19 things you should never say to a graphic designer

Graphic design can be a minefield for the uninitiated. It’s hard to get to grips with a profession that you don’t understand. You’ll find that most designers are relatively patient and understanding of this. But, if it’s not handled well the graphic designer-client relationship can go sour pretty quickly.

A good first step is to make sure you’re not making unrealistic demands of your designer. Here are 19 all too common scenarios that every designer is fed up of hearing. We hope you can avoid using them in your real-life projects so you can cut through the fluff and get down to making awesome work:

C: “I haven’t got any content yet, but can you do the design anyway?”

D: “Oh yeah, I can’t see any problems with that at all. As long as you don’t mind shaving down your content to fit into my design that won’t be an issue.”

Lesson 1: Content usually forms the layout of a design so you don’t want to start without it. You don’t always need to know exactly what the content will be to get started, but you do need to know how much there will be. Trying to squeeze 10 paragraphs into a space that fits 2 is tricky and you might end up needing to start again.

Graphic Designer - Content is essential for layout.
Content is essential for layout.

C: “Can you just do this one thing really quickly for me?”

D: “I have a feeling this isn’t going to be quick.”

Graphic Designer - This cat is angry because his client asked him to do a 10 page website "really quickly".
This cat is angry because his client asked him to do a 10 page website “really quickly”.

Lesson 2: Yes, your graphic designer can do that for you, but how do you know it’s a quick fix? Don’t go in there asking for stuff to be done quickly, otherwise you’ll end up with a rushed job and a poor design.

C: “Make up a few versions, then I’ll choose the one I like best.”

D: “Yes, that sounds fair. I often do this with sandwiches. I choose 6, take a bite out of each one, then only pay for the one I like best.”

Lesson 3: Does this sound like a fair system to you? Essentially what you’re asking your graphic designer to do is do 5x the amount of work but only get paid for 1x. Plus, the other versions that you didn’t choose are useless because they’re unique to your project and can’t be re-sold to another client.

Graphic Designer - "You're only going to pay me for 1? But you asked me to do 20!"
“You’re only going to pay me for 1? But you asked me to do 20!”

C: “Can’t you just photoshop it?”

D: “Sure, I’ll just conjure up the great Photoshop god with my magic wand and he’ll have it back to you in 5.”

Lesson 4: Photoshop isn’t some sort of magical tool that can take whatever it is you’re imagining in your head and realise it in pixel format. Some things just aren’t possible. And, even if they are possible, it doesn’t mean they should be done. Listen to your designer – they are the experts and will tell you what’s best for your design.

This dog is sad because his species hasn't evolved to have thumbs yet and therefore can't use the Adobe Creative Suite.
This dog is sad because his species hasn’t evolved to have thumbs yet and therefore can’t use the Adobe Creative Suite.

C “I like this. Can you make something exactly like it?”

D: “Do you mean can I just rip off what this other graphic designer spent blood, sweat and tears creating? Yeah, that sounds totally legit, and I’m sure it’s not stealing at all.”

Why don't I just trace it?
Why don’t I just trace it?

Lesson 5: This request usually comes about as a result of a client seeing a design they like elsewhere, but realising that designer is way out of their price range. So they ask a cheaper designer to imitate it. This is stealing/plagiarism. It’s ok to emulate another designer’s style, but taking a design like for like ain’t cool.

C: “Make it pop.”

D: “Like the N’Sync kind or the 7Up kind?”

Lesson 6: Try not to use vague terms when describing what you want. Same goes for edgy, fancy, cool, rad … ok no one uses rad but you get what I mean. These are go-to words when the client can’t quite articulate what they don’t like about a design. Always try to be specific and show examples if you’re not good at communicating with words.

So, not the eating kind either?
So, not the eating kind either?

C: “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.”

D: “Ok, how about you come back when you do know. That’ll save us all a lot of time here.”

Lesson 7: This approach will leave your graphic designer literally stabbing in the dark, hoping to hit on the right combination that works for you. Your designer can only create something awesome if they know what it is you want. The designer can’t guess. If you really don’t know what you want, you’re probably not ready to hire a designer yet. You need to go away, do some research, decide what it is you want and then think about hiring. If you don’t, your project will drag on, giving your designer a major case of creative fatigue.

Let me know when you find it.
Let me know when you find it.

C: “Can you make just one more change?”

Just change it from blue to yellow.
Just change it from blue to yellow.

D: “Of course! It’s not like I’m currently working on other things or have other priorities. I’m at your beck and call, even though our project finished two months ago.”

Lesson 8: The design equivalent of doing a Columbo, those ‘just one more thing’ requests can really start to add up. Try and sum up all your requests in one communication. It’s easier for the designer to keep track of all the changes you’ve asked for, and it means the project won’t drag on and on.

C: “But it looks ok on my screen?”

D: “Ok no probs. As long as all of your customers only look at your website on your personal screen, we should be good to go.”

Lesson 9: A lot of clients find it difficult to understand why things look different on other screens or devices. But, trust your graphic designer – they know what’s best. There’s no point your design looking pixel perfect for you, but unreadable on the majority of your customers’ screens.

But our icon looks fine on my screen?
But our icon looks fine on my screen?

C: “I can’t pay you but you’ll get loads of exposure / you can put my company name in your portfolio.”

D: “That sounds great, my friend. Only thing is, I tried to pay for my weekly food shop using the exposure from your company name, and now I’m banned from the supermarket.”

