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Finding a Graphic Designer

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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 create the best relationship with your graphic designer.

A graphic designer designs your marketing materials - 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 might not be familiar either. We'll address that and more in the remainder of this article.

The more qualified the designer, the better the match between you and that designer, and the more appealing the final designs, the more professional you and your business will look. The following recommendations give you the essentials for hiring the right person for this critical project:

1. Look at their work samples. Many designers offer a portfolio of samples either on their website, by email as a PDF file, or in a hard-copy format. When you review these, look for a general design style that you like, not necessarily whether the samples are appropriate to 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 offerings.

2. 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 created the work that you really admire are still on staff.

  • With solo designers, make sure that the portfolio clearly represents their personal involvement in the development of all the design elements. For example, if the designer shows you a brochure design or a website in their portfolio, but the part that you really love is the logo, make sure that they created the logo before you hire.
  • Furthermore, ask what the client's involvement in the design of that logo was - if the client came to the designer with a sketch of the logo already created, then the logo might not be reproducible - if all of the work wasn't created by the designer or firm alone.

3. Talk to the designer. Having an actual conversation with your potential graphic designer 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. 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". You'll be working closely, so make sure that you get along! If you don't like the designer's personality, or vice-versa, then the relationship will most likely become strained.

4. 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.

5. Check their references. If you really like a particular project in the designer's portfolio, see if you can get that client's contact information. But if the designer can't release it, that's not necessarily a bad 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 might not be able to furnish a particular reference.

6. Learn about their processes. Find out how the designer plans to execute 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 will be made, and how those decisions will be turned into product. Make sure your designer is able to guide you through the design process, providing all the information you'll need along the way.

7. Check their turnaround time for replying to emails, sending quotes, and returning calls. Make sure that it's in line with the turnaround time that you expect throughout the project. Turnaround time here can also indicate the designer's level of excitement about your project. However, if turnaround is a bit slow, make sure that the designer wasn't just out of the office or tied up in another deadline - understand that they are running a small business as well, and the fact that they're busy is probably a sign of how effective they are for their clients!

8. 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 renegotiate your rights in a few years!

9. Do not 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, 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.

10. 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 might change the pricing.

If you want to be able to edit the final files, make sure that the designer can deliver the files to you in a way that you can edit them. Realize that, depending on the software you have, this might either limit the design or be impossible, but you won't know 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.

11. Have a realistic schedule. 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 the designer has 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.

12. 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 if you need more than the standard number.

13. 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). If the contract 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. Refer to them when you review designer's websites and when you meet with or interview your potential designer. Understanding the process and expected outcome does wonders for a smooth transition from ideas to reality.


About The Author:

Erin Ferree, Founder and Lead Designer of elf design, is a brand identity and marketing design strategist who creates big visibility for small businesses. Erin helps her clients discover their brand differentiators, then designs logos, business cards, and other collateral materials and websites to reflect that differentiation, as well as to increase credibility and memorability.


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