My daughter recently asked me, “What’s your favorite thing to do?” There was no immediate answer forth-coming. After a minute of introspection, my answer: work.
I have no spare time. I utilize every minute of time I have to be productive in some manner. I don’t read fiction, I don’t hang out all day and do nothing. I work. I learn. I absorb. I design.
I was raised to be the best at whatever I set out to be, whether ditch digger or book designer. I’m not the best, yet. Being the best is never a solid thing. And truth be told, I don’t strive to be the best of the best, but I do strive to be my best. I do strive to ensure that the client’s design is the best it can be for its market and its budget — two ends that are often at odds.
And I have to say that when a client challenges my design concept, when a client says, “Well, let me see what the people in my group think,” my eye twitches a little. This is the client saying, “I don’t trust you, and I don’t trust my own judgment either.” Studies have proven that your general audience knows nothing about good design. It sounds crazy, I know, but don’t shoot the messenger.
When I see those threads on FB that ask, “Which design do you like better?” I have to literally force myself to keep scrolling. Because I know what I will find there: horrible, terrible, very bad advice. For some reason, everyone fancies themselves a designer these days.
Four years ago, I was guilty, too. So I get it. We have these images in our head that are perfect and beautiful and balanced and modern. But unless you know how to finesse the software, set your kerning, use the right tool for the right job, and have a good eye for design, you are not a graphic designer. Being a graphic designer goes way beyond just having a good concept. There are multiple layers of technical madness that have to be sifted through in order to arrive at a great, useable design.
If you believe in your product enough to hire a graphic designer, then trust her to do what you paid her to do. One of the top themes found in #designerproblem memes is the overbearing client. The one who basically dictates what she wants you to do. (Move this over .1”. Now make this bigger. Set this transparency a little lower.) Don’t be that client. I’m not saying there isn’t value in the client’s feedback. I am a huge proponent of “teamwork makes the dream work.” But I don’t like to be micro-managed. It defeats the purpose. And it stifles my creative zen and makes me want to refund the client her money.
Good graphic design is a balancing act. Every letter, not to mention whole words, can change the look, feel, and balance of the design. It is in your best interest to keep the amount of text to a minimum and let the design do the rest of the work. The purpose of a design is to get them to click through. You don’t have to cram the whole story onto the front cover, magazine ad, or bulletin board.
The “before” ad is one my client designed himself. Previously, he had done both the book cover and the ad for his book. He was paying a lot of money to run the ad in a very popular Christian magazine. However, the magazine ad rep told him that his ad was not any good and he needed to revise it.
He hired me to do both a new cover design and a new ad, which was accepted without requests for revisions by the magazine ad rep.
A good graphic designer knows way more than just how to select a font. A seasoned designer keeps her finger on the pulse of current design trends and understands the necessary white balance to text to elements ratio. She also knows which fonts are made fun of on the design scene. (Whatever you do, if you want to be taken seriously, stay away from Comic Sans, Papyrus, and Bleeding Cowboy.)
When you hire a designer, understand that she has to protect her portfolio and her reputation. She has graphic design rules of the trade she has to abide by in order to be taken seriously in her profession. If you’re not ready to trust your designer, then do not hire one. Click on over to canva.com, and design your little heart out. Who knows? You may be the next up-and-coming designer. We all had to start somewhere.
I knew nothing, zip, zero, zilch about graphic design when I started. But I knew that I could learn it if I put my mind to it. And I’m still learning.
As a graphic designer, my personal goal is to get outside the box so my client’s cover stands out just enough while still staying within the design constraints set forth by the selected genre. This can sometimes require the client to be brave, especially if she is a timid person by nature. When your cover is on an Amazon shelf next to 10 other books, is it going to be the most eye-catching (in a good way)? Or are you going to play it safe and have a cover that blends in?
One of my current clients was very wary of the cover I came up with for her book, Walk This Way. So I put together a graphic and sent it over to her. I went to Amazon and searched for books in her genre, which is Bible studies for up through middle school. The book is actually for an adult instructor, though.
Her comments when I first showed her the book, “OH, that is different….is it too dark?”
Here are her comments after she saw the mockup: “I showed it to my husband. Both of us agree it stands out great.” and “[My husband] says when looking at all the covers together, the others say, ‘I’m for kids’ but this cover looks more ‘middle-schooly’ which is interesting because the spread for the book is k-6. I don’t want teachers to have the idea my lessons are for preschoolers.”
She also got feedback from another professional in her niche: “As a former graphic designer and owner of a print shop who still constantly evaluates anything and everything that’s printed, the black with the gold letters is what I liked the most! It really stands out. Most books today have a white background and are boring. This one is not!”
And here is how the cover plays into the interior design of the book:
Most of my clients are first-time authors, and “not trusting the professional” is a common theme I deal with. I know in my own life, I have had to let go of the reins, too. I used to drive my husband crazy with questions that sounded like, “Shouldn’t you do it this way?” This would then result in statements from him that sounded like, “Just do it yourself if you think you don’t know what I’m doing.” And so I would. And I would fail, lol. Through that failure, I learned to trust the professional. I don’t always understand why he makes the decisions he makes. But he does. That’s the joy of working with a professional: I don’t HAVE to know why! I just have to trust the professional.
If I’m blessed, then the professional I’ve hired WILL force me to think outside the box. And that’s a good thing, because that’s where growth happens.