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  • Writer's pictureShane Almgren

5 Things to Avoid Saying to Your Graphic Designer

Updated: Apr 29

The list of phrases that make a graphic designer cringe is longer than a CVS receipt, but some are definitely more egregious than others. The following 5 are my personal pet peeves — so long as you can avoid these, we’ll get along just fine:

Family Guy - What Really Grinds My Gears

1. "Feel Free to Change up My Logo While You’re At It." 

A client has ordered new business cards or some other marketing materials, and offhandedly mentions that they’re totally cool with you tweaking their logo "while you’re at it."

Feel free…”

It actually sounds like they’re doing you a favor. “We’re going to be gone all weekend. Feel free to come over and use the pool!”

For starters, your logo is the DNA of your brand, and monkeying around with it is a serious branding no-no. Besides that, it’s a lot of work that’s way outside the job scope. It’s like taking your car in for some brakes and telling the mechanic to “feel free to give it a paint job too.” While he may have some ideas that would certainly improve on your “5-shades-of-rust-and-a-turquoise-quarter-panel” motif, he’s just there to do the brakes. “Feel Free” sounds like you’re letting your designer into your Circle of Trust with the keys to your brand, but all he really hears is, “How about doing a bunch of time-consuming work for free?”

Plumber working on kitchen sink
"And while you're fixing the faucet, feel free to install a tankless water heater and remodel the kitchen."

Alternative that will allow us to stay friends: "Can I hire you to redo my logo?"

Understand that a great logo is a painstaking process, not a slap-dash affair. If you’re not happy with your current branding, consider an image makeover before you invest any more time and money in marketing.

2. Can You Make it 'Pop?'

I don’t know when humanity collectively gathered and voted this as the go-to expression for “make it stand out…somehow.” All I know is designers weren’t invited to the meeting. As a result, the two guarantees in Design that are as certain as Death & Taxes are:

  1. Every client under the sun wants their design to “pop;” and

  2. Nobody has any idea what they actually mean by that.

Do you want brighter colors? Do you want starker contrast? Are you just a Northerner who actually wants soda? Ever since the world’s first graphic designers were chiseling Sunday Sales into cave rocks, clients have been requesting more “pop,” neglecting to elaborate, and then patting themselves on the back for using “insider” terminology. Literally the only sound on earth that irritates your graphic designer more is dragging a cat across a chalkboard. And Beiber.

Justin Beiber
"I thought I WAS pop."

Alternative that will allow us to stay friends: “I want the slogan to be more visible against the background. Can you change the text color or add a drop-shadow effect?” 

3. I’m Looking For a Crisp (sharp, smart, classy, chic, trendy, fun, retro, clean, sleek, vintage, summer-y, timeless, etc.) Design.

Unlike “pop” – which doesn’t mean anything in particular – these words all have identifiable meanings. The problem is they all mean something different to each person. Remember up above when I said there were 2 guarantees in Design? Well, I lied. There are 3. (This is also a lie, but you don’t know that yet.)

I guarantee you that what you’re picturing in your head as “crisp” is not what I’m picturing. So if that’s all I have to work with, I’m going to create something in line with my vision of “crisp.” And when you invariably gasp at it in abject horror and say, “No, no. That is quite obviously ‘clean,’ with a not un-generous helping of ‘smart.’ That will not do at all!” I will squinch up my face in disgust because I just spent 4 hours on it. And you’ll see my face and ask me what’s wrong, and I’ll have to lie and claim I just swallowed a bug.

Woman berating her coworker
“I said classy-CHIC. This is chic-CLASSY. Whay are you trying to destroy me?"

Alternative that will allow us to stay friends: “I’m looking for something with a crisp feel to it, and here are several examples I’ve helpfully procured for your reference so you know exactly what I’m envisioning.” (don’t forget to provide the examples)

4. I Know What I Want, But I Don’t Know How to Explain it To You. 

(A.K.A.: Something’s not working but I’m not sure what. I‘ll just know it when I see it. Also, I need it in 30 minutes.) 

In all my years as a professional graphic designer, I’ve had maybe a dozen projects canceled prematurely by the client because they were unhappy with the direction. And the one common denominator in each of them was that I was given no direction whatsoever on the project. In these rare instances, I would’ve happily settled for “pop” or “crisp” or even “vaguely ambiguous.” But the client had communicated nothing to me about what we were trying to create beyond “flyer to help boost sales.”

For reasons that science has yet to explain, whatever water supply they’re drinking out of that robs them of their gift of descriptive vocabulary inevitably also imbues them with such delightful and endearing traits as No Patience Whatsoever and Passive/Aggressively Blame Everything On The Designer. Two of our favorites. It’s like going into a restaurant and demanding the waiter bring you “something that I like,” and then trashing him on Yelp because you forgot to mention you’re allergic to ice cubes.

Throw us a bone here, folks. Even if you can’t muster anything beyond, “I really despise fuchsia,” that at least gives us something to work with. I only have time and energy to constantly remind one person that I’m not a mind-reader, and that’s why I got married.

Confused diner
“I ordered ‘food.’ What the hell is THIS?!?” 

Alternative that will allow us to stay friends: "I don’t know what I’m after, so I’ll leave it up to you." OR: "Let me get back to you when I have clearer objectives." OR: "Since I’m not able to communicate my vision effectively, I ‘m going to be as patient as humanly possible."

5. Can You Give Me The Design in a Word Doc So I Can Make Changes Myself? 

Who doesn’t enjoy a client implying up front that they don’t intend to do repeat business? This one is a double-whammy because Word is not a program created with graphic designers in mind. Word is a Text Edit program with a few limited design capabilities. Designers work in robust design platforms like Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and illustrator, which they’ve spent thousands of dollars purchasing and several years mastering.

In order to justify the cost you’re spending on the service, you need to let your designer work in the platform that maximizes their full capabilities. Asking a designer to deliver in Word is like hiring Gordon Ramsay to cater your wedding, and then requesting he cook everything in your kid's Easy-Bake Oven. You’re not quite getting what you’re paying for, and you could probably get your uncle to do a better job on the rusted-out charcoal grill.

Architect with clients
“We’re probably going to make a few changes at some point. Can we get these blueprints on an Etch-A-Sketch?”

Alternative that will allow us to stay friends: "Can I get the editable files when you're done?"

Alternatively, just let your designer make the changes when they come up. The 10 minutes of billed time you’ll save by changing the contact info on your letterhead yourself is not worth the upfront cost (and frustration) as your designer tries to craft your dream design in a program that wasn’t built for design.

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