They’ve set their heart on a dark charcoal grey, but not quite black.

Of course we’ll provide them with a charcoal grey version, but we suggest they take a black one as well. We know charcoal grey is great on a white background, but on any other background, audiences will struggle to see the logo – especially if it might be reproduced at a small size.

Designing always involves juggling a ton of considerations like this. And this is where hiring someone with expertise is invaluable: they can help you navigate towards your goals, while making the right trade-offs.

So, when working with a designer, try to change the framing. Rather than asking them to make something you like, ask them what works.

When you see their designs, ask them why they’ve done what they’ve done before asking for changes. This puts you in a position of power: you get to use their expertise and your taste.

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