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6 Tips to Work Cost-effectively with a Graphic Designer

How to Work Cost-EffectivelyClients always want to know what they can do to keep costs down on projects. Especially in these economic times, the question always is “how can we do this in the most cost-effective manner?” Is there a magic formula of miracle software? No. But there are a lot of small things that may not seem like they would make that big a difference that truly do.

Chances are you have hired a designer because they can do something you can’t. By focusing on what you can do, you allow the designer to do what they do best and thus you get the most value for their time.

Client Preparation vs. Value Graph


#1 Be Organized

This seems like a no brainer when you say it, but surprisingly is rarely done well, and it is above all the most important.

When you turn your materials over to the designer to work with, make sure they are complete. Missing content holds up production. Have all your copy typed, proof read and marked up with appropriate formatting cues (i.e. pull quote, side bar, subhead). Group photo files with the text files they relate to. Use descriptive file names (i.e. DrGannon-headshot.jpg rather than DSC_000091254.jpg). Make sure the image files are of an appropriate size for their application. A 72 ppi file from your website cannot be utilized as a full bleed photo on the cover of your pocket folder. Always provide the highest resolution file you have available.

Make sure copy is edited to a reasonable copy length for the format of your project. That is, do not provide three 8.5×11 pages for a rack card. If you do not know the final  format of your project, consider contracting with your designer for a brainstorming session. You can pay them a smaller fee up front to sit down and help you determine the best strategy for your project, rather than pay for a much longer, involved conceptual development phase. Then based on that meeting, you can collect your content accordingly. And your designer will be able to give you a much tighter estimate because they now have a much more intimate understanding of the scope.

If you have a vision of how things should be laid out, please provide a sketch. Although the designer may determine that is not the best layout solution, it will provide them with an understanding of what your priorities are. It is easier to know these up front rather than having to retrofit them in after the initial layout has been completed. If your document is for a multi-page booklet, provide a pagination document that indicates the order and preferred page numbers for each area of content.

The less time your designer has to spend figuring out what all the content is and how it goes together, the more time they can devote to the actual design and production of your piece.


#2 Be Thorough

When you receive your concepts, look at everything. Notice the typefaces and treatments. Notice the color palette. Notice the graphic treatments. Notice any supporting elements. If something is or, more importantly, is not resonating with you, have a discussion about it. Ask questions. You designer doesn’t want to be going into the final draft under the gun to rework something that was part of the original approved concept.

Proof every draft completely. Don’t spot 3 typos on the first page, shoot off an email and  force the designer to prepare another draft only to learn that the same typos appear on page 15. Make sure that higher-ups that need to sign off on the project review the earliest round possible. The more eyeballs on the first proof the better. It takes much less time for the designer to make 28 edits at one time, than it does to make 4 edits on 7 separate occasions.


#3 Be Responsive

Your designer works more efficiently when a project is fresh in their mind. If they ask you a question, get back to them as soon as you can. Make it a priority. Because the longer you wait to respond, the more time your project sits stagnant. When you receive a proof, return it according to the agreed upon production calendar if not sooner. Your designer plans out their entire production schedule and allots time to your project. If you miss those windows, it becomes more difficult to complete the work in a timely manner as the designer is juggling more and more projects. The fewer stalls and starts a project has, the less the overall time investment. Think of it like a cab meter. Even though to you the project is at a stop light, the meter is still running as the designer makes phone calls, sends emails and generally tries to make sure that they have not dropped the ball.


#4 Be Flexible

You’ve heard it before: Time is money. And it’s true, but the irony is that the less time available, the more money is required. If you need an 80 page booklet in a week, or a database-driven website in a month, that’s a hefty project for a very short time period. It is likely that your designer will need to work overtime and perhaps bring on extra help to meet your deadline. This is going to cost more. Being more flexible with your deadlines and production schedules will get you a better value on the project as a whole. Allowing a comfortable amount of time for production ensures that your marketing dollars are going further by avoiding rush charges and premium rates.

Additionally, be flexible with your vision. The designer wants to give you what you are looking for, but sometimes that square peg just isn’t going to fit in that round hole. If you are open to alternatives, you can save time and effort by not investing it in something that isn’t working.


This next one is a tip on how to communicate more effectively with your designer.

#5 Tell your designer what the problem is, not how to solve it

An example of this is “I feel my company name doesn’t have enough prominence,” not “make my logo bigger.”  A designer makes hundreds of tiny decisions about every element of your project. There are reasons why things are done the way they are and it’s all in an effort to reach the goal of an effective piece for the client. You have the same goal, but by mandating some of those decisions, you force your designer to compromise others and spend time bringing everything back into balance. However, if they are aware of your end goal (i.e. the desired outcome of a change), then they can find the quickest path to the solution which isn’t necessarily the first one that may occur to you.


And this last tip may seem silly, but I swear it saves a ton of time and frustration.

#6 DO NOT pre-format your text files

This does not apply to indicating headlines, or making things italic that need to be italic, or any of the things necessary to comprehending what purpose the text has.

Examples of bad pre-formatting include making 2 or more columns by using tabs or spaces, putting returns in to control line breaks in running copy, using novelty fonts that not everyone has on their computer, putting copy in text boxes or tables in Word, typing headlines in ALL CAPS, and other such formatting attempting to do layout within the copy document.

The problem with doing all those things is that your designer has to undo them all to get the text to display correctly within their design program layouts. It takes a significant amount of time to retype the 35 headlines within an annual report, or to delete all the spaces between a 4 column list of names to flow it into the 6 column grid that it now needs to go in. The cleaner and less cluttered your text documents are the faster and easier it is to work with them and the happier your designer will be.


There you have it. I promise you that doing these simple things will make your design projects go smoother and your designer will put you on their never revealed list of “good clients.”  And “good clients” get the leanest estimates because we want to keep you. Everybody’s happy.

I would like to invite any other creative professionals to post any additional tips they may have as comments to this message. Thank you!