Design Basics: 5 Things Designers Need to Teach Non-Designers

Design Basics: 5 Things Designers Need to Teach Non-Designers

February 19, 2014 by

In my many years as a designer, I’ve collaborated with my fair share of non-designers, such as communication directors and project managers. In the church, I’ve often had to work directly with pastors or ministry leaders on a design project. Sometimes the projects go from start to finish without a glitch and we produce great work. But other times, it’s a struggle from the beginning.

I’ve discovered that when it’s not going well, it’s often a lack of knowledge and understanding that holds us up. The person I’m working with might send the wrong type of files, not give any creative direction or even ask me to do something that violates copyright laws.

In other words, it’s something we could have easily avoided.

For a design project to flow best, there’s often some education that needs to happen upfront. Rather than lord our specialized designer knowledge over the non-designer types, we need to help them understand the basics.

I’m not saying you need to turn your pastor into a design expert, but sharing a basic understanding of design will help avoid common mistakes and end up saving your church time and money.

Here are the top five things you should teach:

1. Begin the Project on the Right Foot
As a designer, I know there are dozens of things that need to happen before I ever turn to the computer in order for a project to be successful. But not everyone realizes that. You need to explain what you need to get started. Talk about the importance of project goals, any constraints or limitations, and visual style. Make sure everybody understands and agrees with the approval and revision process. This is where you can save yourself a lot of headaches later on by explaining what works and what doesn’t.

Gerry True gave us a great framework for setting up expectations earlier in this series.

2. Explain Printing
The printing process can make the eyes of non-designers glaze over. But it helps for everyone involved to know the basics. Knowing the difference between spot colors and process colors can help a non-designer understand the budget differences. Depending on your situation, you may have someone else interfacing with a printer. It might be a good idea to take a field trip to your printer with your non-designer. Anything you can do to eliminate roadblocks in the printing process will end up saving time and money in the long run.

3. Explain the Web
Designing for the web and for print are like night and day. The more you can help a non-designer understand about the web, the easier it will be to get the right content and strategy for the project. Specifically, make sure non-designers know the capabilities and limitations of your church’s website.

4. Know Your File Types
For some reason non-designers always end up gathering files and sending them to the designer. And without fail those files are not in the right format for the designer. Well, as the designer it’s your job to educate people about what you need. Explain the difference between a vector image and a raster image, show the difference between a high-resolution and low-resolution image, and make sure they’re at least familiar with common file types (PSD, JPG, PDF, EPS, TIFF, AI, INDD). Try to remember that your pastor probably doesn’t do Photoshop and be patient as you explain what you need.

5. Be Mindful of Copyrights
Everyone could use a lesson in copyrights, designers included. But ultimately it’s your design so you’re responsible to make sure you have the proper rights for images, fonts and videos. This can be tricky because it’s often the non-designer tracking down images. You need to make it clear that every image is owned by someone. It’s almost never acceptable to grab an image from a Google search and use that in your design. Make sure pastors and ministry leaders understand the legality of image use. They may need to cough up some budget for photos or extra time to find something you can legally use.

Be a Patient Teacher
This can be a lot for anyone to learn, so take it slow. Remember that you and your pastor, communication director or project manager are on the same team. Anything you can do to make the design process smoother will be worth it for everyone involved.

More: Check out the rest of our Design Basics series.

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Sheri Felipe


Sheri Felipe is a freelance graphic designer and writer, with a passion for branding and communications in the church. She currently lives with her husband in Lynchburg, Va.
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