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Angela Ferraro-Fanning
graphic design, website design
Bernardsville, New Jersey
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Should You Divorce Your Designer? Five Signs It's Time to Find a New Creative Professional

Believe it or not, your relationship with your graphic designer is a like a marriage. The question is, what if you're not getting that warm and fuzzy feeling anymore? There's a line when it's time to call it quits.
Written Jul 08, 2009, read 2603 times since then.


Believe it or not, your relationship with your graphic designer is a lot like a marriage. You rely on one another, you learn from each other and you both should be communicating effectively. Learning one another’s personalities and working habits may take a bit of time, but when processes are running smoothly, you both feel like you’re on cloud nine.

The question is, what if your relationship isn’t giving you that warm and fuzzy feeling anymore? Do you find yourself more often frustrated than not? Are there communication barriers you feel like you just can’t get past? There are certainly going to be kinks at one point or another in any working relationship, but there’s also an imaginary line when it’s time to call it quits.

Below are five examples that will help you to identify whether you and your designer are headed down the wrong path. If you can’t or aren’t willing to fix it together, it may just be time to move on.

1. You aren’t included in the process.

To expand on this example, let’s say you and your designer have already gotten all the paperwork out of the way. You’ve paid your deposit and signed on the dotted line, and all of the administrative tasks are done. What is your designer doing next? Are they talking to you about your ideas and your business objectives or are they just “running with it?”

A good and experienced graphic designer will talk to you about your design goals. Furthermore, they’ll keep you included and ask for your approval on any/all ideas regularly. If your designer takes your logo design request and you don’t hear from them until the final concept is presented to you, that’s a bad sign. Working together is essential to generating effective design solutions.

2. They don’t listen to your feedback.

Have you ever worked up the courage to tell your graphic designer that you don’t like their solution, only to have them get angry/defensive? Have you told your designer that you hate blue and then are offered a website design that includes no other color but that? These are signs that your designer isn’t really taking note of your feedback.

Most design professionals really try to honor their client’s requests and to translate them into the final product as much as possible. Keep in mind this differs greatly from you telling your designer how to approach a layout or construct a piece. If you’re looking to tell someone what layouts to use, what colors they can employ and how big to make certain elements, you’re looking for a production artist, not a designer.

A design provider should listen to your feedback and create a solution for you based on those comments. If you despise an element or design choice they’ve made, sometimes they may try to explain it and encourage you to reconsider if they think the piece is crucial to the design. However, your feedback should be taken to heart and into serious consideration when creating a final design. 

3. The designer strays from your brand.

This scenario often happens to smaller start-ups more often than to larger corporations with graphic standards and fine-tuned branding systems. Once in a while, a client will tell me they’ve worked with a previous designer who wanted to transform their image. The designer didn’t follow their established font systems and was hesitant to stay within the set color guidelines. This is not good.

Some designers will say working with companies who have strong identities leaves little room for creativity. I disagree. In fact, doesn’t it take more thought, effort and creativity to create an effective design within so many guidelines? Experienced graphic designers realize that branding and identity are the exact foundation of what we do. If your designer is trying to persuade you to move in another direction or to “just go ahead and try this new look,” it’s a sign you should be looking for services elsewhere. Graphic design has everything to do with branding. If your designer isn’t grasping that, watch out!

4. Your budget doesn’t seem to apply to their ideas.

Budgets can be tricky for designers.  For some, it’s difficult to think about the end-product from the beginning. But there’s a reason why so many professionals will ask the dreaded question, “What’s your budget?” up front.

Don’t be afraid to tell your designer if your budget is small. There are loads of effective designs that can be produced with little funding. Realize the requests you’re making though, to ensure you’re not asking for something impossible.

On the other hand, let’s say you have already had the budget conversation with your designer. They know you are operating on tighter funds this time around, yet have turned your postcard campaign into a five-folded brochure with a scratch-n-sniff addition. Not good. It’s a waste of your time to look at solutions that don’t fit your wallet, and it’s a waste of the designer’s time to create materials that aren’t something you can afford. Be sure you’re being clear about money with the designer and if they still aren’t hearing you, it’s time to research available designers.

5. Your designer isn’t asking questions.

This instance may not sound like a big deal, but actually, it’s huge. Are you currently asking for a direct mail piece from your designer and they say nothing but, “okay,” or “I’ll have it to you soon?” This is a big warning sign that your desired design may not come out as effective as it should. It’s the job of a graphic designer to learn about the targeted audience for the piece. Budget (as mentioned before) is another point that needs to be discussed. Other questions you should be asked may include:

  • When is the deadline for the project?
  • What is the message and where is the copy coming from?
  • How many pieces will be printed?
  • Do you have any requirements for final size or colors?
  • Are there any images or other logos that need to be included?

Experienced designers ask so many questions that sometimes, it feels like we’re being irritating. But all of these answers are crucial to the design process. Without knowing these key factors, the design will not speak to the correct audience, elements will likely be missing from the piece, the intended objective may not be reached, and you could end up just plain frustrated.

Always be sure to discuss your frustrations with your designer if you have them. Give them a chance to remedy the situation and to remind you about why you chose to work with them in the first place. However, if you’re not getting what you need from the relationship after you’ve tried to communicate, it may be time for a divorce.

Learn more about the author, Angela Ferraro-Fanning.

Comment on this article

  • Web Design Consultant 
Portland, Oregon 
Charles Montgomery
    Posted by Charles Montgomery, Portland, Oregon | Jul 10, 2009

    With 19 reads, I would have thought someone would have commented by now! I appreciated this article considerably - if anything as a reminder on how I need to stay in touch with my clients as much as possible, especially during the design phase which can be even trickier when I have graphic designers doing the work for me! We have to get alot of the communication done up front, but I make sure to work in revisions and multiple concepts. Often of course they like elements from multiple concepts, but usually if I listen and probe well early, our early revisions will be spot on! Thanks for sharing - happy networking and toast to good business!

  • Logo Apparel & Promotional Products  
Portland, Oregon 
Gary Powell
    Posted by Gary Powell, Portland, Oregon | Jul 10, 2009

    As a small business owner who has spoken to several designers in the last two months, I can honestly say that Angela has proven to be extremely professional. This is any excellent article that helps us non-designers understand the process. It truly is all about great communication between both parties.

  • graphic design, website design 
Bernardsville, New Jersey 
Angela Ferraro-Fanning
    Posted by Angela Ferraro-Fanning, Bernardsville, New Jersey | Jul 10, 2009

    Thank you both for reading and commenting on this article. I'm so glad to hear you were able to take something helpful from it.

    Your time is much appreciated. Thanks again!

  • Consultant 
Bangalore, Karnataka India 
Fernandez G
    Posted by Fernandez G, Bangalore, Karnataka India | Jul 10, 2009

    Angela !!! Top design Article . I think in graphic design the passion of presentation is attract us than perfection.Designer should try to listen to our passion in our heart and sing it back on graphic design.

    Happy Compute Designing !!! Thanks

  • graphic design, website design 
Bernardsville, New Jersey 
Angela Ferraro-Fanning
    Posted by Angela Ferraro-Fanning, Bernardsville, New Jersey | Jul 10, 2009

    Thank you, J G, for reading and for the compliments. I agree, a designer's job is not only to create graphics, but to listen to their clients as well.

    Thanks for reading!

  • creative director 
Los Angeles, California 
heather parlato
    Posted by heather parlato, Los Angeles, California | Jul 17, 2009

    thanks angela, as a design professional, i really appreciate it when other designers are saying all the same things i reiterate to my clients.