Marketer-designer communication is fraught with difficulties that marketers rarely hear about. Until their designer is busy, that is, and like me, they try designing something on their own.

In Photoshop, wearing the designer’s hat, I saw my writing in an unflattering new light – riddled with misplaced annotations, clunky transitions, and puzzling gaps. As the aphorism goes, a message sent is only as good as the message received, and mine was clear as mud. So I asked designers: What else don’t we know, and what can content marketing teams do better?

Seven ways to help your designer:

1. Know what you want

When I designed my own white paper, I set the background of every page to a gray gradient, finished the paper, and hated it. Changing every page to flat black took me over an hour.

“First thing’s first – you have to know what you want,” said Anthony Espino, a freelance designer. “Leaders often don’t, and expect the designer to explore four iterations because they haven’t taken the time to discover what they like. It can waste a huge chunk of time.”

If you want designs done on time, refine your tastes. Peruse design sites like Dribble, Pantone, and InVision. Create a mood board for graphics and fonts, and always provide your designers with examples. To really streamline things, produce a content marketing playbook that provides design guidelines on exactly how assets should look.

2. Write less

My second error was writing too much. One page of a Microsoft Word document can fit about 400 words and – to the inexperienced – looks like it’s just begging to be filled. But designed documents like white papers use negative space and graphics to increase reliability, which cuts their capacity in half, to a mere 100-200 words per page.

White papers also aren’t always linear. Whereas paragraphs in Word documents follow one another and connect logically, in a white paper, a paragraph break can evolve into a page break. And if there’s a graphic or blow-up quote in between, a clever cliffhanger can turn into a complete non sequitur.

Always edit your writing with the white paper template in mind. Count the words per page and add page breaks to your Word document. Note whether quotes and callout boxes break up the text or sit in the margin. (If you don’t have a template, refer to rule number one.)

3. Edit heavily

I edited my document before designing it, but nevertheless encountered errors. For every error, I had to make a correction in the designed version and the Word version. After reaching a critical mass of mistakes, I sent the original back to the copyeditor for another revision. Then I had to copy and paste the text back into the design template.

“I don’t like to start a project where the content hasn’t been reviewed or finalized,” said Davis Lee, head of design at PlanGrid. “Nothing is ever perfect, but edits and changes can double how long a project takes.”

Before you send something to design, be as certain as possible that the copy is correct. For me, that means sleeping on it and using a copyeditor I trust.

4. Show, don’t tell

Good design helps documents tell a clearer story. In some cases, graphics should actually replace passages of text.

“The images and the words are so codependent,” Mo Willems, an author and illustrator, told NPR. “If I read a manuscript and the manuscript makes sense, there are too many words. And if I look at the images and the images make sense, then the images are too complex, too detailed, because the other half of that equation would not be necessary.”

In fact, design may even be more important than text. Visuals are less taxing than words, and most readers skim anyway. One client who I design white papers for actually asked our team to write less and create more charts, which their readers like to screenshot and share in presentations.

But don’t add graphics for the sake of graphics. Images that don’t provide additional context only distract the reader. Every image should have a purpose and every color should create an information hierarchy to guide reader’s eyes, like Demand Gen Report does by making callouts orange and titles blue.

Image credit: Demand Gen Report

5. Design in sprints

Don’t expect perfection on the first go. You often can’t know what looks good until you see it. Break projects into steps and plan to meet periodically to review.

“It’s always a good idea to have at least 2-3 sprint deliverables to show progression,” said Davis. “If you see something that isn’t going in the right direction during the first sprint, it’s not the end of the world because it’s still in an early stage design and you can still adjust.”

But don’t let it go on forever. Constraints can actually increase creativity, according to University of Illinois research, because they force you to make decisions. “It’s a mistake not to have an established deadline,” said Davis. “‘Some time next week’ is not as helpful as ‘I need this by Wednesday.’”

6. Make your feedback specific

When providing feedback, be as specific as possible. Generalities like, “This doesn’t pop” are open to interpretation and only complicate your already unclear wishes. For each piece of feedback, explain in judgement-free terms why the existing design won’t do (for example, that a column of text is so wide that it’s difficult to read) and a suggestion for what to do differently (break the text into two side-by-side columns).

7. Build the relationship over time

You often can’t communicate all of your graphical preferences to designers up front. But there’s an age-old fix for that: Relationships.

“I like to build relationships with the marketing team. If I can give any advice to marketers, it’s that good design takes time and a lot of collaboration,” says Davis. It’s only through working repeatedly with a designer that they discover what you like. Once they know their constraints, they’re free to innovate upon your instructions and deliver a white paper that’s better than what you expected.

I wish I could say I completed my own white paper, but I handed it off. Trying and failing helped me realize that you can’t hack the thousands of hours designers have spent thinking about the subtleties of colors, quotes, placement, and fonts. You can, however, hack how you work with them.

Marketers who take the time to clarify their communication get back better designs faster with less stress. And if there’s one thing designers wish marketers knew, it’s that.