Trade Show TalesBlog

When It Comes to Graphic Design, I’m an Idiot

April 23rd, 2009 3 COMMENTS
Classic Exhibits and Graphic Design

Classic Exhibits and Graphic Design

When it comes to graphic design, I am an idiot. I’m not embarrassed to admit it, although I probably should be since I manage the marketing for Classic Exhibits and ClassicMODUL, and assist in the marketing for Exhibits Northwest. Yet, there’s rarely a day that I don’t make graphic design decisions about our websites, sales literature, email marketing broadcasts, and trade show displays. Does my lack of graphic design expertise show? I certainly hope not. Frankly, I think we do a pretty good job.

Like most marketing managers, or any manager who understands his or her limitations, I rely on talented people, such as graphic designers. Not only do they understand the tools, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, or Quark, but they spend their days immersed in graphic design issues.  They understand the nuances and the trends. They remind me that this color text on that background is unreadable and that I’ve created visual clutter and confusion in my effort to say and show too much.  If I ask them to add a “star burst” with a price, they guide me to a more contemporary solution that doesn’t reek of 1980’s clip art.

Fortunately, I’ve learn some valuable lessons over the years regarding graphic design, which I’ll share. These aren’t font, color, or layout tips. Remember, I’m an idiot. These are tips for anyone working with graphic designers, tips that hopefully will save you time, money, and slow the aging process.

Four Valuable Lessons about Graphic Design

1. It’s Your Project, Part 1:  I’d hate to be a graphic designer and work with most clients. Their expectations are unrealistic, their directions are vague, and their budget is pitiful. Most clients don’t know what they want and expect the graphic designer to be psychic. Clients will use terms like “modern” and “visually striking” and “colorful” and expect those concepts to be transparent to anyone. They are not, any more than a “tree” looks the same to someone living in New England or the Pacific Northwest or Australia.

Take ownership of your project. The more information you convey to the graphic designer, the more effort you put into prepping the project, the more likely the final result will match your objectives. Take the time to collect examples of ads, websites, and sales flyers that you like. Graphic designers are visual. They’ll take those cues and use them to create your design. Too often I hear someone say, “I wanted something original and didn’t want to influence the creative process by being too specific or showing them examples.” Really? When did vagueness become a muse? Go ahead and be lazy. Just don’t pretend that your laziness is a brilliant creative design strategy.

2. It’s Your Project, Part 2. Let’s say you decide to ignore my advice in Part 1. I’m not offended, but I am snickering behind your back. Your graphic designer loves and hates you. You’ve made their job much harder, but you’ve made them a little richer. Most graphic designers work on an hourly rate with incremental time minimums. You are now paying for pondering and investigating and false starts. Each back and forth is getting you closer to your perfect design, but you’re paying for the privilege of having a graphic designer at your beck and call. If you work best following this process and have the budget, then hire a graphic designer full time or recognize that time is money, your money, and don’t complain when you get the final bill.

3. Mind Meld = Success and Increased Productivity. I’ve worked with the same graphic design firm, Flying High Creative Resources, for over four years. They are good, which is the most important criteria. Equally important is that we now have a history together. They understand what I want. I understand how best to communicate with them. They understand the exhibit industry and, in fact, have gone out of their way to learn about the trade show business — the graphic requirements, the shows, the publications, and much more. They have grown with us and have been instrumental in developing the graphics and branding for Visionary Designs, Perfect 10 Portable Hybrids, Magellan Displays, and Classic Presentation.

The lesson . . . once you’ve found a graphic designer (or design firm) that you respect and like, it pays to remain loyal. They’ll watch your back with ad agencies and suppliers. They’ll guard your branding, even when you want to trample all over it because of a wild idea at 2 am with a shelf life of 24 hours. You’ll develop a communication shorthand, which saves you money and them aggravation. Each project is still your project but getting from point A to Z, generally skips about half the alphabet.

4. Trust Your Instincts. It got you this far, and unless you have a history of flops, bad decisions, and marketing Hindenburgs, you’ve learned something valuable along the way. Be open to advice. But trust your instincts. If you are wrong, it was only a job in a down economy with little chance of future employment. ; – ).

Finally, be amazed. There are lots and lots of people who call themselves graphic designers. Just as there are lots of people who call themselves investment advisers (GRRR!) or bankers (double GRRR!). When you find a talented graphic designer, one who syncs with your vision and your personality, hold on tight and be amazed.

–Mel White

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3 Responses to “When It Comes to Graphic Design, I’m an Idiot”

  1. Jennifer Bussott says:

    Right on! I’d like to think that I, as an exhibit sales manager, provide all of those glorious details to my designer BUT have totally felt the ramifications from my clients, the end users. I wish I could verbalize to them the exact words you have communicated, especially “didn’t want to influence the creative process by being too specific” AND “don’t complain when you get the final bill”. My biggest beef is why can’t people give you a budget? Even if it is totally unrealistic, at least it’s a jumping off point – and usually that’s what we have to do – jump! Thanks for writing what many of us wish we could relay. Maybe it will give us the courage to. Um, maybe.

  2. mel says:

    Thanks for your comments Jennifer. Whether it’s a display or graphics, getting a budget always seems to be the challenge. I’m told fairly often that one of the primarily benefits of Design Search, for example, is that it shows realistic budgets.

  3. Alethea Lattig says:

    Mel, I loved this (see, I do read every “Design Monday” even if you don’t hear much from me)! I just sent it to my sister who worked in graphic design and who is now working on my revamped logo for the web site. Your article is also going up on my wall so I can refer to it as I roll my eyes for the next client who gives me the same vague directions.

    And I second Jennifer’s comment above regarding the mystery budget!

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