Why aren't you (really) good at working with a graphic designer

A few weeks back Seth Godin wrote an interesting article questioning what excuse a marketing professional has for not being really good at graphic design. He cited the availability of graphics software, books and internet resources and time for practice as possible remedies for this. While I can see his point there are few problems when applying this thought process to the average marketer.

More than a computer operator
Many times when working with a client I have found that their primary understanding of our professional relationship is that they give me the content and then I make a few secret clicks in my design program to make it look good. If only they knew how to use the program they could cut out the pesky middle man.
However my ability to use Photoshop for example doesn't make me a good designer in the same that I wouldn't suddenly be a good painter if used the same brushes as Van Gogh. I think that since desktop publishing software is widely available and familiar while in contrast the creative process can pretty abstract it's very easy for people to oversimplify things and falsely equate photoshop user with designer.

Time, time, time
I went to school for illustration. I took mostly drawing, painting and printmaking classes. No design classes. By the time I graduated I realized that though I prefer drawing, freelance illustration was not something I wanted to pursue. Since then I've been constantly reading design blogs, books, taking classes at SVA, pursing projects on the side and working in several different creative departments and I'm still not as good as I want to be. That said, either I'm an incredibly slow learner or there's more to this business than you can learn in the previously prescribed 1 hour per week even for those who only want to reach a state of mediocrity.

Reap what you sow
Seth points out that great design costs money and he's right. Great design can be expensive, but the reason it's expensive is because it works.
One my friends was doing restaurant menu design in Manhattan for a while. The menus she designed were beautiful uncluttered elegant pieces. She told me that one of her clients saw a %15 increase in sales after replacing the old menus with her redesign. This illustrates one of the reasons businesses don't have money for great design. They can't pay for great design because they don't pay for great design. If you believe that design helps sell your products then invest in great design and increase your sales. If you believe that it's just a decoration and has very little impact then why waste any effort on design at all?

Finally rather than falling into the tired category of posts that oppose change but offer no viable alternative I have a proposal. Instead of adding "learn how to be a graphic designer" to your never ending "to do" list why don't you learn how to be really good at working with a graphic designer and get even more productivity out of your current working relationship

Here are some simple tips:
Look at the design your competition is using and think about what works and what doesn't.
Try and understand why you think something looks appealing.
Investigate the resources that Seth recommended and use them as a foundation to understand why your designer is doing what they're doing.
Go to museums.
When approaching a project allow space for a dialogue. Your designer likely has valuable input beyond the choice of a typeface.
Understand that design is flexible and there may be multiple effective solutions for a particular project.

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