How to Work and Build Trust With a Graphic Designer

I had a cartoon like this pinned to my office door for years when I was a creative director. It’s making me crazy that I can’t find it now, so I re-created it for you. The original featured lava lamps, but I couldn't find lava lamp clip art, so it's cars instead.


So what’s the takeaway here? It’s that most graphic designers, whether formally trained or self-taught, know their stuff.  And while your input is valuable, appreciated and necessary, you might not always be right. Trust your designer. And when there is trust, respect isn’t far behind. Trust and respect lead to free and open exchanges of ideas that will benefit your school’s marketing.

Here are some dos and don’ts for building trust with your in-house or freelance graphic designer and maximizing your working relationship. 


  • Give the designer samples of things you like and tell her why you like them.

  • Tell the designer your pet peeves so she knows not to go there. Give the designer your style guide and make sure she adheres to it.

  • Dish out praise before you heap on criticism. She knows it’s business, but her feelings can get hurt even though they shouldn’t.

  • Be clear about the approval process, who’s involved, and who is the decision-maker.

  • Return one cohesive set of changes for the project that reflect resolved differences of opinion on the committee…instead of “John hates this part but I like it, so do whatever you think is best.”

  • Be very clear about the directions for the project like desired goals, target audience, needs, restrictions, delivery date, etc. Create a "Creative Brief" spreadsheet for each project with these criteria.


  • Tell her what to do when you don’t like something. Tell her what you don’t like and why, and let her revise it.

  • Choose a designer because you like her style and then make her work in a different style.

  • Say, “I don’t like it,” without a reason why.

  • Say, "I'll know it when I see it" and expect an infinite number of concepts until one "hits you." This is a massive abuse of time and money (because time is money).

More Insight

Check out 20 Horrible Types of Feedback That Every Creative Dreads. 

The marvelous Seth Godin wrote a post about just this. We're on the same page.

Read next: [Not] Legal Advice on How To Break Up with Your Designer.

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