ManyPixels Research: The Challenges of Working with Designers
Read what marketers, business owners and freelancers dislike about working with graphic designers, and how you can avoid those challenges.
Table of Contents
We asked people who work with graphic designers what they find most problematic, and what they would like to be done to overcome common problems. Here’s what we found.
Here at ManyPixels, we work with clients from all over the world every day, supplying great graphic design works and helping them communicate with designers smoothly and effectively.
Still, as in any other remote service, communication and collaboration can be a bit tricky. No matter how hard you try, mishaps happen. Whether it’s an in-house designer, freelancer, agency, or, indeed, unlimited design service — working with design creatives can be challenging.
Be it the terminology gap, lack of personal contact or different expectations, clients can sometimes be unhappy with the work they receive.
So, that is why we decided to not sit idly by but help people make their problems heard, and find how they can collaborate with graphic designers better. At the same time, we wanted to use the research results to see what we, as an unlimited graphic design service, can do better, to improve the user experience of clients and give our designers a platform to express their side of the story.
The research results presented in this article show everyone working with graphic design an honest and realistic view of graphic design challenges for people who work in this field, or a similar one (such as marketing, startups, small businesses and e-commerce).
We surveyed hundreds of people who use different graphic design solutions, and asked them to help us crack the mystery: What is the worst thing about working with designers?
Understanding the interviewees
In the few following weeks after we launched the research, we got hundreds of answers, and they still keep pouring in. The article from the research findings is based on a body of more than 400 of the most detailed and descriptive answers. Here are some important pieces of information about our interviewees.
In the chart below, you can see their prospective jobs. The biggest percentage of the survey-takers are business owners, then designers themselves. The third noticeably bigger group chose “other”, whereas marketing and project managers and designers fall behind with slightly smaller numbers.
For more than thirteen percent, not meeting deadlines is the biggest challenge they have when working with graphic designers.
Communication with designers often comes with obstacles and can cause a lot of trouble. Miscommunication happens because of three main things:
Another relevant piece of data that will help you understand the interviewees better, is the frequency factor, or how often they come across their biggest troubles with graphic designers.
According to this question, we found out that most of the respondents have issues daily, then a few times a month and a few times a week. Less people have issues a few times per year or year. An optimistic number of 17.1% interviewees said that they have issues with designers very rarely.
These findings help us realize that people who outsource graphic design are mostly business owners, working in marketing or graphic designers themselves. A big portion of them also work in another field that requires graphic design to be done every once in a while.
We can also assume that graphic designers themselves answered the questions either because they want to know what we found and can personally improve, or because they also collaborate with other designers in different fields of expertise.
A conflicting finding is that most people who work with graphic designers either have frustrations with them very often or very rarely. It is safe to assume that the former may work with freelancer outsourcing platforms and don’t have the same designer or service on the regular, hence it is harder to communicate and agree on a style.
The group that comes across problems very rarely might have an in-house designer, works with the same service or agency, so it’s easier to come to an understanding of style, time management and production speed.
Their biggest challenges
We let our interviewees select one of five options to explain their biggest frustrations when working with designers, and then asked for a short explanation or summary on why they chose that.
The five choices were:
- Designers provide low-quality work
- Designers don’t meet deadlines
- Designers are hard to communicate with
- Designers do something unpredictable
- Unoriginality and extra costs
The biggest number of people sadly said that their biggest problems when working with graphic designers don’t fit any of the problems we assumed usually happen. The second biggest number selected “Designers do something unpredictable”, then “Designers are hard to communicate with”, with the rest of the options having noticeably less votes.
Here is the general picture:
Here is what some of them had to say, to suggest improvements or explain their position.
Designers provide low-quality work
For 39.1% of all people who answered our poll, the bad quality of the design was the biggest issue they regularly come across in their work. We spent some time reading through honest testimonials and reviews, and here are some of the quotes that helped us understand the issue at hand.
