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Apr 3rd, 2019

Design Demystified: What type of designer is right for your project?

Your success guide to working with designers.


Kate Varner

Graphics, branding, User Experience (UX), and User Interface (UI) all fit under the broad term “design”.

It’s important to distinguish between the different types of designers and add to your overall design knowledge now so that you match with the right one for your project, leading you both to a rewarding match experience and tangible products you can use like brochures, infographics, websites, and more.

Types of designers explained

Graphic Designer
Their focus is about creating visual concepts to communicate ideas that inform and inspire your audience. They focus on your core pieces like logos, brand guidelines, brochures, posters and infographics. Generally, the designed collateral can be print pieces or digital elements for social media and websites.

User Experience (UX) Designer
Their work is centered around using empathy and insights to make your website easy to use for your target audience. They do this through organizing your content, establishing a page hierarchy (sitemap) and creating blueprints (wireframes) illustrating how the pages should be structured and what should go on them.

User Interface (UI) Designer
They apply your logo and brand identity system to the blueprints provided by the UX designer to create a delightful system of page designs that clearly communicate your mission while being easy to read and navigate across devices.

Web Developer
The Web developer builds the site based on the designs provided by the UI designer and your requirements. They don’t necessarily care if the page is visually representative of your brand, but they care about code and the architecture of your site.

Finding the right set of design skills

A designer is looking to solve problems through creative interpretation, not so much looking to comb through long strategy documents and business plans so you’ll need to ask the right questions to get a designer that will mesh well with your expectations.

Must do’s:

  • Review portfolios (they should have one). Your initial reaction to the set of samples shouldn’t be why you hire or don’t select a designer. Why? Look for work examples that are similar to the type you are needing. For projects that required a team, like websites, ask them what role they played and what parts they did.

  • Ask questions about their design process and how they have been most successful working with clients. Discuss what aspects of the work they will be looking for feedback on and align on the preferred format to provide it. For example: Will they will present the work and get your initial reactions, then share a link to the work for you to provide granular feedback and comments on a PDF document? Or are they firm on the number of edits or feedback rounds?

Giving feedback in the language of design

When it is time to review drafts, always allow them to present and explain the work first. You need this context before you can react to the work.

Subjective feedback like “make it pop” or “I don’t like this” or any suggestion not rooted in your original objective and leans toward your own preferences is not useful.

How to’s:

  • Try or give feedback that is as specific as possible. For example, if a logo design doesn’t look like you had hoped, focus in on details such as, “the shape makes sense but I’d like to see a brighter color palette.”

  • Ask questions, first. If you’re confused about recommendations or suggestions, ask questions so the designer doesn’t assume and move on.

  • If there are technology recommendations, set some time aside for talking through the pros and cons and what the ramifications will be if you go with one option versus another.

  • General rule of thumb, soliciting feedback from a large group of people who have not been steeped in the design process and previous rounds of design review will likely only open the door to more ideas and less solutions. If you do need opinions from a large set of stakeholders in your organization, collect that feedback separately and summarize it in the designer’s preferred format, don’t have them all join the call and pile criticisms on the designer. It will be overwhelming and counter-productive.

So, when is it time to switch designers and start anew?

At Catchafire, we want our nonprofits and volunteers to have the best match experience. We’re upfront that you should confidently enter a volunteer project like you would a consultant.

Breaking up with a designer can be hard but not all client/designer relationships are meant to be. Sometimes your aesthetic sensibilities just clash. I’d allow two strikes before you end the engagement and look for someone new. If you get one round of designs that are nothing like what you were hoping for, give them as much specific feedback as possible. If the revised round of work is nowhere closer to the mark, explain why and tell them it isn’t working. Alternatively, if they miss agreed upon deadlines repeatedly without good cause, end the engagement and tell them why. Accountability and consistent communication is essential for a successful working experience with any designer.