What Designers Want

Professionals in any field have hang-ups and annoyances that they deal with every day. Bank tellers have to deal with customers who want to deposit hundreds of dollars in nickels, firefighters have to deal with cats stuck in trees, and swimsuit models have to deal with sand.

As a graphic designer, my second-least favorite part of any project is the very beginning—the moment when I get my first look at the materials that have been delivered to me before I get started. (My first-least favorite part of a project is the very end—the moment when I open the box of advance copies from the printer and notice for the first time, after missing it on countless proofs, that the word “Public” on the front cover is missing a letter and that spell check didn’t catch it because it created another word.)

It’s rare that a graphic designer generates all of the text and images that he or she incorporates into a given project, so the collaborative process usually begins in the hands of someone who is not the designer. Any time I work on a new project, I try to outline how I’d like materials delivered. The longer I work with a given freelance client or contact at work, the more smooth that process becomes.

I don’t like to generalize, but graphic designers are cynical jerks who spend all day stroking their goatees thinking about how great the world would be if everyone would just listen to them. Chapter 7 of the book Interpretation By Design is called “Making the Collaborative Process Work,” which is code for “How Normal People Can Get Along with Cynical Jerks Who Spend All Day Stroking Their Goatees Thinking About How Great the World Would Be if Everyone Would Just Listen to Them.” On page 89, the subhead “What to Provide the Designer” is code for “Designers Will Moan and Roll Their Eyes About Whatever You Give Them to Work With.”

With that in mind, here are some of the points I try to emphasize when I work with a new client regarding the delivery of materials:

Text: Don’t Tab
Most of the time, the problems designers have with working files are the result of good intentions. In crafting the text for a publication, writers will format it in word processing documents—they’ll create tables and columns, place photos, and worst of all, use the tab key to create alignments. There’s nothing I hate to see more when I open a Word file than a bibliography or a list of works cited that an author has formatted using returns and tabs.

More often than not, your designer will not use the same program for page layout that you use to create the content, which means that all of that formatting you did in Microsoft Word will have to be undone by the designer before it can be re-done in page-layout software like Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress. As a designer, I’m much happier to receive text with no formatting at all (except bold or italics to indicate hierarchy) that includes notes to me with instructions. I’d rather see a note that says “Designer: this is a sidebar” than have to copy and paste text out of a box in a Word file.

Images: Original Files, Please
Again, the path to annoyed designers is paved with good intentions. If you want a photo cropped or otherwise corrected, most designers prefer that you provide instructions to that effect rather than manipulating the image yourself. If you do manipulate an image yourself, provide the original version along with the corrected version.

Also, your designer will prefer images as separate files rather than embedded in a word processing document. Personally, if a client has a specific place where they want an image to be placed, I prefer to be alerted with a simple note to the effect of “Hey goatee-stroking jerk: Insert image_name.jpg here.”

Provide Final Files All at Once
This point is really two points rolled into one. The important word in the first part is final. Most designers working on a freelance basis will incorporate one round of corrections into a bid before they add hourly surcharges. Significant changes to text that should have been finalized before it went to the designer will usually alter the layout and result in charges that could have been avoided—not to mention emphatic goatee stroking and muttering behind your back on the part of the designer.

The second part, all at once, means that most designers don’t want partial delivery of a project. When you say to a designer, “I’m giving you half of the text and 13 of 50 photos so that you can started,” he or she will stroke his or her goatee and say, “Okay,” which really means, “I’m going to eat Ding Dongs and watch the Cartoon Network instead of working on your project.” This is not because designers are jerks (which, I reiterate, we are), but rather because having all of the materials in front of us will allow us to make decisions about how to lay out a project.

We strive to make IBD a bridge between the fields of interpretation and graphic design. If you’re an interpreter who works with designers, I hope this post will help make some aspects of your projects go a little more smoothly. If you’re a designer who works with interpreters, lighten up a little, would ya?

Designers Are Jerks


Designers are pompous, arrogant jerks—real loudmouths who feel they’re always right and that everyone else is an idiot. Well, luckily for everybody, there’s a website out there, www.design-police.org, that has taken it upon itself to formalize all of the hang-ups and attitudes that make people think this about us. Friend of IBD Brian Trosko turned us on to Design Police, which offers a free pdf for download with five pages of red tags meant to be cut out and applied to other people’s work. Each of the tags represents a common criticism in the design world.

Clearly, the folks responsible for this site have been through graduate school critiques and are lashing out at the world in response. I’ve included a few of my favorites with comments below.



When we present Interpretation By Design workshops, participants frequently bring projects for us to review. Almost without fail, the first step to improving a project is implementing some sort of grid.



First, this is funny because these tags themselves are set in Helvetica. Second, any chance we get to take a jab at Comic Sans, we take. Shea will have to make his own “Papyrus Does Not Communicate What You Think It Communicates” tags, as the Design Police make no mention of it.



Interpreters love words. Lots and lots of words. One of the hardest things for any writer to do is be concise, but it’s particularly important at interpretive sites, where visitors’ attention spans are limited.


This one is just for Shea, who is trying to shake the habit of double-spacing after periods, a practice that became obsolete with the advent of the personal computer. The reason that we no longer need to double space after periods is that most typographic character sets have that spacing built in already.



If Microsoft Word is to page layout what the microwave is to gourmet cooking, then Word Art is sugar-free, caramel-cheddar popcorn that was overcooked by about a minute. Word processors should not be used for page layout because they’re not designed for that purpose. Word Art should not be used for anything because pretty much every one of its features violates some tenet of good typography.


Sometimes you just can’t resist that last drop shadow, inner glow, blur more, craquelure, and ocean ripple effect. And if you can’t, you need some jerk designer to let you know that you’ve gone too far.



And finally, every once in a while, you get one of those criticisms that just cuts right to the bone. If you get a comment like “Bad logo” or “Over-designed,” all you can do is shake it off or start over. Designers really are jerks.