How to Have a More Effective Partnership with Your Design Firm

Posted inBranding & Identity Design

If your law firm is like many others, hiring a design firm as your creative partner represents a major investment. Of course, selecting the right firm goes a long way toward ensuring you get the results you want. But that’s just the first step. You might be surprised to learn that the quality of the design results you receive is directly connected to the way you communicate with your design firm throughout the engagement.

There’s a meme going around the internet: “To replace designers with AI, clients will have to accurately describe what they want. We’re safe.” There’s always a grain of truth, in jokes. Let’s consider how to maximize the return on your law firm’s design investment, and help you communicate your firm’s needs clearly and effectively. Here’s what you need to know.

The Purpose of Design for Your Law Firm’s Business

Before delving into communication best practices, it is important to understand the role of design in the context of your law firm. While personal preferences drive design choices for home furnishings, the purpose of design for your law firm is entirely different. Effective design, encompassing your brand’s visual identity and website, must go beyond aesthetics and reflect your firm’s unique expertise. It should convey why your firm stands out among other law offices, helping you differentiate and attract prospects as well as employees.

But when it comes to your law firm, the purpose of design is entirely different. In order for your firm’s creative choices to be effective — from your brand’s visual identity to your website — it must do more than just “look nice” or play to your preferences. Instead, design must actively convey your unique difference. It must demonstrate to your prospects why your firm is better than the other law offices they are no doubt considering.Without a distinct strategy to guide it, design is simply a series of aesthetic choices grounded in nothing more than personal preferences. It’s beautiful but directionless — a shiny new boat without a rudder.

Has your design firm or a copywriter ever missed the mark? And when you work with the next firm the same thing happens? I guarantee the root cause is a failure of communication.

Frame your design needs in terms of your underlying business objectives, beginning with your RFP and continuing through the entire design process. A strategy-driven design partner will know how to take it from there.

The Three Most Common Design Communication Pitfalls

There are several common design communication pitfalls that ultimately undermine results. These include:

Vague, subjective feedback

Most design firms will produce a creative brief, but sometimes these words mean different things to different people. If your design firm presents your team with work that you don’t like—let’s just say you were expecting something different. Don’t respond by saying, “I just don’t like it.” Or “it’s not sophisticated enough.” Remember, words like sophistication and all other subjective adjectives — is in the eye of the beholder.

Instead, explain what sophistication means to you, and attempt to tie those qualities to what you are (or are not) seeing. Just make sure that whatever subjective quality you are asking your design firm to achieve aligns with your strategy. I say tomAto, you say tOmato.

Prescribing the solution rather than defining the problem

A seasoned strategic design team is trained to uncover creative solutions to clients’ problems. If you try to dictate specific solutions to your design firm, they won’t have the space to find the best possible design solutions.

This communication pothole relates to big-picture design requests and in-the-weeds details alike. For example, avoid asking your design firm to make your website “look like” another law firm’s site. That’s prescribing a solution when, perhaps, you haven’t yet accurately defined the problem. Instead, be open and honest about what you are trying to achieve. Then let your design team lead the way in finding the right solutions.

Above all else, avoid the temptation to dictate a solution. For example, if a visual element doesn’t stand out enough, don’t just say, “make it bigger.” Instead, get more specific about the problem. In this case, do you just want the element to be given more emphasis? If so, explain that. There are many ways to produce greater visual emphasis. With a clearly stated problem to work from, your design firm can offer the best solutions.

Failing to provide holistic feedback

Your feedback is crucial. But if you fail to provide holistic feedback, your design firm won’t be able to truly address your concerns.

For example, you shouldn’t go through a design presentation and point to individual elements that you personally like or don’t care for. When it comes to your law firm’s brand design, your personal preferences matter — but they aren’t the most important measuring stick by which you should measure a design.

Instead, assess each design against your stated strategy. How well does the design express your strategic goals? If it misses the mark, can you explain to your designer why that is? Think holistically when delivering your feedback. The more you do this, the better your results will be — and the faster your design team will arrive at the right solutions.

The Right Design Process Facilitates the Right Kind of Communication

A well-defined design process can facilitate clear and effective communication between your law firm and your design partner. Most design firms begin with a research-driven strategy phase where key differentiators are identified, aligning everyone on guiding principles. This strategy phase acts as a funnel, guiding clients toward the final design solutions. Combined with clear communication, this process ensures alignment throughout the design engagement.

Effective communication is essential for maximizing the return on your law firm’s design investment. By understanding the purpose of design, avoiding communication pitfalls, and providing clear feedback aligned with your strategy, you can foster a successful partnership with your design firm. Remember, a well-defined design process and open communication channels will lead to better results and innovative design solutions that truly convey your law firm’s expertise and uniqueness.

This post was originally published on Lynda’s LinkedIn newsletter, Marketing without Jargon. Lynda leads a team at Decker Design that focuses on helping law firms build differentiated brands.