Branding & Design

Ghosted by my Graphic Designer

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Has your designer truly disappeared, or have they dropped you like third period French?

We wanted to know what’s happening in those situations, so we asked some marketing managers.

In two cases, their freelance designer got a full time job and left their them in a lurch. The third one took on more than she could handle and just wasn’t responding. Frus-tra-ting.

We also heard about designers that went back to school, ones that could only talk after 5pm, and one that would only talk by email. No phone calls please! And the biggest one, designers that seem to just disappear. Ghosted.

Now don’t get me wrong, my creative agency loves freelance designers and we have a healthy respect for them – but just as there are great designers out there, this post is about making sure you hire the right one at the onset.

So if you’re about to hire a designer, we suggest interviewing them as if they were applying for a job in your business…

  1. Have they been freelancing long? Check their work history. Did they bounce from job to job? That may be a sign of instability or boredom. Look for one that has dug in.
  2. Have they just been laid off or packaged out? Will they commit for the long term or is this a temporary fix until they land a new job?
  3. Check their website and look for clients that match your business size. Are you too big for them?
  4. Call those clients and ask them about their experience. Most will tell you they love their designer, but some will be candid and tell you the truth.
  5. And finally, have a look at their social media channels. Are you dealing with a professional, or someone that does “design” as a side hustle?

There are many awesome graphic designers out there – finding and keeping a good one is the goal. But if you have enough work to rely on someone every week, then consider hiring a design company or a creative agency. Having access to several designers, each with different talent can work to your advantage. Like this client of ours…

“Greg, one of the things I love about your in-house designers, is that I never have to worry about getting our marketing material done on time.”

Ok, I have to go. A new client is asking us to take over from where her freelancer left off. No one can find her working files, so we’ll have to rebuild everything. But that’s ok, we’ve got this.

Get your designer to listen

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Ever have a project come back from your graphic designer and find it’s no where near what you had in mind? I’m guessing the answer is a resounding yes!

Well, you’re not alone and we’ve heard all about this from many new clients over the years. The number one issue these marketers tell us – in working with their previous designer or agency – is a lack of listening skills. And when pressed about what they did to fix the issue, the answers and excuses they heard varied.

Designers are very opinionated and are quick to defend themselves …

  • “I thought this would be better and way cool”
  • “We didn’t have enough time”
  • “There was no direction”
  • “You didn’t supply a creative brief”
  • “The creative brief was confusing”
  • “I can’t read your mind”
  • “But we’re the experts”

As a marketer, those probably sound familiar, and I’m betting it’s caused you plenty of distress waiting for a redesign. So, do you simply replace your designer? Well, not yet as I’m sure they usually do a decent job, but here are some things your designer should be asking you. At the onset …

  • Are they asking the purpose of the project?
  • Do they ask for a sample of a previous piece?
  • Are deadlines or expectations addressed?
  • Have they asked for a creative brief?
  • Do they ask for all the assets up front, requesting logos, photos, branding guidelines?
  • Are they asking questions to gain understanding?
  • Do they paraphrase what you just told them?

A good designer or design agency should be listening, and should deliver what you’ve asked for. An even better creative partner should be providing you options, perhaps one layout matching your brief, and another that they’d like you to consider.

However, let’s be reasonable. A designer will occasionally miss the mark, but if they want to grow the relationship, they should be listening more.

As for me, I’ve been practicing ‘active listening’ with my wife for some time now, and she says I’m a much better husband for it. Now if only I’d put my clothes in the damn hamper already!


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My wife and I have been married for a long time and frequently, I get that exasperated look from her. When I politely ask what’s wrong, she rolls her eyes and tells me that I didn’t take out the garbage (or something like that). Apparently, I should have read her mind. And now I duck for cover.

Being a mind reader.

So what does my marital discord have to do with a creative agency? Well, both require clear communication – and one of the biggest complaints we hear from new clients, about their former graphic designer, is that they often missed their changes or didn’t change the layout exactly as requested. But as we know, marketers and designers cannot read each other’s minds. Although over time, a great designer seems able to.

You make the call.

As with anything a little complex, talking about it on the phone is the best way to get your point across. Sure it takes time, but at the end of the conversation, both people are on the same page. The good ol’ fashioned phone is still the best way to communicate with a designer, but if he or she is difficult to reach, then try other ways to communicate what you want done. Like you, good designers can busy too, so keep trying.

A+ for penmanship.

If you’re writing out your changes, remember there’s a reason our teachers taught us to write neatly. Some designers are great at deciphering chicken scratch, but many fail miserably. A good design agency will ask for typed out changes, but a great one will ask you to use the easy-to-use ‘sticky note’ tool right in the PDF itself.

All at once.

And all those changes are best supplied all at once, in a single email, to your designer. It can help eliminate the excuse that they lost your emails in some kind of inbox abyss.

Be patient.

Your designer wants to see your project done right. Sharing and collaborating with you along the way is the best way to achieve it. And while some designers put a limit on the number of changes, at our creative agency, we believe it takes what it takes, and handcuffing you to a pre-set amount of changes is counter-productive. The entire process, like a good marriage, requires patience and good communication.

Now, excuse me. Apparently I need to take out the garbage. Again.

Getting Fresh Ideas from your Graphic Designer

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I talk with several marketers throughout my day, some clients, some prospective clients. Naturally I’m looking to find out what’s happening in their world and how our creative agency can help them. And I’m quite pleased to hear good things about their current creative partners (be it a freelance graphic designer or a design agency). Many have built solid relationships and are quite happy to stay with their provider.