For some people, the problem with low-quality design is the excessive number of freelance designers online. In a sea of fish, it’s hard to find a good one, and clients emphasized the struggle in finding a good designer.
- Just a sea of bad designers out there. Low cost is expensive when it comes to revisions, going through multiple designers, and the time it takes.
- I have used different freelancer services and have struggled to manage the design project while simultaneously managing a small, demanding business. The quality has been mediocre and the experience has been frustrating.
Other participants noted that the low quality for them comes with misunderstandings and lack of concise communication. Sometimes they add that designers aren’t skilled enough in managing their own time and planning, and at the end the clients are the ones who receive substandard design work.
- It's a mix of communication and them not always adhering to design languages. Mind you, I've been using People Per Hour rather than agencies.
- It's the back-and-forth that's often hard. As a non-designer, giving the right feedback and direction but also working with someone senior enough that "gets it" and can come back with high-quality ideas and a range of routes.
It is also important to note that the big number of designers out there, sometimes makes it possible for clients to choose one that doesn’t have formal training, or lacks theoretical knowledge of graphic design. Participants note that digital programs and software is rarely enough for a designer to truly conceive and understand a design piece, without the basic principles of design covered.
The lack of art direction and creativity is another thing often mentioned in the answers: designers that can create something but lack the creativity and imagination to create something special. Instead, often they just deliver exactly what was mentioned in the brief.
- I encountered it with one of your competitors. The designer clearly knew how to use the tools but didn't have any knowledge of design principles such as white balance, layout, typography, color theory, and so on.
- I need someone to think creatively rather than just work on exactly what we say in brief.
- 97% of designers offer something that any student could do and therefore you are losing so much time to explain to them to do better. The problem is not that they can't catch your vision. The main problem is that they just don't have enough skills to see what's professional and what's unprofessional results.
Plagiarism or recycling old designs, as well as rushing to get the job done instead of taking time to brainstorm the project, also are notably common problems our participants complained about.
- Most of the job looks like all the time I spend explaining what I want did not matter and it is a bunch of existing designs put together not an actual design.
- Don’t follow or understand briefs. Not creative enough to bring it to life.
- Graphic designs are often rushed with little understanding of the brief, which leads to low quality.
Finally, sometimes participants see themselves as a link in the chain of bad design production. The lack of objective and critical knowledge in graphic design, and the incapability to give their designers a critique they work with, makes the whole process harder.
- When hiring designers, it's hard to evaluate the quality of their work. Without relationships or risking a bit of cash to gain experience with a designer you don't truly know how skilled they are. You wind up losing money working with different designers until you find one that has the design style you prefer.
- Good design is subjective. So 'good work' is really about finding the right fit for what you want and the designer's ability to deliver it. When you find the right fit, it's magical. When you struggle to find that fit, it's frustrating for everyone.
Designers do something unpredictable
Most of the people who chose ‘Designers do something unpredictable’ as their main cause of frustration, are discontent with what they received because the designer either delivered something totally different, or tried to show their creative side on the cost of not following the branding guidelines.
Although this also happens to be caused by misunderstanding, sometimes designers are inflexible and don’t try to understand the client’s side of the story. They often need to stick to a clearly defined request by their own clients, or have to respect the branding guidelines.
Here are some examples:
- They are not following or reading the brief, or are not asking any questions so they can better understand the brief. I love answering questions if they allow the designer to get a little further into my head and understand my needs. I really don't like surprises.
- Due to the inability to communicate the idea to the designer or their own individuality coming in between the actual project, the end result often comes unpredictably.
- Often designers confirm the requirements without asking to follow up or clarifying questions and then deliver work that was not expected of them.
Designers are hard to communicate with
- Terminology gap: designers use professional language, and clients sometimes do not understand their expressions. ‘Die cut’, ‘pixelized’, ‘CMYK’ and many other terms are not something regular, non-designers will know, and sometimes designers have to adopt a more simplified way of expression.
- Language barrier: On most freelance platforms, graphic designers come from all over the world. Some will speak good English, while with others it might be hard to communicate in a major world language.