Lesson 10: Yes, sometimes, given the right circumstances, designers do work for free. However, designers also need to earn a wage, just like everyone else. Quit asking them to work for free in return for another piece of work to “boost” their portfolio. If you think you’re the only person that’s asked them to work for free this week in return for “exposure”, get to the back of the queue.

If one more person asks me to work for free, this is what will happen.
If one more person asks me to work for free, this is what will happen.

C: “Can we use this image that I found on another website?”

D: “Again, that sounds totally legit, and I’m sure it’s not stealing at all.”

Lesson 11: Except, it definitely is stealing. Don’t take stuff you find elsewhere on the internet and pass it off as your own.

No, we can't use these photos that you 'found'.
No, we can’t use these photos that you ‘found’.

C: “How much do you charge for a project?”

D: “Approximately eleventy knuts.”

I also accept dollar, yen and bitcoin.
I also accept dollar, yen and bitcoin.

Lesson 12: Designers can’t tell you how much your project will cost before they know what it is. Even if your project is a logo, every logo is different. Designers will be happy to give you a quote for your individual project.

C: “You’re the graphic designer so you’re the expert. I’ll leave it up to you.”

D: “What? You’re just going to leave me now? But I don’t know what I’m doing yet!”

Lesson 13: Yes, your graphic designer is the expert. However, they can’t do a good job unless you give them some guidance on what you want. If you don’t give them any advice, you might end up with something you don’t like.

Throw me a bone here.

C: “Our target audience is everyone.”

D: “Then I’ll make sure your website is suitable for millennials, baby-boomers, dog owners aged 35 – 50, butchers, female pensioners with disposable income, stay-at-home parents, tattoo fanatics, college students …”

Not all of these people will buy your product.
Not all of these people will buy your product.

Lesson 14: Your target audience is never everyone. Even YouTube’s target audience isn’t everyone. Even Amazon’s target audience isn’t everyone. Even Coca Cola’s target audience isn’t everyone. Even … ok you get the picture. Think of any Coca Cola advert – they’re all targeted at young people. No matter how generic your product is, you still have a target audience which will make up the majority of your customers.

C: “I don’t like it.”

D: “Ok don’t worry, I’ll just change it to be whatever it is you do like. It’s lucky that one of my hidden talents is mind reading.”

Lesson 15: Spoiler: Designers are not mind readers. They need you to tell them what it is you want. Granted, some people are not very good at communicating what it is they want with words. But, you can avoid this situation by making sure you and your graphic designer feedback to each other frequently during the process.

But, this is what you asked for?
But, this is what you asked for?

C: “Just get the logo from our website.”

D: “Oh sure I’ll just right click and save that mofo … wait, why is it so pixelated!? Why doesn’t it have a transparent background?! Argh!”

Lesson 16: Don’t make your designer do this. Whatever logo file you have on your website might not be right for your next project. Send a folder with a variety of file formats and versions so that your designer has whatever they need to hand.

Am I even on the right website?
Am I even on the right website?

C: “But I know another designer who can do it for $10.”

“Wow. Gosh, really? You know someone who can do this 24 page brochure, featuring custom photography and spot illustrations for ten bucks? They sound just great. You should go with them. I bet your finished brochure will be wonderful. It’ll be printed on the highest quality paper stock, it’ll definitely arrive on time, it won’t go over budget and you’ll win design awards and junk.”

Lesson 17: None of this will happen. You get what you pay for. Need I say more?

Sounds like you're going to get burned.
Sounds like you’re going to get burned.

C: “I showed my brother-in-law, and he doesn’t like it. He’s an accountant now, but he took a pottery class back in ‘98 so he knows a good design when he sees one.”

D: “Oh yeah, sounds like he’s pretty creative. I mean, you should probably just go ahead and get him to do the whole project for you since I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Lesson 18: Don’t get feedback from people who aren’t an authority on the subject. Friends, family and well-wishers can be eager to throw in their two-penneth when it comes to evaluating a design. But the majority of the time, their comments will be subjective and therefore invalid: “I don’t like that red” or “I don’t like that font”. Who cares if you don’t like it, as long as it’s right for the design. These people usually have no context on which to found their judgement. They don’t understand your brand values, your company philosophy, your target audience and the needs of your project. Which your designer does.

This guy thinks it's ok, but hey, what does he know?
This guy thinks it’s ok, but hey, what does he know?

C: ” … and can you have this done by tomorrow?”

D: “Sure, I’m a time lord so that’s no problem. I can magic up the extra 92 hours needed, no sweat. Oh, wait I forgot, I’m just a regular HUMAN BEING.”

Little known fact: Designers are governed by the laws of time just like you.
Little known fact: Designers are governed by the laws of time just like you.

Lesson 19: For some reason a lot of clients seem to think that graphic design is quick and easy. Perhaps it’s because graphic design is mostly done on computers, and computers are fast and wizzy, and can do things at the touch of a button. A lot of the time the things designers produce look simple, so surely they’re fast to create? If only it were that easy. Every project is different. Some projects can be done in a matter of hours some take much longer. If you have time constraints, let your designer know about these upfront. They’ll let you know if your timeframe is realistic.




After studying English Literature at university, Vicky decided she didn’t want to be either a teacher or whoever it is that writes those interminable mash-up novels about Jane Austen and pirates, so sensibly moved into graphic design.

She worked freelance for some time on various projects before starting at Twine and giving the site its unique, colourful look.

Despite having studied in Manchester and spent some years in Cheshire, she’s originally from Cumbria and stubbornly refuses to pick up a Mancunian accent. A keen hiker, Vicky also shows her geographic preferences by preferring the Cumbrian landscape to anything more local.