Are you ready to hire someone to design your logo, collaterals, or artwork for your website? Well, here’s just the information you need to get the best results from hiring your first (or your first successful) graphic designer.
To assure that we begin on the same page, a graphic designer designs your marketing materials — the print- and web-ready art which are then turned over to a printer or coded for the web for the final outcome. Some of their vocabulary can be foreign to you, and their processes may not be familiar either. We’ll address that and more with these tactics.
This advice gives you the essentials for hiring the right person for this critical project. The more qualified the designer, and the better the match between you and your designer will lead to more appealing final designs. the more professional you and your business will look.
- Look at their work samples. Many designers offer a portfolio of samples either on their website, by email as a PDF, or in a hard-copy format. When you review these, look for a general design style that you like, not necessarily whether they have lots of experience within your particular industry. In fact, deep experience within an industry isn’t necessarily the best thing when you want a designer to put a fresh visual spin on your business and your issues.
- Make sure they’ve actually done the work in their portfolio. This is especially true if you’re reviewing design companies or firms. Make sure that the designers who are still on staff created the work that you really admire.
Where this can come into play with solo designers is if the portfolio isn’t clear about their involvement in the development of all the design elements. For example, if they’re showing a brochure design or a website in their portfolio, but you love the logo; make sure that they created the logo before hiring them.
And, ask what the client’s involvement in the design of that logo is—if the client came to the designer with a sketch of the logo already created, then the logo may not be reproducible by the designer or firm alone.
- Talk to the designer. Having an actual conversation with them can really help for two reasons:
- To make sure you can communicate well with each other. If you each have very similar styles of communication, levels of energy, or enthusiasm about the project, then the project will most likely run very smoothly (or has a great potential for success). Also, make sure that you each understand what the other is saying—having similar definitions for concepts is amazingly helpful. When you don’t understand something, ask questions!
- To see if the two of you “gel” together. You’ll be working closely, so make sure that you get along! If you don’t like their personalities or vice-versa, then the relationship will most likely become strained and difficult.
- Review their skills. This becomes especially important if you’re hiring a web designer—make sure the designer is qualified to provide you with all the technical components you’ll need. For example, web coding, forms coding, HTML newsletter integration and Search Engine Optimization are all somewhat technical fields that not all designers can deliver. Make sure you’ll be able to get what you need.
- Check their references. If you really like a particular project in their portfolio, see if you can get that client’s contact information. But, if the designer can’t release it, that’s not necessarily the worst sign—maybe the client prefers that their contact information be kept private. Or they’ve moved, and haven’t told the designer how to get in touch with them. Be open to reasons why they may not be able to furnish a particular reference.
- Learn about their processes. Find out how they plan to execute on the work that you’d like to have done. Ask what the designer needs you to do, what you’ll be asked to review and approve, how decisions are made, and how they’re made final. Make sure your designer is able to guide you through the design process, providing all the information you’ll need along the way.
- Check their turn-around time for replying to emails, sending quotes, and returning calls. Make sure that it’s in line with the turn-around time that you expect throughout the project. Turn-around time here can also indicate the designer’s level of excitement about your project. However, if it’s a bit slow, make sure they weren’t just out of their office at meetings for the day, or tied up in another deadline—understand that they’re a small business as well, and the fact that they’re busy is probably a sign of how effective they are for their clients!
- Review the rights that they’re selling to you. Make sure that you have the copyright and reproduction rights that you want. Think as far into the future as possible—you want to make sure that you’ll have what you need as your business grows. You don’t want to have to come back to your designer and re-negotiate your rights in a few years!
- You may be tempted to ask for some sample designs for your specific project. This is known as work on “spec” (speculation) —having a designer do work without a guarantee of getting the project. While designers can understand your fears—what if you don’t like the logo we develop, what if we don’t “get” what you want, what if…
Asking a designer to work on spec isn’t very fair. The first round of designs on any project is the most time-consuming to create—it often consists of researching your company and your competitors, brainstorming on the creative side, and generating first ideas. You wouldn’t ask a doctor to diagnose you before paying for his time, and then offer to pay him if you like the diagnosis—it’s no more fair to do so with a designer.
- Make sure that you’ll get the deliverables you expect. Some designers don’t plan to include final files in their deliverables to you—if you want to have the original files delivered to you along with printed collateral or the final files uploaded to your web server, make sure the designer knows that up-front. It may change the pricing.
If you want to be able to edit the final files, make sure that the graphic designer can deliver the files to you in a way that you can edit them. Realize that, depending on the software that you have, this may either limit the design or be impossible, but you probably won’t get the files in the specific format you want unless you ask!
And, if you envision having your final files in a particular format—such as having your letterhead in Microsoft Word—be sure to ask for that. Many designers don’t consider Word files to be part of a standard set of deliverables.
- Have a realistic schedule and check the designer’s turnaround time. Allocate enough time for your project to be completed—rush jobs never turn out to be as good as they could be if enough time were allotted. An average logo project takes weeks, not days!
Also, be sure that they have time available in their schedule to complete your project on your timeline. Check for upcoming vacations, and whether they work evenings and weekends if your timeline calls for that.
- Make sure that you’re both clear about revisions. Many designers include a set number of revisions in their project packages. Make sure that you understand what constitutes a revision, how many you’ll get and what happens once they’re all used up.
- Get it in writing. A contract can help to lay out expectations for the project on both your end and the designer’s. Once you have a contract from your designer, make sure to read it carefully—it will often state exactly what you’re going to get out of the project, how you’re expected to pay for designs, what you’re paying for, and how to get out of the contract (in case you have to cancel the project for any reason). And, if it doesn’t make things clear, ask the designer to elaborate for you.
Following these steps gives you all of the background information you need for optimum results when hiring a designer. Use them as a reference when you review designer’s websites, meet with, or interview your potential designer. Understanding the process and expected outcome does wonders for a smooth transition from ideas to reality.