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As an in-house designer, you have access to things outside
agencies can only dream about. You overhear company news at the
water cooler, live the corporate culture every day, and run into
key decision makers in the hallways. But when it comes time to
connect with internal clients, you might feel like some of your
fellow employees don't even speak the same language: Terms like
CMYK and HTML might be lost on your non-creative coworkers, while
the public relations manager you work with chatters endlessly about
AVE (ad value equivalency) and your CFO focuses on SarBox (the
Because it's nearly impossible to create successful design work
without effectively communicating with the client, it's useful to
tailor your language and communication style to each audience, much
as you would with a website or brochure design.
“A lot of people don't know typography or kerning or color
schemes,” says Joerg Metzner, design director at Rand McNally in
Skokie, Illinois. “You don't want to talk like you would to another
Instead, mirror the client's communication style and
vocabulary—whether that's marketing, finance or strategy—so the
other person doesn't have to guess what you're saying and so the
two of you are on the same page about the goals of the project.
Consider the following client types you're likely to interact with
and tips for connecting with them.
At this level, you need to address financial considerations and
make a business case for the project. How does this website or
campaign increase revenues or reduce costs? How does the project
help the company reach its business goals?
Be prepared to deliver your message quickly—think bullet points,
not full sentences. “A lot of times, it's really hard to get
focused attention the higher up you go,” Metzner says. “They have
so much on their plate.”
Making a succinct business case can help you engage a C-level
audience because you're highlighting what they care about most: the
bottom line. Before meeting with a senior leader, practice what
you're going to say and eliminate unnecessary information. Also, be
ready to swiftly move to the most essential information.
Finally, read business publications like Fortune,
Forbes and The Wall Street Journal to become familiar
with common concerns facing executives and the language they use to
describe them. Business books are another useful source of
information about how senior leaders think and the terminology they
use. Incorporating relevant expressions into your communications
will help you connect with this audience.
Most marketing and communications professionals have worked with
creative staff members before, but that doesn't mean communication
is always smooth. Meet with your marketing peers to make sure
everyone is on the same page with a project before you start the
first comp. Outline specific goals and objectives that everyone can
work toward. What do you want people to do or think when they
receive the brochure? What's most important to get across? How will
you measure success?
Let the common goals be the guide when discussing design
decisions and suggestions. If someone wants to make the type
bigger, for example, try to figure out the underlying motivation.
Does the person want to add more emphasis or simply make sure a key
point isn't lost? Acknowledge the person's objective, then discuss
how various design approaches might achieve the goal.
Unlike marketing professionals who may commonly work with
creative teams, staff-level professionals in other departments may
have little or no experience collaborating with designers. Because
of that, it's useful to spend a little time educating them on the
design process, without using jargon or becoming overly technical.
A member of your sales team, for example, may have no idea that
making changes to a brochure at blueline could result in cost
overruns, for example.
It's also useful to step into their world and get to know common
acronyms and phrases. For example, letting your human resources
client know that you are familiar with the PEP (performance
evaluation process) can go a long way toward building trust.
Finally, when you're working with someone who isn't the ultimate
decision maker, ask about the chain of command and who will be
included in approval processes. If the concept must be approved
high up the food chain, you can provide your colleague with
information that can help him or her “sell” your ideas.
Here are some good communication techniques for any client:
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