Lessons on Collaboration With Other Freelancers

A freelance graphic designer is not a lone wolf, as some would suspect. There will be occasion when your client is running a larger project, and your work will be integrated in a larger structure, such as a website, a publication or an architectural project.

In such a situation, you will be expected to collaborate with the other people involved in the project and make sure that every milestone is completed in due time and there are no unclear aspects which could turn into serious issues in the long run.

So here are a few tips for a good collaboration:

“Not Higher Than the Sandal, Shoemaker!”

These words were spoken by the great Leonardo da Vinci when a shoemaker started making observations on one of his statues, first pointing an anomaly in the sandal design, then in clothing. The moral of this anecdote is simple: never criticize something out of your field of expertise. You would not like the copywriter to tell you what colors go together, so don’t tell him that his copy is not to your taste.

Don’t Be an Eager Beaver

You will not impress anyone if you rush ahead with your design and complete various stages of the project in a few days, leaving everyone else behind…in fact, right on time with the agreed schedule. Changes may occur in the overall project and your rush to make an impression will not win you any kudos, either from the other people involved in the project, or from the client. There is no need to stand out in the group of freelancers, because everyone does a different bit of the work and everything must come together harmoniously.

Allow Access to Your Work In Progress

Designers, just like painters, ideally don’t want anyone to see their masterpiece until it is finished. But this is not your masterpiece, it is a component of a larger project and other freelancers, such as the programmer, or the copywriter, or the DTP specialist must see how your work is shaping, so they can adapt and integrate their own pieces of work. How would it look to have a chunk of text right over your main design element? Or the trim line cutting through your logo?

When In Doubt, Speak Up to the Whole Group

Any misunderstandings are dealt with as a team. Do not sneak behind the others and write privately to the client. The term “sneak” is not a nice one to have attached to your name. Whatever your doubts, misunderstandings or dissatisfaction, communicate them to the whole group of freelancers and talk things through. The only way to complete the project on time and to the client’s satisfaction is by having great team spirit and realizing that it is in everyone’s interest to deliver high quality work.

Large projects are not just an opportunity to add something valuable to your portfolio. You also learn how to work in a team and coordinate your work with others. This is a great skill to have as a freelancer – it will open you the way to really significant clients and well paid projects.

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  • Terri Schwartz

    I appreciate the pointers, but would like to take exception the first: about (not) giving criticism outside of your field of expertise. In my experience, particularly when collaborating with “text-people”, the best and most effective results were attained because we didn’t confine ourselves to our own particular area of expertise! And, I might add, it was far more inspiring and exciting to work that way.
    I once had the good fortune to hear Tibor Kalman – founding editor-in-chief of Benetton’s Colors magazine – relate how, in an attempt to keep themselves fresh and avoid getting stuck in creative ruts, they let the copywriters do the layout and the designers do the copy… And it worked fantastically! This made a lasting impression on me and gave me the confidence as a graphic designer to successfully push the borders of collaboration.

  • jmcgraphics

    Agreed, to a point, about criticizing outside our specialties. In my own experience, doing what Mr. Talman did may have worked like a charm, once. To me, that would a recipe for disaster on a big project. He got lucky (my opinion), swapping visual and verbal skillsets. I constantly work with web people and offer suggestions and appreciate their input to me, the print specialist. Tho’ our areas are similar, there are vast differences about approach/implementation. I would not risk being copywriter. Most are very clever with words. Not me. I’m too verbose and sarcastic.

Ionut B
Digital Art Director with an innovative creative thinking able to translate ideas and concepts into useful and memorable interactive marketing campaigns.

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