speak so your designer will listen - what not to say for better design work

As a designer, I’ve heard all the cliches. There’s so many buzzwords floating around that it can be tough to get your point across without resorting to them. However, if you want strong, well researched design work that speaks to people, you need to ditch the jargon and get real. Designers are creative creatures, which means we’re naturally prone to just a smidge of defensiveness. We’re passionate about what we do, but we’re not perfect. We don’t make the right decision 100% of the time. This blog will run through some of the worst cliched offenders and offer alternatives to make your criticisms more constructive and more likely to be listened to. Good communication is the key to great design work, after all.


Can you see the burning rage in this woman’s face? That’s how ‘make it pop’ feels.

Can you see the burning rage in this woman’s face? That’s how ‘make it pop’ feels.

What not to say: Can you make it pop?

This is a big one. Say this at a table full of creative professionals and watch how quickly every eyeball in the room rolls. The problem with this ‘making it pop’ malarkey is that it’s so non-specific. Without a clear goal from this point, we know as designers than more often than not there’s no way to ‘pop’ it enough. Most clients will never be happy with the ‘pop’. Instead, have a good think about what specifically is feeling a bit dull to you. Would you like to up the vibrance of the core colour perhaps? Maybe there’s not enough contrast so a darker background colour could be tried? Maybe it’s the copy that feels dull? Without a specific and clear direction, ‘make it pop’ feels like a slight. As if the designer has come to you with half-arsed work that they haven’t put effort into. It’s absolutely ok not to like something, but you need to be able to articulate why. So opt for ‘can we try a bolder shade of green?’ or ‘can we up the contrast?’. These will be certain to get you better results in the end (and no sarcastic designers - win!)



What not to say: I asked my wife/drinking buddy/dog and s/he’s not keen

Say this at your next meeting and watch the light go out in your designer’s eyes. A fun and totally not rage inducing true story for you: at a company I worked at a few years ago I was working on a full business rebrand. After 4 months of hard work and meetings-that-could-have-been-emails, we’d finally got down to 3 options for the logo. I was so happy to be at the final hurdle. And then we had to scrap it all and start over. Why? Because my boss made me go out and ask the builders working on the scaffolding for their opinion - and they weren’t keen on any of them. Never mind the fact that the target audience was women between 25-45. Can you see the problem? By all means ask for advice, you need second opinions and it’s great to be able to show off. But keep your audience relevant! If your brand is a sports product aimed at secondary-school-age boys, don’t ask your gran. If your business caters to middle-aged female entrepreneurs, don’t ask Dave the accountant for his opinion. Know your ideal customer, know your target market, that’s where you need to be doing your research and testing.



…seriously Tom?

…seriously Tom?

What not to say: It will only take you a second!

This one is in no way limited to creative professionals. We’ve all been victim to this regardless of your industry when the reality is, as a client, you have no idea how long any given task will actually take. Avoid offence by phrasing this as a question: ‘I was hoping to _____, is that something that will take long?’ You don’t know the designer’s work process or the complete ins and outs of the project (otherwise, let’s face it, you’d be doing it yourself) so don’t dictate their time. If it actually is a quick job, they will tell you that when you ask the question, but by jumping to conclusions you’re getting the designer’s back up and devaluing the time and effort that goes into this work. Ask the question, and don’t expect that everything will take ‘just a second’, because it definitely won’t.




What not to say: It’s just not quite there

So. Vague. This is completely non-constructive and a total nightmare to work with because no clear goals have been set. The designer is trying to work totally within the parameters of another human beings emotional spectrum - can you imagine how stressful that is? This kind of criticism is why it’s so crucial to set out clear goals and aims for the project before it’s even started - without them the designer is left at the whim of the client and the project will never be finished. Instead of saying anything vague like this, make sure you’ve got a clear vision for what success looks like right at the beginning of the project and stick with it. Don’t shift the goalposts. Let the designer do their job - they are the expert after all. Have an opinion, but remember you’re not the expert.




Hahaha amazing…Now can I actually get some direction?

Hahaha amazing…Now can I actually get some direction?

What not to say: You’re the creative, just do whatever you want

Designers can’t do anything without understanding the business. We actually need to know what you do, who you do it for, why you do it - this stuff is very important. Without it, we’re just creating something generic and uninspiring that completely misses your demographic and appeals to no one in particular. If you can’t set aside the time to have this conversation with your designer, then you might as well just create a logo from a stock image generator (that’s absolute sacrilege and I hope you just recoiled in horror!) Give us the info! Let your designer create something amazing for you! Also I can say with 99% certainty that anyone who says ‘do whatever you want’ means ‘I will never be happy with anything you do’ so don’t be that person.




This may seem like a lot of rules, but all I’m trying to do is promote good communication. How can we know what grates on other industry pros without talking it out. Let me know what the big bugbears are for your industry. Comment below or email me at design@seabirdcreative.co.uk I sincerely believe that with better understanding of one another comes better communication, and with better communication comes better design work. Set your goals, be clear on what you need, and be nice. Easy!