I have learned a lot about graphic designers in the last 22 years; I spent most of my career as one, and I have hired and managed quite a few. The truth is that designers don’t do a very good job of telling clients how they think and what makes them tick. I’d like to pull back the curtain and let you in on some trade secrets; learning them might just might save you from making a very expensive mistake.
1. Graphic designers are chronic improvers
Graphic designers look at the world as one big opportunity. Show a designer anything and they can tell you how to improve it point by point: how the color could be better; what might make a better font; where to reconsider the images or the flow; the amount of content and what it says; and so on. Designers don’t need a context to tell you all the ways you could improve your design. Designers are clear on what the latest design trend is and want to deliver great design, but without a direction and a strategy, design can fall flat. Lets use the $35 million Tropicana disaster to have some fun with this example. (Note: I have no idea what really happened in this project, this is all conjecture.)
The designer clearly looked at the “old packaging” (on the left) as something that needed lots of improvement. The design was stale; in 2009 design was cleaner, simpler, more type-driven. The designer moved the design in the direction of what the trend was at the time.
2. Graphic designers live for change, it’s what makes design good
Our chronic improvement tendency is linked to our love of change. Because design trends are always moving forward, change is our job. We need to earn our money and impress you while proving that we can deliver the latest and greatest that design has to offer.
Out with the old and in with the new!
If the project is about changing an existing design, we will sometimes leave some existing elements because we know clients are attached to them. However, if we can change everything and really move the design forward, that is what we want; out with the old and in with the new.
That’s exactly what happened with Tropicana. Out with the old (the orange with the straw in it), and in with the new (a photo of a nice tall glass of orange juice). The type treatment for the word “Tropicana” was changed to a simpler, modern font. Note that they did keep the leaf as the dot on the “I,” which was probably for the client. What, you missed that detail? The green and orange were updated to be more vibrant, and modern. The copy at the bottom of the package was originally “100% pure & natural orange juice.” That was changed to “100% orange” slapped on the glass, followed by “pure & natural, not from concentrate” beneath. “NO PULP” was redesigned to “Pulp Free” and made upper- and lowercase. Dark orange type floats in the juice. The cap went from a boring, plain orange color to one that looks like an actual orange. They added the new, straight—not curved—Tropicana type treatment to the top of the packaging behind the cap, and “pulp free” to the right of it. On the front panel they added a new, brighter green, modern type that says, simply: “squeezed from fresh oranges.”
3. Graphic designers love the big reveal
We are addicted to the moment after we have done all of the hard work when we get to show you the improved result for the first time. We have spent days—even months—working on the design; we’ve thought about every single detail; and we’ve tried and failed with many variations. All of these facts are so clear in our heads. We know that what we are showing is the best solution; we have applied the latest design trends.
Because we know you like choice, we will show you options. The truth is that with clear strategy there tends to be two really good choices—sometimes only one. But sometimes we show you three so you can throw one away; sometimes clients even ask to see three. If the design is built on a strong strategy, usually the best choices are clear—and there are only one or two of them.
4. Graphic designers love what they do and are really into the details
It’s true that we LOVE what we do. We are the rare group of college students who went to school for exactly what we wanted: we love the fonts, colors, layout, hierarchy of information, movement, content, style, photographs, illustration, line quality, form, and shape. Making each of these detailed decisions makes us very happy.
We are experts in our work, and that is why companies hire designers. We want to deliver great results for our clients. Without a proper strategy and context, a designer can deliver a result that may really be best in class but not be right for your target audience or brand.
Tropicana learned that the hard way. Make sure you allow the designer to participate in the strategy, don’t just hand it to them and ask them to make things look good. Remember that the chronic improver can take over—a strategy sets the proper framework and boundaries.
5. Subtle differences are clear to a graphic designer
With all the trends in design, designers don’t see things the same way you do—I know this after over two decades of doing this work. We spend hours making each choice about typeface that clients don’t even register. This is where our expert knowledge can blind us to how a client or the client’s target audience sees a difference. I am pretty sure the designer saw keeping the leaf as the dot on the letter “I” in “Tropicana” as keeping something “old.” Do you see it that way?
The Tropicana example was a huge change. Loving change got the best of them. If the firm you are using does not believe, as Orange Square does, that all design should be driven by a sound strategy, then you have even more work to do. Paying for a sound strategy is a good investment.
Design is a co-creation process that must be driven by sound strategy. We love it when you educate us on what your target audience values and the history of your brand. You might just have to show us some research that says the orange with the straw is a big deal and we can’t change it.
Personality traits can go either way. Being a chronic improver is obviously a good thing and you wouldn’t want anything less from your designer. However, understanding your designer is key. Give him or her a strategy and context to design with, and you’ll utilize the strengths inherent to every single aspect on this list. Leave him or her without direction, and you might end up like Tropicana.