- Different time zones: Let’s say your designer is in SouthEast Asia, and you are in Western Europe. By the time you finish with work and post a message, they’re asleep, and you’ve already lost a few hours for a revision.
These communication gaps were also often mentioned by the 80+ people that participated in our survey. Here is what some of them said:
- It's hard to explain to a designer your initial idea, and moreover, it's even harder to communicate with the designer while he's working. Difficult to articulate style, colors, branding preferences, and there is design jargon that can be hard to use naturally.
- Due to language barriers, we've often had to re-explain what we are looking for in the design. Sometimes in minute detail, which can be tedious and time-consuming.
- I'm a designer too. From time to time I delegate part of my work to freelance designers. Despite the detailed brief, many times I got designs that are not in line with the project. I do understand that every designer has their own vision but a designer working with a client is not an artist creating at his will. I would like designers to be more emphatic with a desire to understand the clients' need above the desire to express their own artistic vision.
- Creating a sufficient and comprehensible briefing is often difficult. And even with a good briefing, there are always misunderstandings.
- Maybe because design is not my strength, it's hard to take feedback from my clients and then translate the message for the designers.
Designers don’t meet deadlines
Seeing how companies that don’t have an in-house designer and outsource their projects usually need an extra pair of hands to help out, or quickly produce marketing materials for a campaign, it can really compromise the success of their work.
Graphic designers on outsourcing platforms also often charge by the hour, so the longer they drag a project, the more it costs. Revisions are also costly: sometimes, graphic designers don’t cover reworks and retouches in the initial sum of their commission.
So naturally, clients are often frustrated. This apparently happens with some unlimited design services as well, who even though guarantee quick turnaround times as part of their service, sometimes don’t meet those expectations.
- We've tried other unlimited graphic design services and were disappointed with the quality and speed of their work. We'd ask for a stories series and would wait 24-48 hours and only get the first slide in the series, then would have to wait another 24+ hours for the rest of the assignment, and would still end up having to make small edits ourselves because instructions were skipped over.
- They often say, ’It'll be done tomorrow, sorry'. Tomorrow the same thing happens.
- The marketing team will give a rough deadline and once content is given by the marketing team, the designer is not able to execute design as high quality.
- We have tried other services where it's obvious they're not spending time on our designs daily and we end up having to wait 2-3 days for a completed assignment.
Unoriginality and extra costs
An issue a small percentage of our interviewees have is the fear of receiving unoriginal design works. Some of them also mentioned having unforeseen costs or being scammed is another common issue when outsourcing designers.
These issues are sometimes very subjective, as some clients believe that the graphic designers’ wages are too high and impossible for them to afford.
Bigger problems include scams on freelance platforms and unforeseen costs of revisions.Here is what our participants said:
- Good designers are very expensive, understandably.
- I was scammed on a purchase order.
- I don’t know if they are selling me knockoffs.
- Expensive to engage.
How can you prevent frustrations as a customer?
As with any industry in a professional setting, graphic design can come with obstacles, mistakes and extra costs. Most of the things that are problematic in a professional relationship with designers and non-designers, apply pretty much to any outsourced service.
Through our research, we learned many pain points of our clients and prospects but also proved our assumptions about things that are most commonly causing problems for these people.
Here at ManyPixels, the service, management and graphic designers are all working with a clear agenda in mind: to provide high-quality design at an affordable price, with a quick turnaround and internal quality assurance.
And it seems that these steps, together with people that will help manage the designers and give them art direction when needed, will ensure good communication on a professional level, and no hidden costs.
Still, problems happen even within a predefined system, and we will try to help people that outsource designers through some simple tips. Here are the most common problems and their simple solutions.
Write the best brief you can
Writing a good, detailed brief can really help you form an exact plan and idea, and the designer to understand your needs, wishes and preferred style.
Here are some key points about writing the best brief possible:
Step 1: Provide a project overview
In this section, you have to answer the following questions:
- Who are you, and what do you do?
