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Working With a Design Firm

Getting the Most out of the relationship

Promoting your growing business can be a lot like troubleshooting computer problems - at a certain point it pays to bring in a professional. Of course, entrusting our company's image to a design firm can make the best of us nervous. But, a clear understanding of how the client designer relationship should work will help you get the most out of the experience.

The relationship between you and your designer is just that, a relationship (you're not just buying a pair of shoes here). Like any relationship, communication and realistic expectations are the keys to working effectively.

What A Design Firm Brings To The Table

A design firm brings expertise in the area of visual communication, ie, shaping ideas into a well-designed marketing piece that will catch the attention of you target market. It also has the technical expertise to manage the production of your piece. In addition, the firm may employ editorial talent that can help you write or edit your piece.

Being a step removed, a design firm can offer an invaluable outside perspective, bringing fresh creative ideas to promoting your business. It can also identify situations where what you see as obvious may be lost on your audience, or come across in a totally different way.

What You Must Bring To The Table

What you bring to the table is your intimate understanding of what makes your business special, the type of clients you are working with, and the type you hope to attract with your promotional efforts.

By clearly communicating these insights and your initial ideas on the project to your design firm, you will give them an excellent starting point for developing a focused approach to getting your message across to the specific audience that you are trying to reach.

Agreements To Be Made

In addition to the creative aspects of your relationship with your design firm, there is a business side that must be understood. There are three general areas where some guidelines are useful - deadlines, budgets, and accountability.

Deadlines

Be up-front and realistic when discussing your project's deadlines, especially if the piece you are discussing is time-sensitive. Have your design from work out a schedule that lays out each step of the process, including how many drafts are to be produced. Make sure it includes key deadlines for both you (for material you're supplying, and approvals) and the designer.

To avoid major re-works at the 11 th hour, try to settle on the creative approach you're taking early in the process. It's a popular misconception that because they use computers, design firms can make major changes right up to the last minute with the push of a button.

The Budget

The key to staying on budget is to thoroughly plan the project in advance. Budget overruns occur most frequently when client and design firm don't share a clear picture of the finished product and what is involved in getting there, leading to major revisions late in the project.

The project plan should be sent out in a letter of agreement, briefly outlining the details of the project, estimated costs, a shedule with all relevant deadlines, and the consequences if the project starts to go over budget. This last point is important. If you start making changes at the last minute, you may be on the hook for the extra time involved. For everyone's protection, make it clear from the beginning exactly what the quote covers.

Accountability

Unfortunately, things can go wrong, but before you call your designer demanding a re-print, you must understand who is responsible for what, at what stage in the process. If you don't, you may find yourself in for an unpleasant surprise:

  • Make a file, where you keep everything relating to your promo piece. This should include your initial notes to the designer, all drafts sent for your review or approval, and all quotes and schedules. Make sure all of the items are dated, as you may need these later to back you up.
  • Understand that when your designer asks you to sign a final proof, you are assuming full responsibility for the piece. So go over it with a fine tooth comb before signing.
  • If something does go wrong, review your file. If a change or error was made after you signed-off (eg. the printer used the wrong paper or ink colours, or your logo appears on the draft you signed, but is missing when you get it back from the printer) don't be afraid to dig your heels in. Unless the error was there when you signed-off, it shouldn't cost you anything to get it fixed.

Working with a design firm can vastly improve the quality and effectiveness of your promotional efforts, bringing fresh ideas and a professional design sense to the project. With a basic understanding of how the process should work from the outset, it can be a rewarding relationship that supports your business as it grows over the years.