Design plays a crucial role in the success of any business. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to get. At Alfa Charlie, we help our clients figure out what they need first and then deliver designs that meet those objectives and drive results. Over the years, we’ve noticed many recurring issues that get in the way of the design process, often creating subpar results. We’ve pinpointed a few common pitfalls that businesses run into so that you can prepare for your next design project.
First off, let’s define what good design is and why it’s essential. Good design communicates a clear message in a way that attracts your ideal audience. It creates a cohesive style and emotion that connects your brand to your tribe, building trust and recognition. It would be harder to tap into your audience’s feelings without design, and emotions drive action.
So why is good design so hard to get? Many factors are at play, but it all comes down to your relationship with your designer or design team. Here are six key ways to ensure a better process and outcome to get the designs you need (hint: it’s not always what you want).
Define the problem before the solution
You likely seek a designer with a project already in mind — refreshing a logo, building a new website, or redesigning a brochure. These projects often arise as solutions to your business struggles. But often, there is an underlying issue to address before these solutions can make a positive difference. Before asking a designer for help, identify the problem you are trying to solve. Reflect to make sure it isn’t a personal perspective, and you have the tools to measure its success.
It’s easy to think, “I’m not making sales. I need a new logo”. But is the logo the issue? Or do you need better guidelines or a refined message that speaks to a more specific audience?
If you don’t know what you need, consider finding a strategic design partner who can help guide you through that journey. At Alfa Charlie, our Brand Navigation Workshop includes a full audit of where your brand is now, where you want it to be, and what you need to get there.
Remember: designers are not mind-readers. Having clear and open communication with your design team is critical to ensure the best possible outcome. One of the best places to start is with a creative brief. It’s considerably beneficial when working with someone new. This document provides an outline of the project and includes information about your business, audience, project goals, deliverables, budget, and a timeline. It is one of the best ways to communicate your project objectives and helps to get all the creative players on the same page.
At Alfa Charlie, we take it a step further by starting every project with a kick-off discovery session to dig deeper and ensure we have all the information needed to create any design work.
Make sure you openly communicate your thoughts, needs, and concerns throughout the design process. When providing feedback on designs, offer constructive ideas. Instead of “I don’t like this color,” try “this color feels too masculine for our brand.” Instead of telling your designer, “make this font bigger,” how about “have you considered making this font bigger? I think it would help bring attention to…” To get the best results, have an open dialogue with your designers instead of telling them exactly what to do without offering any reason why (more on that later).
Tip: Avoid the “I’ll know what I want when I see it” mentality. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation and guarantees you’ll spend unnecessary money through rounds of revisions.
Know your audience
Designs are created for your target audience, so understanding this audience is imperative. At Alfa Charlie, we spend a good chunk of our Brand Navigation Workshop digging into your audience and personas. By the end, you should be able to step inside your target persona’s shoes and view your brand from their perspective. This will allow your designer to make strategic decisions based upon your audience’s style, needs, and desires. Design 95% for your audience and 5% for you. Inner confidence is essential, so you should love it too. Just know that your taste is not necessarily the same as your company’s target audience.
Note: Personal brands (where you are the brand) are slightly different. In this case, the brand should directly reflect your style since this is attracting your audience to you in the first place.
Figure out your budget
As we covered earlier, design plays a considerable role in the success of your business. Before shopping around at different agencies and searching for the cheapest option, take the time to think about what it’s worth to your company. Think in terms of how much growth in profit you are looking to make and what percentage of that growth you can attribute to well-thought-out and executed design. Remember: design is an investment. A well-designed brand identity should last your company 10+ years. So even though it’s a big investment upfront, it will pay off in the long run.
Tell your prospective designers once you have your budget (a range is acceptable). Let them know what you are trying to achieve and what amount you have allocated (include this in your design brief). This will allow the designer to gauge if they are a good fit for your company and craft a proposal that best fits your needs. And perhaps most importantly, it will allow you to select a designer based on their ability to meet your needs, rather than just based on cost alone.
Find the right design partner
When it comes to hiring a design partner, your options are endless. If you take to Google blindly, you will be overloaded with results that will leave you lost in a sea of beautifully curated portfolios. Choosing a designer or design team should ultimately come down to the objective of your project, your budget, the services needed, and the type of relationship you desire.
There are three main options to choose from: freelancers ($), small studios ($$), and big agencies ($$$). Freelancers and platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr are your cheapest option and usually specialize in one area. These outlets are adequate for production-style projects (i.e. no strategy, obvious directions), small budgets, and quick timelines. Small design studios are more expensive but offer a more significant expertise and bandwidth. Small studios take on fewer clients than big agencies, which allows them to have more personal relationships with their clients. Big agencies typically recruit immense talent and have a broader range of services. If you have a considerable budget and require a wide variety of services (i.e., design, marketing, development, SEO, etc.), hiring a big agency might be for you.
Once you find your dream partner, stick with them. Retaining the same design team will create the most consistent results and ensure that your designer knows everything about your business. At Alfa Charlie, we believe that having a strong relationship with your designer (and not just your account manager) is a recipe for success. We work directly with our clients to cut out the middleman and get straight to the good stuff. Working with our clients long-term allows our designs to grow and evolve with our clients’ brands.
Know your role
Your designer knows design best. But you know your business best. Understanding those roles are essential in building a symbiotic relationship with your designer. Ask lots of questions! “Why did you choose this color or font treatment?”, “Why did you use this version of the logo?”, “What are your thoughts on making this background yellow?” Your designer should have a strategic answer for everything.
Ultimately, you call the shots. So be decisive and make informed decisions. Don’t give that power away by asking your entire community for feedback. Since they are not part of the process, they don’t have all of the information needed to assess a design’s success. Asking a few close team members for their initial thoughts can be helpful, but remember that only you and your design team know what’s best.
At Alfa Charlie, we ensure a collaborative process with our clients by checking in at multiple stages along the creative journey. We ensure that our clients get the design needed to meet their objectives by working closely together and having meaningful conversations about design.
Design needs to support your business goals. When you have clarity on your design needs, it is easier to unite your creative team around a shared goal. We are advocates for having a healthy and long relationship with your designer. In doing so, they can help bring many benefits to elevating your brand. Contact us to learn more about our design process and discover how Alfa Charlie can help you grow your business.
Alfa Charlie is an award-winning creative agency based in San Diego, California. We use design as a tool to build meaningful connections between brands, people, and the planet. We work with clients who value the importance of human well-being and believe a brand can be a catalyst for change. Through strategic practice, we help clients navigate a clear path to building relationships with their customers while staying true to what they stand for.