Are You Being Clear in Your Design Expectations? – By Jason Shriner


Have you ever worked with a designer before and it just seemed no matter how many times you communicated with them, you couldn’t get what you wanted? Whether you’ve ordered a cake, asked for a logo design, or had your photo taken professionally, this feeling might sound familiar. Like most problems, the answer lies within communication. While communication is a two-way street, I’d like to speak directly to you as the consumer on how you can better communicate your vision to a designer.

Identify the purpose or goal of your design solution

Having a clear goal should be the starting point for most projects regardless of their nature, but not everybody takes time to really identify it and label it as a goal. Sometimes the goal is as simple as: I need a dessert for my child’s birthday. But look at all the information you have already started to provide in your goal: You need a dessert, it’s for a child, it’s for a birthday. That is going to inform the rest of the decisions you and your designer will make.

Identify and clearly articulate the boundaries for your request

Some of these will be fairly straightforward such as budget and deadline. You need to also consider how your project will be used. If you’re ordering a sign where will it be displayed? Inside? Outside? On brick? On metal? Sometimes you need to think more thoroughly about the criteria. Check out the six design criteria Dow Chemical required for the biohazardous materials symbol found in this 99 percent invisible post. As you read over them, ask yourself what made this specific requirement so important? When you’re working with a designer, you need to project into the future to make sure all your design needs are being met.

Provide clear feedback and elaborate on your concerns

Please don’t ever say to a designer, “This doesn’t feel quite right,” and leave it at that. When you’re getting your haircut by a stylist, tell them what specifically is bothering you about your haircut. Is it the thickness? The shape? The angle? The way it makes your face look? Even if you can’t speak the same language as the designer, being as specific as possible allows them to translate your concerns into their expertise. If you and your designer are having trouble meeting in the middle, go over your goals and your criteria. See if the breakdown stems from there and then reevaluate. Now that you have a deliverable that meets your goals and criteria, are those actually your goals and criteria or has your vision shifted? It actually might be a case where seeing the design samples may have helped you more clearly understand your goals and criteria.

As a designer, not having clearly articulated goals and requirements is really distressing for me. More seasoned designers have developed strategies to cope with vague clients. Having a questionnaire that asks specifics is a good start. Being interviewed by the designer is also a great idea. An open face-to-face dialogue can really pull a lot of information out of your head. Providing opportunities for feedback throughout the process – such as reviewing sketches, discussing possible color palettes, and reviewing written content – are also important to making sure your vision gets seen through until the end. Keep in mind that every designer and every project is different so the process may look different, but the key component is communication. As long as you’re striving to communicate clearly, then your design solution should fall right into place.

Jason Shriner is the Marketing Manager for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached at 703.335.8872 or via email at

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