How to brief your graphic designer

Three ways to get the ideas out of your brain to start your design project.

Are you ready to work with a graphic designer but not sure how to give them a brief? Do you want to share your ideas but worry about how best to do so?

Experienced graphic designers have a solid briefing process. They’re skilled at getting the ideas out of your mind and into a workable brief.

You’ll get a much better outcome if you spend time at the onset thinking about what you want. Your designer will question you, challenge you and give you their expert advice. It’s about taking that rough idea and polishing it—making it even better than you imagined.

There’s three ways I encourage my clients to share their ideas:

—  screenshots
—  Canva/Powerpoint
—  rough drawing or sketch

Let’s take a deep dive into these three options and canvas some of the common concerns I hear.


Tactic #1: Use screenshots

There’s nothing better than getting a big fat folder of screenshots from a client with what they like and don’t like. It is so helpful.

If you abhor scripted fonts or mustard yellow, let me know, and I’ll avoid them.

Of course, I will be thinking about what appeals to your audience as well as your personal preferences. But often what you like and what your audience likes are not mutually exclusive. Let’s achieve a design that ticks both boxes.

So jump on Pinterest and create a board of your favourite designs. Or simply screenshot your favourite Facebook ads, logos, infographics or invitations and add an album to DropBox. I don’t mind how you share it with me.

Added bonus? A few comments on what you like/dislike about each design is super useful.

Examples of Pinterest boards

Tactic #2: Use Canva

Most designers fear Canva because they feel they’re losing income. But I disagree. Canva is a fantastic tool that makes design easy for everyone. The problem with Canva for many clients? The endless opportunities can be overwhelming. Pairing fonts, styles and elements can easily become a mess. That’s where designers step in.

By using a few click-and-drag elements, you can easily create a rough version of your vision. The comments section is particularly useful.

You can add comments like:

—  ‘not sure about this colour combo’
—  ‘I want the line thinner here’
—  ‘Like this but more modern’

Of course, I’m not expecting you to spend hours creating a complete design in Canva. That’s my responsibility. After all, if you’re doing all the work yourself, why pay a designer?

You can really waste hours in Canva getting things just right. So if you do like this way to brief your designer, set a time limit and keep to the core elements. I’ll take it from there and make it amazing for you.

Don’t have/like Canva? Use Powerpoint, or even Microsoft Word.

Сanva Photo Editor - How to brief your Graphic Designer

Example – Canva is a graphic design platform you can use to create visual content. You can save your work as a pdf and send it to your designer as part of the creative brief.

Tactic #3: Do a rough drawing or sketch

Good old pen and paper is a wonderful option. It means you don’t have to spend hours tinkering with Canva, Pinterest or screenshotting elements you like but aren’t quite right.

You don’t have to be a good drawer to try this option. Just have a scribble, enjoy the process and sketch out your design. Even if you hate it, it’s worth showing me. 

Example – You could try to write out a description of the above illustration, but it’s MUCH easier to draw it (stick figures are absolutely fine – the important thing is that your designer understands what you mean). The sketch on the left clearly explained what needed to be included in the illustration. The final version is on the right.

Common objections to these ways of briefing your designer.

I’m worried about offending.

Not at all! An experienced designer has seen it all before. It’s so much easier to start with these than a blank page with no clue about what you are looking for. I can’t read your mind, unfortunately.

Is screenshotting plagiarism?

No, it’s just inspiration. I never copycat other designs. It’s bad ethically and something I would never do. It’s just a starting point to gather ideas. You’ll still get a 100% original design, created just for you.

Why am I doing the work myself? The designer should do it for me.

I’m not asking you to spend hours crafting a beautiful design. On the contrary, it should take you about thirty minutes, maximum. (As mentioned, Canva in particular can be a huge timesucker.) It’s like choosing a dish at a restaurant. You choose the chicken or the beef and the chef expertly creates the meal for you. A little direction from you gets the project off to a great start.

But I don’t have any idea what I want – that’s why I’m using a designer.

I’ve been working as a graphic designer for 20+ years. So I can say with confidence that it’s exceedingly rare to work with a client who has NO idea what they want. In fact, about 99.39% have some kind of idea in mind before we get started. (Even if they don’t know it, deep down, there’s something.)

I don’t have the time.

Even five minutes is enough. Just a few quick sketches or three screenshots can be a great starting point. But if you want to spend more time and play around—go for it.

But I don’t want to stifle your creativity.

You won’t, I promise. Your ideas are the launchpad for a collaborative creative process. It’s just the beginning. I’ll take your idea and give you more options, or I’ll suggest something totally new (and explain why). It’s a great way to fast track the process. Otherwise, I design options that you don’t like and go back to starting from scratch. Meaning it takes longer for you to get your finished artwork.

I’m embarrassed to show you my crappy draft.

I’m not gonna judge. It doesn’t have to be perfect or stylish. The goal is to empower you to share your ideas and have fun with it. You don’t have to be an artist. (See the above sketch with the stick figures as an example).

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