How to Foster a Positive Working Relationship With Your Design Partner

Alex Kinsella
Contributing Writer
Published7 Nov, 2023

Like any relationship, the connection you foster with your design partner requires careful nurturing right from the get-go. It all starts with knowing yourself and your partner, prioritizing open communication and setting clear expectations. Learn how to lay these foundations and establish a solid base for success.

Working with a design partner isn’t a one-way conversation.

You’re bringing them into your business and trusting them to deliver creative assets on time, on budget and, most critically, on brand. To help make this happen, your design partner must understand your brand and design requirements.

So, what’s the secret to setting yourselves up for success?

The answer is fostering a positive working relationship with your design partner. I say “fostering” instead of “creating” because this isn't a set-it-and-forget-it step.

Like any relationship, the one you cultivate with your design partner takes work. It takes understanding. Most importantly, it takes great communication on both sides.

3 Ways to Foster a Great Working Relationship With Your Design Partner

I put on my self-help guru hat to guide you through three ways you can foster a positive working relationship with your design partner.

1. Understand Yourself and Your Design Partner

Before you can start building your dream working relationship, you first need to understand your design requirements. Having a solid idea of the work you need helps you with more than finding the right creative agency. It’s also a guide to understanding which teams or team members in your organization will need to work with your design partner.

The saying “you never have a second chance to make a first impression” applies to both you and your design partner. Use your first call or meeting to share your work culture, desired communication style and approach to problem-solving. Have your design partner share theirs, and see where you might need to make adjustments to align expectations and work more effectively together.

  • Find common ground. Share your company culture and values with your design partner and ask about theirs. Look for commonalities and talk about how you can use these shared values to support a strong working relationship.

  • Share your expectations. Let your design partner know your expectations at the start. Use status meetings to make adjustments to the relationship if something isn’t working right for you.

  • Think outside your box. Sometimes, your design partner will do things differently than your team—and that’s okay. Working with a design partner is a chance to see how another team functions and find a new process or trick to bring into your organization. Consider it the art of compromise.
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Read the Entire Series

This article is part of a series on choosing the right design company or partner. Click below to go to the start.

2. Make Communication a Priority

The cornerstone of every great relationship is transparent and open communication. None of us are mind readers. We need to share our needs and expectations and listen to the needs and expectations of our partners.

By communicating, you're doing more than sharing information. You're building trust and understanding.

This ensures everyone is on the same page and can make all the difference so your creative assets are delivered right the first time. Whether you work with a traditional creative agency or a Creative-as-a-Service (CaaS) platform like Superside, make great communication the foundation of your working relationship.

  • Set the tone. Use your first meeting to set your expectations on how and when communication will happen. If you prefer weekly check-ins over email, let your design partner know.

  • Be honest. Encourage open and honest communication by creating a safe space where both parties can express their ideas, concerns and feedback without fear of judgment or criticism.

  • Keep them up to date. Business moves at light speed. Make sure you share any changes to project scope, timelines or even business changes that could impact the work they’re doing for you.

  • Address issues when they happen. No working relationship is 100% perfect. Deal with any issues or conflicts when they happen. Do it openly, listen to each other's perspectives and find a solution that works for you and your design partner.

3. Set Your Work Expectations

From meeting deadlines to providing updates, you have work ethic expectations for your team. Promoting a positive working relationship with your design partner means sharing those expectations, so they can deliver great work in the way you need it delivered. It also helps you inspire and motivate your team and your design partner to do their best work.

Work ethics go beyond just meeting deadlines. They also involve the quality of work, the effort put into the project and the integrity and professionalism of your design partner.

  • Lay the ground rules. Discuss your expectations at the start of your working relationship. Be clear about your deadlines, the frequency of updates you expect and how you would like to receive and give feedback.

  • Use meetings to build trust. Schedule regular meetings with your design partner to discuss project status, questions and potential roadblocks. Use the time to ask open-ended questions, encouraging them to share more about their company culture and work processes.

  • Celebrate wins together. You’re a team. Celebrate like one. Recognize your design partner's efforts and achievements. It can help motivate them to do even better on the next project.

  • Keep sharing. Reviews aren’t just for projects. Build a partner relationship review into your schedule. In this sesion, you can identify what's working and what's not and find ways to improve the collaboration.

Build a Working Relationship That Lasts

Swiping right on a design partner is the first step in building a working relationship.

But fostering a long-term, positive relationship is a little more complex. It involves understanding your design requirements, communication expectations and work styles. There's always a risk of unrequited love. However, if you uphold your values, chances are your design partner will too.

And there's a lot to be said about being friends. 😉

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Alex Kinsella
Alex KinsellaContributing Writer

Alex is a freelance writer and newsletter aficionado based in Waterloo, Ontario. When he’s not writing for clients, he’s putting together TL;WR, a weekly culture and events newsletter his mom says is excellent. Alex has worked with some of Canada’s largest tech companies in PR, marketing and communication roles. Connect with him on LinkedIn to chat or get ideas on what to do this weekend in Waterloo.

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