- Who are your clients?
- What do you want to achieve with this project?
Although an overly detailed design brief is better than a sparse one, it is important to keep to the point. Instead of sharing your entire backstory with the designer, give them specific data or highlight design problems you want them to solve.
Step 2: Specify the type of project
It’s obvious that the starting point of a logo design and that of a business card will be totally different. Yes, both require an understanding of your brand; however, building a brand identity from scratch is one thing, and using an existing brand guide to create collateral is another completely.
It is very important to ask the designer to work on exactly what you need. Leaving their hands completely untied will give them more freedom, but you both might end up unsatisfied because they didn’t have clear direction, and you didn’t get what you needed.
Step 3: Choose a project and define the project scope
It’s always better to write specific briefs for each individual project you have. They might belong to the same brand and be meant for the same target audience; but, creating a separate brief for each will enable the designer to work more effectively and it will provide you with the needed space to create a specific set of expectations for each design project.
Step 4: Add project specifications
Name your project: You probably don’t want another final.finaldesign.instagramad.jpg, do you?Include your brand guidelines: Consistency is key, and brand guidelines are a designer’s Bible!Describe your brand and industry: Maybe designers are visual people, but your words and the way you see your brand can get them inspired.Include design inspiration: Screenshot, crop, take pictures, upload your old designs… Let designers see what you like, and they should make something unique, but similar in spirit!Include text: Trust us, you don’t want your designer to also be your copywriter.
Give them smaller projects to test out their skills
If you are unsure of the skills, accountability and time management of a designer you would like to hire, and reviews from previous customers seem to be mixed, start with something smaller to test out the waters.
If you immediately give an outsourced designer a big project, and they take a long time to work on that, and in the end, you come out unsatisfied, the lost time and resources will be much greater.
Allow yourself some time to research the marketplace, test a few candidates, and then decide.
Another solution, of course, would be to start using an unlimited graphic design service like ManyPixels, as the operations team would match you to the perfect designer for you and do internal quality assurance. And we offer a trial period as well! You can test the service out for 14 days and get your money back if you aren't happy.
It would be completely unfair to say that only designers are to blame in miscommunication, and designers are the only ones at fault. Clients often ask too many or unclear questions, want to see progress all the time, and aren’t clear in their messages.
This makes designers lose time on communication, and sometimes they are confused on what their next steps should be.
As a client, you should try the best you can to communicate concisely and constructively, so that your designer will be able to work on your feedback and reply to your questions in time.
Ask ahead about revisions and possible hidden costs
Sometimes it happens that clients think unlimited revisions are included with the regular hourly wage of designers. But that’s not always the case, and they lose money on touch-ups and edits.
The best thing you could do to prevent this from happening is to ask ahead whether or not they cover revisions, how much they charge and what their time management system is.
Better safe than sorry!
Read about design principles to be able to judge designs objectively
To be able to give constructive feedback, you probably need to learn a few design basics.
Taste is one thing, but principles and conceptions are another. So, instead of judging by feeling or aesthetic taste, read the most important basic principles in design, and try to see if a design work respects them.
If you don’t know where to begin with, we’ve got you covered: here is our detailed guide on basic graphic design principles.
Simply said, it takes two to tango. The large number of designers that don’t do quality work on time really complicates things, but as a client, you can also go through some extra steps to ensure that you’ve picked the right candidate.
If the hardships of finding and managing a freelance designer are too great for you, there is always ManyPixels. For a flat rate, we can guarantee you good graphic design, clear communication and quality assurance, unlimited revision, and a turnaround time of only one to two days.
We hope this research helps you in your future design outsourcing. If not, leave it up to us to deal with your challenges, and schedule a demo right away.
Journalist turned content writer. Based in North Macedonia, aiming to be a digital nomad. Always loved to write, and found my perfect job writing about graphic design, art and creativity. A self-proclaimed film connoisseur, cook and nerd in disguise.