Picture this: You’ve explained to your designer exactly what you need for your product. You feel that you’ve been very clear. She comes back to you with her designs and … it looks nothing like what you wanted. And you feel a sense of deja vu as you think: “My designer just doesn’t get my vision.”

But what does that really mean? Maybe it’s not that your designer can’t understand your vision -- maybe he or she is unclear about what you actually wanted. If your designer is, in fact, competent and yet you’re consistently frustrated by the work he or she brings you, the only way to solve the problem and get on the same page is to first identify the problem, and then follow through with a targeted solution.

And in most cases, a little communication will go a very long way.

Before we talk about specific problems, there are some processes and principles you should have in place that will help avoid miscommunications about design expectations before there’s an issue.

Have Specific Design Principles in Place 

Without design principles, no one on your team can truly be on the same page. Design principles ensure continuity, and, as Luke W. puts it:

They define and communicate the key characteristics of the product to a wide variety of stakeholders including clients, colleagues, and team members. Design principles articulate the fundamental goals that all decisions can be measured against and thereby keep the pieces of a project moving toward an integrated whole.

If you have them in place, go over them with your designer -- see if they are misunderstanding some key component. And if you don’t have them in place, create them with the collaboration of your design team.

Have Clear Goals Before Getting to Work

Both you and your designer should be able to clearly articulate what this design is meant to communicate to the audience, as well as knowing who the audience is. Come to a clear understanding about the purpose of the product, how people are meant to use it, and the job it will do -- and write it all down.

But even with the above principles in place (and especially without then) you can still run into snags. Here are some common situations that may lead you to despair that your designer just “doesn’t get it.”

Problem: Aesthetics Are Off

Solution: Show them examples of what you like and why

Designers think visually, so don't rely on words alone to get your idea across. Find images that align with your vision, and also look through their portfolio and see if something they’ve done is more aligned with what you want to help them get the picture.

Problem: Missing or Incorrect Information/Functionality

Solution: You need to have clear acceptance criteria

If your designer comes back to you with work that doesn't include everything that was needed or includes the wrong functionality, the problem may be unclear acceptance criteria. Everyone must understand and agree upon the definition of done.

Problem: Designer doesn’t have the technical skills to do what you want

Solution: Get your designer some help

Maybe your designer IS technically skilled, but just isn’t an expert in the area you need right now. An interaction designer, for example, may not be skilled in visual design ... consider getting them some help before you declare them a lost cause.

Problem: Can’t translate design into business value

Solution: This one is the trickiest, and doesn’t have one single answer, because it is admittedly hard to teach this kind of understanding as it is to some degree innate. That said, clarity and transparency can go a long way here.

First, make sure to outline and discuss your business goals in a clear way. Show other apps that accomplish what you want and highlight how to translate this to your own business goals. But the best solution may be to consider hiring an outside consultant to help you accomplish what you need to if your staff can’t seem to grasp the nuances of  your business goals.

Keep these additional ideas in mind throughout the process to get, and stay, on the same page with your designer.

Have your designer sit in on user research

This will help build empathy for the customer as well as make the problems you’re trying to solve more concrete and grounded in the real world.

Make sure your designer understands how your customers define success

If you’ve created a Job Desirability Map, performed SLOW Interviews -- or any other method to better understand why customers would hire your product, their goals, and how they define success -- make sure your designer is up to speed and on the same page as the rest of the team.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

For all of the above problems (except not understanding business objectives, which may require outside consultation) maintaining and encouraging open lines of communication will go a long way towards preventing and solving problems.

But remember communication is a two way street. Both you and the designer must do your part.

There’s an onus on the designer to:

  • Ask questions.
  • As well as asking questions, the designer should repeat back their understanding of the expectations, and even provide visual examples they think align with the goals

There is an onus on the stakeholder to:

  • Encourage questions
  • Be honest when they don’t know something
  • Provide all the necessary info for the designer to do his or her job

And if none of this works? Well … maybe they really don’t get your vision after all.