Ghostwriting Tips How to brief a graphic designer

How to brief a graphic designer Business book ghostwriter uk Business book coach ghostwriterOK I know graphic designers these days are a little more hi tech than colouring pencils would suggest, but it was such a nice image….

The thing is, as a business owner you’ll have needed to brief a graphic designer for your business book cover at some point, and if you’ve never done it before (or not very often) it can be hard to know where to start. If you’ve ever been unhappy with your design result, this may be because the communication between you and the designer has not worked as well as it could.

As an ex-marketing bod I spent 25 years working with graphic designers (gulp, is it really that long?) and thought it would be helpful if I share with you what I’ve learned. You deserve a great result and your designer will thank you for briefing him or her in the best way.  Don’t make the same mistakes that I did in my early days!

Designers are like superheroes – they need tight briefs.

Writing a brief is an essential first step; not only does it help the designer but it forces you to get your thoughts in order. But what does a brief consist of?

A clear objective. What’s the one thing you want the design to achieve?

Background. What has led to the need for this brief? This helps the designer to put it into context.

A budget. How much do you have to spend? If in doubt ask the designer for some guidance on this.  Also make sure that you know how many sets of revisions they will include in the price, and if they will be charging extra for sourced images.

Usage. What will the design be used for – a flyer, a web banner, a business card? How flexible does it need to be? Are there are any size restrictions? In what circumstances and situations will the design be seen and used?

Proposition.  This is the nub of the brief. What’s the unique selling point that you want the design to convey? What makes your business special? You don’t want your design to look like everyone else’s.

Audience. Who is the design aimed at? Try and paint a picture with words, describing example readers. This will make a fundamental difference to the outcome.

Tone of voice.  If the design were a person, what kind of personality would it have? Friendly? Upbeat? Relaxing?

Competitors. Make the designer aware of your competitors’ books; it helps to put your cover design into the right context.

Existing restrictions.  Are there any pre-existing logos or design elements that the designer should be aware of before they start?

Deadline. When do you need it by?  Be realistic here; rush jobs will always be a fact of life but if you can give the designer a decent time frame you’re more likely to get good results.

After you’ve written your brief, have a chat with the designer preferably face to face, but if that’s not possible, at least over the phone. This will give both of you the chance to develop your ideas and you’d be surprised at what comes out of it.

OK so I’ve briefed my designer and I’ve got the first designs, now what?

Give the designer structured and objective feedback. It’s fine to have personal preferences,  but he/she will need more to go on than ‘I don’t like it’. Also if you do like something, it’s helpful to the designer to explain why; that way they can develop it further. And please keep in mind your target audience; you may not like something, but that doesn’t mean to say that they won’t.  For that reason I’d be careful about showing designs to friends and family, unless they are in the group you are aiming at.

I hope that’s been helpful.  How about you? Have you got a great design story to tell, or a nightmare one? Do share.

And if you’re not sure what the next step is for your business book, consider applying for a free, half hour strategy session with me here. I’ll help you work out what to do next.

17 replies
  1. Paul Henderson
    Paul Henderson says:

    Hi Ginny,

    this is something I’m pleased to finally have something to ready about. I’ve often wondered how best to tell a designer what I want, and have usually resorted to sending a url to a site that I like and saying …”Do something like that!”.

    So from now on, I’ll have something more intelligent to say to them.

    Thanks for sharing that Ginny,

  2. Paul Henderson
    Paul Henderson says:

    Hi Ginny,

    this is something I’m pleased to finally have something to ready about. I’ve often wondered how best to tell a designer what I want, and have usually resorted to sending a URL to a site that I like and saying …”Do me something like that!”.

    So from now on, I’ll have something more intelligent to say to them – lol.

    Thanks for sharing that Ginny,

    • ginny
      ginny says:

      Glad you found it helpful Paul. Actually showing a designer what you like is not a bad idea, but as you can see there’s more to it than that so I’m sure you’ll get better results with a good brief!

  3. Jan Kearney
    Jan Kearney says:

    I have some horror stories with graphics people – and probably because I’m a “I want something like that” type person. Great post, thanks Ginny :)

    • ginny
      ginny says:

      Surely not Jan! I guess you must get some horrendous ‘briefs’ for websites yourself, it must be tempted to mete out the same treatment to your designers :)

  4. Wendy Bottrell
    Wendy Bottrell says:

    Super list! The last time I worked with a designer I certainly could have use this list. I felt that I was not listened to and the end result is something that cost me way too much and to this day I am not happy with. Thanks for providing this valuable content. Best Regards, Wendy (Social Media MasterMind)

    • ginny
      ginny says:

      Thanks Wendy, what a shame you weren’t happy with the work. It’s frustrating when you’re not listened to isn’t it. Sometimes it helps to speak a designer’s language so hopefully this blog post will be useful for next time.

  5. Debra Moser
    Debra Moser says:

    Hi Ginny, Superb article and valuable info that I can use when I look to hiring a graphic designer if I decide to make any changes.. I did have a consultation on my site and thankfully she said my colours and logo were great for my target market when I rebranded. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Bonnie Gean
    Bonnie Gean says:

    One of the key elements to any design brief is the final outcome. Do you want it in RGB mode for Internet use or do you need it for print work, too? If you need it for print, the resolution needs to be much higher than when it’s created for the web.

    You’ll also need the “prep” files that made the design in PSD layered format – as this will be necessary for when you send the design to a commercial printer. They will need layered format in CMYK mode for your final film output to be done correctly.

    Even if the piece is being produced for the web and there is a slight chance that it will be used for a printed project in later years, always get the design in 300 dpi (dots per inch) or higher to play it safe. You may need to pay extra for the layered PSD file, but it’s worth the cost over the saved hassle to have it reproduced later on.

    You can reduce a 300 dpi to 72 dpi without any problems, but increasing a web graphic for print format will turn out pixelated; a graphic that isn’t fit for printing.

  7. Joy Healey
    Joy Healey says:

    Oh my goodness!! What a lot of things to bear in mind, including Bonnie’s info.

    Thanks for such a helpful list. When I get to the stage of needing to brief my superhero, I’ll know where to find my to-do list!

  8. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I’ve just contracted a video designer for a small project and, if anything, its even more difficult trying to explain how i want the video to look than it would be for a graphics job. The points above are all very valid though and I think I’ve probably covered them all in the brief i provided. This guy is like 5000 miles away and we’ve been doing everything via email – this meant writing some very detailed concept ideas down. Just waiting on the second draft now whilst keeping fingers firmly crossed!

    • ginny
      ginny says:

      Wow doing video by email that would be a challenge! At least it helps you to keep track of things though. Good luck with the project, hope it works well for you.

  9. graphic design
    graphic design says:

    No one can get better brief than this one. I am manager of a medical equipment manufacturing company and I am also planning to create a website for our company. Thank you for your help regarding the graphics aspect of a website. I am preparing myself for all the above questions so that a good website can be designed. thank you for this important stuff.

  10. Kevin Stone
    Kevin Stone says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes it’s hard to be on the same phase with the client if do not know what they truly want. A good brief would be very helpful. Utah Sites

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