Just Make it Look Professional

Crayon scribbles on a napkin would have been easier.

It was all supposed to be in the job jacket. The instructions that the customer had given our salesperson said to create a 4 panel brochure using the information the customer had provided.

That information consisted of the following:

  • Two sheets of paper containing exactly 4 lines of text.
  • An address.
  • 3 digital product photos — 2.125 x 1.8 at 300 dpi
  • A competitor’s brochure that they “kind of liked.”

From this, we were to “create something that looks professional.” It occurred to me that Sean Connery would never have made a credible Bond without the dinner jacket and natty togs. Could Bond have really pulled it off dressed only in his boxers?

We created something very bare bones, representative of the instruction set that we were given. It’s gone out for proof with a bunch of notes on it and I can almost guarantee that it will come back with a frustrated comment from the customer that “this wasn’t at all what they were thinking.”

So the question is, “what were they thinking?” It is certainly a reasonable option to hire a graphic designer to create art for your project or commission a printshop to do layout. It is not rational to expect them to read your mind. As a customer, you cannot abdicate the responsibility of describing both what you want and what you would like to say. You don’t have to be an artist or even able to write in complete sentences, but you must somehow convey to the designer the ideas that you would like him, in turn, to convey in the publication or printed piece that you have commissioned.

It’s really not hard. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Create a dummy. Take a piece of paper and fold it up, then scribble notes on it.
  • Crayons really are OK. There’s no better way to communicate a rough design or color combination than to scratch it out.
  • It’s probably a very good idea to talk with the designer up front. Don’t be surprised if you have to schedule this and if there is a charge associated with it. For a freelance designer, time is money; and agencies and even printshops should value their design time highly. The time spent up front with the person who will create your piece is a good investment, though. And it’s much less expensive than the time spent going back and forth with multiple proofs.
  • Write it down if you can. If you can write copy, that’s great. If not, let your designer know that this is part of your expectation. If you can’t write it out, explain it well and let the designer take notes.

Sean Connery in Underwear

The “professional look” of the finished design will in the end be dependant as much upon your clarity and detail as upon the designer’s skills. Without your input and direction, your piece may have all of the impact and style of Sean Connery in bandoleros and red underwear.

Frightening, isn’t it?

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2 Responses to Just Make it Look Professional

  1. sue woodworth says:

    i think its hot myself…..i love sean connery

  2. Pen says:

    No matter how many times you ask “What size?” or “Black and white or color?” or any number of other questions concerning the specifics of a design project, inevitably you still get an empty folder with nothing more than “Needs by .”

    I’m considering writing beer and liquor off my taxes as a job expense.

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