Find out everything you need to know to discuss graphics with a designer or agency.

Every business hits a turning point where organic or word of mouth growth is no longer enough. It’s time to hire a graphic designer or marketing agency to develop professional marketing materials and campaigns. It’s the only way to take the business to the next level.

As an entrepreneur, you are great at what you do. However, you know little or next to nothing about graphic design.

We get it. It’s a common issue that entrepreneurs need to deal with. It’s enough to make even the most confident business owner feel lost and anxious.

You probably have some ideas about what good design is: things like the graphics and products in Apple stores and the artwork in your favorite museum or gallery. And you have some idea of what isn’t appealing: obviously photoshopped images, the un-ironic use of Comic Sans typeface, odd Instagram filters, and most memes.

However, the issue is far more complicated. Bad design, and what makes it so, isn’t always easy to pick out. Sometimes, something looks great, but it doesn’t give you the marketing or sales results you wanted. Would that be considered “good design?” Likely not.

Here’s all there is that you need to know to discuss design with graphics experts and marketing and design agencies.

Good versus bad graphic designers: How to tell the difference.

Let’s start with the basics of interviewing, hiring, and working with graphic designers and agencies. Ask yourself these questions to figure out which ones have the experience you need to deliver the results that your company needs.

Do they use a lot of stock photos, simplistic vectors, and canned illustrations? If you review a portfolio or samples of a designer’s or agency’s work and see similar visual elements across the submissions, it could be a sign that their understanding of a brand is lacking, which then led to poor customizations for different clients. If that’s the case, move on and check out other prospects. If your brand is an emerging one, you’ll want it to stand out from your competitors. It will give you an edge in the marketplace and help you achieve success.

Do they fully leverage all the information you provide? If you take time to explain your company and its marketing and graphic design needs to a designer or agency, they should fully leverage that information. It’s the only way that a third party agency that you hire will be able to create high-quality marketing assets and campaigns for your business. A good designer will utilize all the materials you provide to create the most effective deliverables possible. Or they may challenge some of the things you tell them that don’t seem right. Meanwhile, a bad designer is one who delivers work that shallowly represents or completely ignores the information your share.

Tip: Put it in writing. If you provide your designer with a written marketing or creative brief, they’ll be more likely to follow it. Some people have unreliable memories. Writing things down makes it more likely they’ll remember them and follow your guidance.

Are they capable of creating designs for your target audience? A bad designer submits deliverables that don’t take any audience beyond themselves into consideration. A good designer knows how to create pieces for people in certain demographic segments. A great designer takes the information they are given and develops materials that connect with people in different age groups, geographic locations, with different cultural backgrounds, levels of sophistication, and other factors. If you want to create engagement opportunities for your target audience, partner with designers who have demonstrated their ability to create meaningful work for marketing pieces and campaigns in the past.

Can they adapt their style to suit the needs of different businesses? Some designers have a distinct aesthetic. That’s not a bad thing. Some companies do hire on the basis of an artist’s signature style because they feel that the designer’s — or the agency’s — unique style would translate their brand’s messaging best. If you want more control over how your own brand will be reflected in your communication and marketing materials, seek out an adaptable designer. You should look for an artist or agency whose portfolio depicts the skillful use of a range of styles and treatments to translate the concept of a brand effectively.

Do they communicate well? If you don’t form an easy rapport with a designer when you speak with them initially, don’t make the mistake of pushing for a partnership. Instead, you should check out some other talent on your list. Well-designed marketing campaign pieces are always founded on a relationship that involves easy and comfortable interaction and communication between both parties.

Do they advise you when they think you may be making a mistake? Good designers have a wide range of experience. They should be confident enough in their skill to make more meaningful recommendations when you might be committing a design error. A designer that allows a project to go wrong is not someone you want to entrust the face of your brand with.

How to spot good — and not so good — design.

After you decide on a designer, you’ll want to make communicating your thoughts with them easier by getting familiar with design concepts. These are elements you’ll likely encounter — and should look out for — in their work.

Placement. Whatever the medium of choice, the placement of text and images and how they relate and interact as a whole, is critical to good design. Every component works together with the ultimate goal of not just looking aesthetically pleasing, but getting people to take action too. If you have a good designer on board, they will be ready to test various text-and-images combinations until they find the placements that would deliver the best results.

Type. While type may seem like an ancient print concept that we left behind a long time ago, it’s still very much in relevant in today’s digital age. In fact, type styling is more important than ever. Whether you have material that’s destined for the page, a billboard, or an electronic device, your type needs to be easy to read. Good designers will know and make sure this is done correctly. A great designer, meanwhile, can style type to get people to understand concepts quickly, feel things, and take action. You owe it to yourself to partner with a designer who knows how to use type to touch people’s hearts and minds.

