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3 Ways to Get the Best Product from Your Visual Designer

As we mentioned in our last post, working with a designer can be an incredibly rewarding experience. But how do you make sure that your end product actually looks how you want it? How do you get a product that feels like you? And what does the design process look like?

Let’s break it down into 3 pieces: 1) Illuminate, 2) Iterate, and 3) Communicate.

Illuminate

To kick off the design process, you’ll first want to illuminate your product for your designer. Your goal here is to “shine some light” on WHAT the product is, and HOW it should look.

WHAT: What’s your elevator pitch? What’s the value proposition of your product? How are you different than your competitors, and what about this do you want to come across?

HOW: At this point, you probably have a sense of what your app’s design should look like – either in visual terms, or at least what emotions and thoughts you want it to evoke in your users. You may even have some examples of things that you like / dislike. If you have one, share a portfolio with your designer showcasing examples of visual design that “feel” like your app. These can be other apps and logos, screenshots of UI’s that you love, pictures of street signs, advertising, or even storefronts and architecture that just feel right.

Try to pinpoint what about each of these elements appeals to you – is it because the blockiness of a building communicates strength and that’s part of your brand persona? Is it because you like a bright color for an app in the kids space?

And don’t forget to include what you don’t want your design to include – namely imagery or colors used by competitors.

Iterate

As with every creative process, you should expect a certain amount of back and forth with your designer once you’re ready to kick off. Now that you’ve shared your vision for the app, it’s time to iterate early, and iterate often.

Typically, you’ll be able to react to designs at several different stages (and in fact, this is something you’ll want to ask about when interviewing potential partners). Ideally, you’ll get to first see a few napkin-sketch options for color palette and theme; these are an easy way to provide some high-level direction about where you want to go with the design. Then, it’s often a good idea to have your designer mock-up what a landing page might look like before diving into the rest of the site. This will help you get a feel for how things will look in more detail, and can make some higher-level stylistic tweaks before applying that look-and-feel to the rest of the site.

At this point, your designer will create designs for every screen of your application. Because your app might have anywhere from 5-50 screens / pages, it’s best to communicate frequently (and in detail) before getting to this point. It’s much easier to make stylistic changes earlier on – saving smaller, page-specific changes for this last stage.

So iterate early, iterate often, and….iterate positively (onto step 3).

Communicate

Design work, which can be based heavily on feeling, intuition, and creative inspiration, is personal in a way that programming is not. This is what makes custom design so special, and powerful. It’s important to keep in mind that when you iterate on designs, effective communication largely means focusing on the positive.

Two reasons for this: 1) Feedback resonates better, and more constructively, when it has a positive slant, and 2) It’s easier to steer your designer towards the right direction than away from the wrong direction.

Chances are, you already intuitively understand #1 – we’ve all been the recipients of constructive (and not-so-constructive) feedback, so let’s talk about #2. When it comes to designs, you’re presenting a concept with an essentially blank slate. That designers can turn something as nebulous as an idea into something that resonates with users in a visual way is to us, quite frankly, amazing (not being designers ourselves). And to get there, we’ve found that it can be tremendously effective to focus on what you do like, rather than what you don’t like.

Think of it like a map. There are an endless number of directions a designer can take a product – so by pinpointing what you do like, it’s much easier to continue turning down the right streets, to arrive at just the right destination.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t call out what you don’t like; avoiding the bad neighborhoods can be equally important to get to that simple, elegant, something special. Just be careful not to get stuck in the weeds.

So…there you have it. Illuminate, Iterate, and Communicate (positively). Now have fun!

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