Deane Nettles | Advertising & Graphic Design


You need a brochure. You make rolled steel, or sell insurance. But you're supposed to hire someone called a "graphic designer," who you've heard are "creative, artistic" types. How do you even start talking to someone like that?

First of all, they are business people, just like you. They understand something about profit and loss, return on investment, and how to work with clients and suppliers, just like you do.

Graphic designers' area of expertise is in crafting the information you want to give to potential clients. Their job is to create marketing material that is well-written, clearly explained, and appropriate to your audience. You know about production, tools and employee relations; designers know know about information organization and navigation; about color and typography and the messages it conveys; they know about paper and texture; and they know how to make images — photos and illustrations — attract attention and clarify information.

You know about your business and where you want it to go; designers know how to craft your message so it gets you there.

It's a Game of "Battleship"!

Working with a designer is a lot like the game "battleship" that you played growing up — you both have a hidden sheet of paper with various ships placed on a grid. Then you fire a wide variety of shots — "U3!" "A8!" — hoping to hit something. Once you do, you narrow your shots until you've sunk the battleship.

With your designer, it's a little different. The object is to give the designer as much information as possible so they can narrow in on the solution and sink your "battleship" sooner rather than later.

That information you supply is called a "brief." You give the designer information about:

  • what services you provide and who your clients are,
  • what you want to accomplish with your brochure (such as attracting more clients, letting old clients know about new services),
  • how you want to deliver the information (mail, web, brochure racks in hotels),
  • examples of other work you've sent out,
  • examples of work competitors have done,

and so on. The more information you give them, the better their first shots will be.

Once you've decided on a scope of work and a price, the designer will give you a number of rough ideas. The designer has already played a little private "battleship" game with the problem — firing some salvos and narrowing the project down from the infinite number of ways it could be done. So you'll get a variety, but what you'll get is brochures rather than, say, a brochure, a calendar, and a direct mail piece. (Unless that's what you requested.)

To guide them to hitting your "battleship," ask the designer what the differences are between the roughs, and why they chose those solutions. This is an opportunity to clear up any misconceptions/ misdirections they may have from the original brief. Once they have explained the roughs, tell them which are "hits" and which are "misses."

Most importantly, tell them WHY. Good reasons for a "miss" include:

  • "The colors are too similar to my competitor's colors,"
  • "This package doesn't look like (or looks too much like) other packages in my category,"
  • and "This design doesn't emphasize my main point."

Try not to pay attention the first round on misplaced commas, though you should point out missing elements.

The designer then goes back, modifies or completely reworks the designs, and gives you a narrower range of salvos, more closely targeted to your latest direction, until they finally score a "hit."

And then you're done.

Remember, whether it's in the brief or not, you are hiring the designer to make your message stand out in the crowd. Be interested in some of the ideas that look "wide of the mark." Nobody attracts attention with the predictable.

Time, Money and Effectiveness

Finally, time is money for both you and the designer. Do not drag the game on indefinitely. Give them as much information up front as possible, and decide the "hit" on how well your customers will understand the message and respond to it. You may even want to team the designer with one of your best clients, so the designer can test the brochure roughs with them — your clients are more likely to be objective about what constitutes a "hit" than you are.

© Deane Nettles 2009