Working With a Designer On Your Next Event

Are you beginning to plan an event -- a customer conference, wedding, or holiday party -- and hope to incorporate some custom details throughout? Have you wondered what it's like to work with a designer on a website launch? You likely already know that getting your branding down early is key to launching a cohesive look and feel. These elements will impact your website, invitations, social icons, promotional materials, business cards, decor, and much more.

While we've worked with creative departments and designers for most of our careers, when we started our own business, we had the difficult task of finding a designer to help us achieve a look of our own. We weren't exactly sure what to expect, how long it would take, how much it would cost, and ultimately, what if we didn't get it right the first time?! Fortunately, a friend introduced us to Amina from The Amber Orange whom we had the pleasure of working with on our website launch and we asked Amina if she could share her expertise on what it means to work with a designer: 

What is the first step working with a new client?

After an initial interview, I typically ask my clients to undergo an in depth questionnaire and collect pictures for an inspiration board exercise. This helps me determine their sense of style as well as their hopes and dreams for the overall look and feel of the final deliverable. By balancing my initial “research” with a good blend of written and visual exercises, I can keep the anxiety-inducing surprises to a minimum and ensure that both my client and I are on the same page before diving into creative. Being a designer is as much about listening as it is about crafting. If you are working with a potential designer and it feels like they’re doing all the talking, that’s certainly a red flag!

What are the different elements a designer can help the client build out?

The sky is the limit! If it can be digitized, it can go on anything—stationary, signs, napkins, glassware, flip-flops, you name it. While some designers may not have the ability to print these products in house for you, there are many vendors who will gladly work with your Adobe Illustrator or PNG files to get you what you exactly what you need.

Note: If you’re working with a designer who does not have printing capabilities, always be sure to ask for the Illustrator files. Illustrator files come in vector format, meaning they can be adjusted to any size (large or small) without losing quality. If you are simply relying on a PDF or PNG file you’ll definitely be limited in terms of mediums. Don’t have access to Adobe Illustrator? Don’t worry! Most vendors do. In the rare event that they don’t, you can either purchase a relatively inexpensive monthly subscription to Adobe Illustrator through Creative Cloud or simply ask your designer to provide you with the sizes you’ll need.

How long does this process typically take from start to finish?

It depends. Many independent designers are moving to a two-week model, meaning they work with only one client over the course of two weeks rather than juggling multiple clients at once.  While the turnaround time and personalized attention is certainly preferable, you’ll likely have to book with them far in advance (8 months to a year) to ensure your design cycle is complete in time for your event. If you’re working with a vendor that has a more flexible schedule, the process will likely take up to a month or even two months start to finish. The added benefit here is that you can likely book them far closer to your event deadline (3-4 months in advance).

How should potential clients budget for this project?

Design done well is costly, but well worth it. If you hire an inexpensive designer, you risk putting forth an unprofessional product, or worse, having to pay another designer a costly fee to fix it or start the process all over again. Typically custom event branding can cost anywhere from  $500-$5000 depending on the ask. Tiered pricing can help get that number down (for instance, if you only want a black and white logo, no color palette, alternate logos, or invitation layouts you may be able to purchase for $200).

However, if you’re going to invest in design, I highly recommend you commit to the process. Strong design tells a story, limiting the designer is like asking a publishing company to print an entire novel on three pages, it might work, but it won’t be pretty. If the upfront cost is too much, I’d ask your designer if they have any payment plan options or I’d turn to a resource like Minted where you can purchase a close-to-custom beautifully designed product at a fraction of the cost. If you have a strong planner, they can help ensure that the design elements you select are cohesive with your overall theme or aesthetic.

What should clients know before starting this process?

You will only get out of this process what you put in, so be fearless and be honest! It’s one of the worst feelings in the world, as a designer, to get to the end of the process and find out that a client is unhappy with the product because they didn’t speak up about an element of the design that bothered them in an earlier draft. In my initial interview with clients I often hear, “I’m not the expert. You decide!” and I’ve got to say, while I’ve got a leg up on skills neither am I. Design is a subjective art which means that what appeals to one customer may be wildly out of another’s comfort zone and that’s entirely okay. As a client, you are paying to bring your vision to life so if there’s something you love or something you hate feel comfortable speaking up.

If you’re having trouble forming a strong opinion, I’d spend an hour or so before approaching designers to create a private Pinterest board for your event. Then take 30 minutes to look back at what you’ve pinned and note any patterns or repeat elements that you see coming to the surface. Even if you can’t fully articulate why you like what you like, this will give your designer a strong foundation to begin drafting concepts.

As I mentioned at the beginning, we had the best experience working with The Amber Orange on our Maple logo and icons. If you want to know more about our experience or would like an introduction to Amina, just shoot us a note and we'd happy to share and connect. The Amber Orange website is currently under construction (ahead of their relaunch... stay tuned for exciting product updates!), but feel to follow Amina on Instagram for weekly updates from her home studio in Chicago, IL @theamberorange.