But when I dig deeper, I find that creative complacency has kicked in and they’re really not happy at all. Some marketers reveal that they’re frustrated with their graphic designer because they’re not getting fresh new ideas. I hear this a lot, and wonder why.

Graphic designers are supposed to be full of great new ideas, aren’t they?

Well, yes, but a good designer should be maintaining your brand and keeping the visuals consistent across the various channels. As you know, your credibility is at stake and having a repetitive look and feel helps with brand recognition. But a great creative partner will often introduce new ideas to freshen up the brand experience to attract more prospects.

So if you’re not getting fresh ideas from your freelance graphic designer or design firm, then maybe try these ideas:

  • Simply tell them you’re looking for something new – and why.
  • Share your vision and have a collaborative discussion.
  • Allow your designer some freedom (but not too much).
  • Avoid asking for ‘outside the box’, but rather give direction and provide samples of what may work for your piece.
  • Tell your creative partner the problem you’re trying to solve or tell them the purpose of the piece.
  • Try introducing new content or new messaging.
  • Maybe provide a different amount of copy – less is more, right?
  • Let them change the dimensions or shape of the piece.
  • Allow the introduction of a new font, breaking free of the corporate guidelines – just once.
  • Ditto for colour. You’d be surprised how a complimentary colour can shake things up.
  • Let your creative agency in on the budget and see if there’s room to try additional ideas.

And be brave. What you get back may be way off – or off the wall, but there could be some gold in there. Perhaps their way is better, perhaps not, but work with them by providing feedback. What you think works and what you think doesn’t. And go another round, or two, or three. It may take some time, but they’ll get there and you may just be happy with that fresh new idea.

Finding a new graphic designer, and planning the first date

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Having to part company with your current graphic designer and then hire a new one can be quite an ordeal, striking fear into the most seasoned of Marketers. And I get it, I too have had to (sadly) let a designer go and hire new talent, even the odd freelancer on rare occasion.

It’s difficult to get past the comfort you enjoy with your current designer. She knows your company, your brand, and even those weird little quirks you have. It’s so easy to work with her as she ‘gets’ you – but deep down you know it’s time to move on.

The thought of having to start all over with a new designer, thinking he’ll never understand your ways is a giant, mammoth hurdle you’d rather not face – but you know, you’re not alone. Just about every Marketer faces this moment at one point in their working life.

Yet, hiring a new designer can be worth the effort, and I’m here to help by sharing what some of our clients did when they hired our design agency.

Ask for a referral.

Start first by asking a trusted colleague for a referral. If they work with a great agency, they may be willing to share them with you. Some Marketers love their designers and will jump at the chance to help them win a new client. If they have a bad designer on the other hand, you’ll likely hear about that too. Uhm, so don’t hire that one.

And naturally, try social. There are many great designers out there, so tap into your network. If you’re a b2b Marketer, try reaching out on LinkedIn. Creative agencies lurk there too, but the key is getting a referral from a 1st connection. Obviously, FB and Instagram will be great too, but designers who invest time on LinkedIn are likely more business-minded and may be a better fit for your company. 

If you want to inflict self-pain however, hire one through Upwork, Fiverr or 99designs. Like online dating, you may have to go through a dozen creeps to find a good one. It’s a time suck having to constantly explain your brand and repeating your instructions, so we suggest finding a design partner through referral.

The vetting process.

If you get a referral, then most of the work is already done, so there’s only a few simple steps left.

  • Start by checking out their website and social presence.
  • Does their portfolio match the calibre of work you need done?
  • Do they have any relevant samples remotely close to your collateral?
  • Have they been in business for at least a couple of years?
  • Do they list their clients by name?
  • Do they have real testimonials or recommendations on LinkedIn?
  • Are they at least someone you’d invite to dinner?

The first date.

You make the first move. Get that colleague to connect you and make the first phone call, email or text. Don’t wait for them to initiate, they’re just as busy as you are. Well, you at least hope they are. If they respond quickly, then you’re off to a good start.

But many designers won’t even respond, and many will put up roadblocks. They may tell you that they’re on vacation, or can’t talk to you until next week, and certainly don’t have room to take on new work until the last week of the month. That could be a sign that working with them will be difficult.

And that’s not a good thing if it’s an agency either. Sure, a busy agency is a sign of a good agency, but if they don’t have bandwidth to take on new clients and grow their own business, what makes them think they can help grow yours?

However, if that designer responds by saying “sure let’s talk”, then you may have landed a good one. They should sound excited to work with you, but not desperate. And they should ask just as many questions of you, that you ask of them. Remember, you’re being vetted too. 

Then start small.

Never, ever award a new designer a big project at the beginning. Start them off with something small, low risk and see how they perform. And more importantly, see how easy it is to work together. It may be rocky as you get to know one another, but push through the first one and see how it goes.

Then wait for stakeholder feedback on the creative. If it performs favourably, then move to the next project. And the next. Take it slow and you may get to third base.

And maybe check back with that referring colleague to see if his first experiences were just as positive as yours. Don’t forget to thank them for finding you a great agency. 

Ok, Dad, thanks for the advice.

One of my readers said my posts sound a bit like her father’s advice. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing she said, but I guess it just come from years of experience, and hearing stories from Marketers just like you. Many love their creative agency and many don’t, so find a good one, you deserve it. Your mother and I just want you to be happy.