Tell a graphic designer what you want, and they’ll fall for it every time

by / Saturday, 28 March 2015 / Published in Philosophy

One of the BIGGEST challenges for creative industry novices, juniors and everyone still breathing is to avoid the pitfalls of client direction. But that said, there’s a further pitfall … knowing when to speak your mind, or when to walk away.

I recently had a client ask me for a logo design. Here’s what they said: “Hey, I’ve included some ideas here (imagine something a client would do themselves and you’ve got the picture), but (here it comes) … YOU’RE THE EXPERT. I’M OPEN TO WHATEVER YOU SUGGEST.”


Did I fall for it? (I’ll remind you I’ve been doing this for 30 years)…


I went away and looked at the ideas they sent, and tried to figure what they meant rather than what they sent. Sounds like a solid strategy, and it usually is. No, that’s not true… it ALWAYS is. But, you don’t yet know which client you’re dealing with, because both setups are identical. In the end, I designed 3 solid logo options based on the brief. They emailed me back and said “Hey, you didn’t use my layout. That’s what I’m looking for.” I walked away from the project and didn’t bill them.

As a creative pro, you will wrestle with ego. All the time. But, at the end of the day, design doesn’t belong exclusively to designers. It’s a little like making furniture for someone else’s living room. They like mirror walls and fur rugs. It’s up to you to either deliver, or be clear it’s not your thing and move on. It’s okay to do so. I usually like to say, “Listen, I’m not the right person for this project, but here’s some parting advice that might help next time…” and explain how a creative brief is different from a graphic request, and they did one, when the other would have avoided confusion. I say it nice, and not sound like an elitist design-dick. <- THAT’S the hard part.

Check your ego at the door. Many clients need you because you have a copy of Photoshop. That’s a legitimate need. You’ll do 12 of those for every super-cool-logo-design project you’ll get. It’s all part of the job, and no… you’re not the only one going through it.

2 Responses to “Tell a graphic designer what you want, and they’ll fall for it every time”

  1. Ed says : Reply

    Hi Shawn!
    It’s time to renew copyrights, we like your well-structured thoughts and creative insights.
    Nobody likes to fill in forms to comment.
    Keep the day going, deliver, we all need the content.

  2. Ndubuisi says : Reply

    You are on point. Well said Shawn.
    Now i understand i was right to resign from my last job as an inhouse graphics designer. There is time to back-out indeed.

    Keepit up!

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