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How to talk about design

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Written by: Caroline Berg

Very early on in my career, I remember my first creative director hovering over my screen, gazing intensely at a logo I was in the middle of designing. In a voice loud enough to be heard across the studio, he said “can you just make it a bit cooler”. My confusion was compounded by his ‘not cool’ use of air quotes. Dented ego aside, I swore in that moment that should I ever reach the heady heights of his position, I would never, ever offer such meaningless critique to anyone.

Now, I’m sure there’s a part of you that thinks I may have overreacted, or can’t see why I wouldn’t see that as constructive criticism, but please allow me to explain. Your ‘cool’ and my ‘cool’ are quite possibly not the same thing. I think cats are cool but I’m pretty sure you don’t want a playful ginger brand with a passive aggressive tone of voice. Adjectives alone are, and always will be, subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder is it not? So how do we find a way of communicating what we want a design to be if we can’t find the words?

Design is language unto itself and is made up of so much more than pictures and colours and fonts. It’s a communication tool. How many times have you examined a book cover and thought “that looks interesting/exciting/thrilling/romantic/heartbreaking”? Our opinions are forged by a harmony of elements coming together to form a message. So how can you make sure you’re communicating your design ideas to your agency when you don’t speak ‘design’? Little don’t have to.

But I don’t know where to begin

It’s okay, the first step is simply self-awareness. Whether you’re a start-up looking for a new brand or an existing organisation looking for a refresh, you know better than anyone why you exist and the problems you’re solving. You probably already know how you want the world to see you. This is all design gold. If you can share information about yourselves, we can begin to form a mental picture of who you are and how to approach your brief.


We have ways of unlocking your creative side

Now that we’re getting to know you, the next step is to figure out what you like and what you don’t like. This can be the most challenging part, because when we decide we like the look of something, it’s often based on emotion and we have no idea why we’re drawn to it. But therein lies the answer. What do you ‘feel’ when you see it? Does it relax you? Do you feel excited? Does it give you a sense of trust? Once you ask yourself these questions, you begin to speak in terms designers understand. We can gain a wealth of information about your ‘style’ if you compare yourselves to completely non-related brands. For example, you’re more ‘Sainsbury’s’ than ‘M&S’ or more ‘Volkswagen’ than ‘Tesla’. We can then unpack what it is about those brand designs you feel an affinity with. You also don’t need to be an expert in typography to know that some lettering feels ‘impactful’ whilst another is more ‘formal’. Perhaps you saw some tea packaging the other day that you loved, please take a picture! In fact, telling us about anything you’ve seen that you really love or hate will give us valuable insight. We’re here to help you figure out what feels right for you.

Reviewing the creative

During the next stage, you will have been presented with initial ideas, so how do you go about critiquing the design? There is something to be said for the ‘knee-jerk’ reaction. You’ll have it. We all do. If it’s an instant attraction, then great! We can explore ways to make it even better. But if it’s not working for you, we need you to help us understand why. Go back to the ‘feeling’ exercise. Maybe it feels too serious or not exciting enough. Could it be that the colours just need tweaking or the layout needs amending? Taking the time to examine the elements can help focus your response and make feedback more productive. Even if the design isn’t right, are there any elements that you do like? Finding the positives goes a long way towards making progress. Design should provoke conversation and only when we talk to each other will we manage to achieve something great.

Give it some space

Another thing you may want to consider is ‘the overnight test’. It’s something us creatives do regularly. When we’re working on a design for any length of time, we can begin to lose critical perspective. Taking time out and coming back to it with fresh eyes can be surprisingly revealing. It’s not uncommon to completely change your mind or see something you may have missed before, plus it can alleviate any pressure to feedback on visuals immediately after a presentation.

With the lines of communication open, and a mutual dialogue established, we can produce something truly authentic for you. There is nothing more rewarding than creating a beautiful and successful brand identity especially when our clients feel part of the process.

For help with your design and branding, contact the Hex team today.