5 Tips for Working With Outsourced Designers

Your small business relies on a professional and consistent look and feel. But how do you achieve this when you don’t have the resources to have an in-house marketing design team? Print design, Web design and advertising copy – all of this can be quite complicated. Outsourced designers are a great way to bring in design expertise when you need it… but managing creative professionals has its own set of unique challenges.

Here are 5 tips for working with outside designers:

1) Provide context.

Help your designer understand what your business does. Explain the goal that you are trying to accomplish with the design work. Realize that the designer does not have the same view into your business that you do. By providing context around what it is that you do and what you are trying to accomplish, you not only help the designer create better work but also help focus his or her creativity on the problem at hand.

2) Use a style guide.

It is smart to have a style guide created so that all of your collateral materials will be consistent and professional looking. A style guide is a set of standards for design of your company’s materials/documents/manuals. For a small business, a simple style guide should have the preferred primary typeface/headline/header font and secondary typeface/body text font, primary and secondary colors and general rules for on-page spacing. The goal of the style guide is that if someone sees your company’s mailing and then visits your website, they should naturally understand that they’ve come to the same company’s home page.

3) Use examples.

Provide examples of both designs you like and designs you do not. A good set of examples is a great starting point for your designer. You should not only have examples, but have specific reasons why you like or dislike them. Opinions/reasons will help the designer focus on using the elements that you like best and keep him or her from wasting time recreating elements you didn’t consider important.

4) Sketch and scan.

Another great way to share your ideas with the designer is to sketch the design on a piece of paper and scan it to share it with the designer. The goal is not to pretend to be Michelangelo, but instead to get your basic layout ideas across. Do not spend a lot of time with this, but instead just scratch out something as a jumping-off point from which the designer can begin to create something appropriate for your needs.

5) Keep in touch.

Have a regular schedule for when you and the designer will check in with each other. You’ll want to update the designer on any changes that might impact the design and promptly provide feedback to them as needed. Prompt and decisive feedback is crucial to a good relationship with a designer.

Bonus tip: Give constructive criticism.

Do not be afraid to provide criticism. The designer cannot read your mind, so you need to be honest when you do not like something. You should not feel bad delivering negative news if you can do so promptly and in a positive manner! Be polite as you state the negatives, but make sure you do state them – otherwise it will be close to impossible to get the design you want for your business.

Have you used outside designers? What have you learned from working with them? Any tips to share with the Small Business Trends audience?


Prasad Thammineni Prasad Thammineni is the Chief Product Officer at Choose Energy, an electricity, natural gas and solar marketplace for residential, SMB and commercial customers. He founded consumer and B2B startups namely OffceDrop, jPeople, WeBelong, Indolis and LaunchPad. He has an MBA from Wharton and Computer Science and Math degrees from BITS, Pilani, India.

13 Reactions
  1. extremeprintingusa.com

    We work both as designers and with designers very often. I like that you suggest sketching what you have in mind and faxing or emailing it. This helps out soo much when a customer has an idea in mind.

  2. In my experience it is critical to communicate and set expectations right away, before any work is done. Style guides and sketches go a long way at setting accurate expectations, which in turn leads to great deliverables.

  3. You can use your existing content to very easily provide content formatting guidelines via content summarization. This allows free lancers to use existing content to see how it should be done without any effort on your part. Here’s an example of the text used for images on a website.


    It also allows you to identify any existing inconsistencies.

  4. I think I’ve encountered this mega site on complaints made my graphic designers on ‘Clients from Hell’ and I’d say most of the stuff I read there are hilarious. I think, the toughest challenge is to communicate what exactly you want from a design. For example, you may say you want the color blue for your website but there are many hues and shades of blues – and one can be cerulean or pastel blue ( and so on ). It doesn’t even help to say it’s the color of the sky on a bright, sunny cloudless day or worse, the color of the sea. Anyway, thanks for the tips!

  5. Prasad Thammineni: Is a style guide the same thing as a graphic profile? We used a designer for our Blue Chip Caf

  6. Hi Martin,

    I am not familiar with the phrase “graphic profile” but let me see if I can elaborate what I mean by style guides. Style guides are used in marketing. They can be all encompassing – web, print, tv, video etc. or they could be one for each of these channels with variations.

    These style guides do talk about colors, fonts, sizes, layouts etc. Looks like you are happy with the outcome so your Graphics Profile should have sufficed.

  7. Good tips.

    One very important item, however, is missing: ensuring that you and the designer enter into a written agreement conveying the copyright in all the created designs over to you. Absent such an agreement, the designer retains ownership of the copyright while you simply buy a license to use the designs.

    Drafting the agreement gets somewhat tricky when portions of pre-existing designs are used but normally the conveyance language is straightforward — what is NOT straightforward and what cannot be assumed is the expectations of the parties. In short, if you don’t talk about ownership then you’re teeing up a problem that you really don’t need. Disputes over the ownership [and reuse] of designs occur very often. But they can be minimized if the issue is put on the table up front.

    Twitter: http://twitter.com/ballard_ip

  8. Prasad Thammineni: Thanks for your input.

    Dan Ballard: Your comment got me thinking. I have to remember that next time I order a design work. I am now following you on Twitter.

  9. These are really helpful tips. I also like to use a tool called Jing to make short videos of my desktop while I make comments on different design elements. Sometimes adding a picture and a cursor can replace a thousand words.

  10. As a web designer myself, I’d like to give my two cents:

    “Provide context” and “Use examples” are especially important. Some small business owners hire a designer thinking that she’ll be the magic bullet and immediately solve all visual marketing problems. Not true. When you hire a designer, you also have to invest time to tell her about your business, explain your goals, and describe your brand.

    Regarding “Sketch and scan,” this may not be a good idea for some projects. You don’t want to unnecessarily limit your designer’s vision. Layout is one of the elements of design, after all. If you sketch what you want right away, you might be hindering more innovative ideas that could work better.