Color. Color is a cornerstone of modern design. Beyond creating an attractive image, it can be used to get people to feel things and act on those emotions. If you are unfamiliar with color theory, you’ll find a lot of information on how colors impact people in books and online. You can use this knowledge to enhance your marketing and sales game and take your business to the next level.

Additionally, if you are targeting a broad or unique customer base, you’ll need to be aware of what associations people in different cultural groups have of particular colors. For example, a color — or mix of them — could be associated with purity in one culture and translate to mourning for another.

There are also some basic things to always be aware of when choosing colors. This includes things like ensuring text is readable and how color choices reflect on your brand.

User experience. As a design concept, user experience is a relatively new addition, and it’s one that many people (even designers) don’t always fully grasp. In a nutshell, user experience is how consumers experience — and respond to — a design. This means that you shouldn’t limit your view of it to your own perception and experience. You must also think about how a design will impact a group of people. If you want to see this design property in action, try getting some people in your target audience to test new marketing and communication pieces and get their feedback.

Order and balance. Good design calls for all the different elements of a piece to be arranged in a balanced way. This also means that there should be adequate empty space relative to the existing elements to draw and guide the eye. It gives people cues on what to focus on and what to do next. Good design is as much about what isn’t there as what is.

Mobile design. What looks great on a desktop or laptop computer may not be attractive — or even viewable — on a smartphone. This makes it a priority to review online experiences on different devices. If anything doesn’t look good on any or all of them, make adjustments before they are released to the public.

Spelling and grammar errors. Good copy is critical to most design projects. A spelling or grammar mistake can ruin the credibility of an entire piece as many people will see it as carelessness on the creators’ part. It shows that a business isn’t focused on the small things. This may lead many prospective customers or clients to try and find other businesses instead. Get a professional proofreader – or several other people — to review your communication pieces before releasing it to your prospect base.

Movement. When you look over a design, pay attention to how your eye moves over it. Does it smoothly take you through a clear path that ends with an actionable conclusion? Or does it wander around without a clear conclusion? A well-executed design will make it easy for anyone consuming the media to understand the intent of the marketing experience and take action.

Rhythm. This can be seen in the repetition of certain objects or elements in a design, often times with slight variations in order to avoid monotony. Rhythm is a great way to support the storytelling element and overall flow of a design. If you find it hard to follow a piece, it might be because the designer hasn’t used rhythm effectively to provide cues about how to move through it.

Proportion and scale. A good design includes elements of different sizes to help move viewers through it. Large elements are typically viewed as more important, small ones less so. If you find it difficult to distinguish between the relative sizes of the elements in a piece, send it back for more work.

Contrast. Contrast refers to the difference between two design elements. It can be achieved by pairing dark and light elements, big and small objects, or contrasting modern parts against old school elements. There are various ways to execute contrast in a design. Just make sure to use it to make a point. If the design does not have one, it will simply confuse people.

Repetition. The consistent appearance of one or more elements like a logo or certain colors in a design is a basic tenet of brand building as it is one of the things that makes a brand recognizable. All your marketing should tie to a broader brand experience.

Hierarchy. Design elements should be structured on a screen or page in a deliberate manner. This is what hierarchy is, and it makes it easier for a person to scan and understand the relative importance of the information being presented. If a piece is difficult to read or comprehend, the graphic artist may need to revise their design hierarchy.

Emphasis. You can emphasize a part of a design and point out its importance through size, color, or visual heft. If you find it hard to figure out the important parts of the layout, it could be a sign that the designer is not doing a good job in creating a piece that draws the eye to key parts of the layout.

Variety. If a design doesn’t jump out and leave an impression on you, then its elements might not be varied enough. The designer may need to add a different type of image, additional typeface or pop of color. An experienced design professional will know how to change things up to make a bland design more interesting.

Current trends. Design is a dynamic discipline. New technology, evolving sales and marketing needs, emerging styles and dozens of other factors can cause what’s considered to be “good” design to change over time. “It” colors fall out of fashion. Typefaces that may have captured the interest of users at one point are now viewed as commonplace and predictable. Stay up-to-date on graphic design trends and pay attention to what other companies in your industry are doing. It will help ensure that your business is viewed as modern and not dated.

Are you more confident about your graphic design knowledge and ability to guide the development of marketing materials? We hope so! If you have questions or need more information about a design concept, contact us. We’re always available to help you out.