In Part One of this article, we discussed how to prepare to properly brief a graphic designer for a design project - in our example, the creation of a consistent overall format for all your printed materials and a basic template for each: schedules, brochures, special announcements, recital programs, and so on.
We discussed the type of information you need to provide to establish design objectives for the program as a whole and for the specific items within the overall program. We provided two Design Brief checklists that you can use to ensure that all the pertinent information is on hand for your briefing meeting with your designer.
Your Kick-Off Meeting
With your completed checklists in hand, you and your designer need to spend some quality time together discussing the goals and objectives for your program. Here is what you need to cover at your briefing meeting:
• Background information about your company, your customers, and this project.
• A point-by-point review of every subject covered in your Design Brief checklists.
• The selection of the specific prototype items that the designer will apply her (or his) design alternatives to in her first round of creative exploration.
• Text, logos, and available imagery for the designer to use.
• Key dates for each phase of the project. A rough timetable will have been provided in the designer's proposal, working back from your deadlines, but you will want to note specific meeting dates in your calendar.
She's Off and Running
Your designer is back at her office happily and busily generating a range of design alternatives that address your needs for the overall graphic format of your printed materials. She will select a few (the number specified in her proposal) to develop and she will apply them to the prototype items that the two of you selected at your briefing meeting. In this case, let's say she's applying three alternative formats to three prototype items: the masthead for your class schedule, the cover of your primary promotional brochure, and a poster for your recital.
The day of your first review meeting has arrived. You are shown nine designs: three overall formats on three prototypes each. Your designer is explaining the merits of each and looking to you to make a selection of one overall format and tell her what you like and don't like about it and the way in which it has been applied to the prototypes.
Your Role as the Client
Here's what you don't do: Do not fall in love with one direction and say, "That's the one!" Likewise, do not be overly critical and decide that none of them are any good.
Here's what you do do: Pull out your original Design Brief checklists and review them with the designer. Go over each and every point on those checklists and evaluate each and every design candidate in light of your written objectives. If you did your homework thoughtfully, your briefing documents state the communication and functional requirements of the designs relative to everyone who has a stake in the success of their outcome - your students, their parents, your staff, your printer, and so on.
The design you select is not a function of which one you, or anyone else, personally likes best. Rather, it is the one that best addresses the full range of requirements spelled out in the briefing documents. You are the representative of all the people who will be affected by the choice of design.
Even if you don't like any of the design candidates, you can use the design brief to identify elements that are successful. You may have come to the project with an idea in your mind of what the result would be. Seeing design solutions that are unexpected can often make you feel that they are off target, but comparing them to the objectives can reassure you of their merit.
Knowing that you can rely on your brief to guide your selection can take a great load of worry off your shoulders.
Giving Design Direction
Your briefing documents also serve as the guide for the refinement of the design you have selected. If the selected format doesn't quite meet the brief in one or two areas, that is where the designer needs to make improvements. Of course there are some revisions that can be requested based on personal preference, but they are few. All the elements on the page - type style, color, illustration style, and so on - can be evaluated as meeting or not meeting the brief and really shouldn't be the subject of personal preferences.
When you have decided on the revisions that are needed after the first presentation, you don't need to be overly specific in the direction you give your designer. For example, if the title should be the strongest communication on the cover of your brochure, you don't need to tell the designer to make it bigger. Just tell her it isn't the number-one message and it should be. She may use other design tricks to increase its prominence, such as color, font or the amount of open space surrounding it.
There is a great temptation to show off the design candidates to other people, to solicit their feedback. A word of caution: unless those people represent a cross-section of your key stakeholders, their feedback will be misleading.
If you do succumb to this temptation, be sure that you show the work to only those who represent your target groups and ask for feedback in an open-ended way. Don't ask which one they like best. Instead, ask them questions that come from your brief, such as, "What is the personality of the company represented in this brochure?" or "Is this schedule easy to read?" or "Can you tell me who is sponsoring this recital?" Use this feedback only to inform your own decisions; you're not taking a vote.
You may, however, want to test the functionality of the proposed designs. For example, place the alternative brochure covers one after another in a display rack. Can the title be read from a reasonable distance? Is it eye-catching in the rack? Is the overall format distinctive enough to be recognized as yours among competing brochures?
Saving Money at the Same Time
When your designer returns with the revisions to the selected design format, perhaps applied to another one or two prototypes, you will again use the Design Brief checklists as an objective judge of the new work. In this way you will ensure that your design dollars continue to be well spent - throughout the program, your designer's time will be laser focused on creating imaginative and successful design solutions and nothing else. She will not be spinning her wheels in the wrong direction and you will not be requesting unnecessary design revisions out of worry and doubt. Congratulate yourself on a job well done.