Graphic Designer as Detective

As designers, we wear many hats … layout expert, font wrangler, photo magician. But one most people don’t think of is detective. And to be a good graphic designer, you have to be one. Maybe even a super-sleuth.

One of the things I hear from time to time is `I want something new.’ Great! I love to do new. But do they really want new? This is more likely with a client with whom you’ve been working for quite some time, and often pertains to a job you’ve been doing for a while – a regular newsletter or other publication, perhaps a brochure, etc.  Here’s where the detective part comes in.

This is how the cover of a magazine I work on looked in 2007. In previous years, it was 2/color – a color masthead and only BW photos.

I ask if they have any ideas how they’d like it to be different because, of course, I want to do something they’ll be happy with. “No, not really,” they say. “I’ll know it when I see it.”

If you’re a designer, you’ve heard that many times. If you’re the person who wants the new design, you know that feeling. Here’s the reality – I can do designs for you til the cows come home, and may never hit the mark, and in addition, we’ll have run up a hefty bill. Here’s another reality – most people are not visually oriented. This realization came as a big shock to me many years ago (I think I was in college.) I thought everyone could see like I saw. Definitely not true.

HNcover-Redesign1-2

This was one of my ideas when it was decided a redesign was in order, but it wasn’t what they were looking for.

So … how does a good designer make a client happy? By being a detective. Whether for a new project or a makeover of a longtime project, I need to do two things. One, I need to ask questions, and a good designer can’t be shy. I ask the client if they have anything particular in mind. Do they want something lighthearted and fun or maybe more spare and elegant. How do they want people to react to this project? Will it be raising money? awareness? providing information? go only to shareholders? And here’s a good one – how much do they want to pay for this (re)design? Even though I have a standard rate that I will happily discuss, and will  work up a quote, you’d be surprised at how much or how little a client may be wanting to pay! It’s an important starting point for a conversation about working together.

This is a variation of how the redesign looks nowadays – 3 or 4 featured animal stories and seasonal background and layout. This is a Holiday 2017 issue.

Here’s the second thing I do to make a client happy. I think about them. What do they like? What have I seen them respond to in the past? Do they have a color palette they’re particularly fond of (even if it makes you scream a little inside)? This is where being a detective pays off … for everybody. Because a happy client = a happy designer and paves the way to working together again in the future. If we’ve worked with someone in the past, we actually have a pretty good idea of who they are and what they will like.

So … make your client happy, keep your creative self interested, have fun, and get your Sherlock on!

 

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