It can be tough to hire a designer, especially one that is reliable, talented and in your price range.
Here are some best practices, from pre-hiring to payout, to help you have a successful experience hiring and working with a graphic designer — even if you don’t know a thing about design.
1. Know what kind of graphic designer you need for the job.
Mike Sims, startup consultant and founder of ThinkLions, says “it is a huge mistake to believe that just because someone is a ‘designer’ that they’re specialized to handle all of your design needs.” Just like you’ll find copywriters who specialize in different industries or business types, you’ll also find designers with different specializations.
Here are the main categories of designers so you can better refine your job description to attract the type you need:
Web Designers: Web designers create websites and digital content for a variety of channels. They may be experts in branding, illustration, photography, coding, or some combination of these skills.
Print Designers: Print designers specialize in offline content like book and magazine layouts, marketing flyers and brochures, trade show displays, and any other visual content that lives in the physical world.
Artists and Illustrators: These designers are highly creative and experienced in a particular medium, like painting, drawing, digital animation, or cartoon illustration, for example.
Multimedia Designers: These designers usually have command of both web and print design, and may have artistic ability in different media.
Technical Designers: These include app, UI, and UX designers. Though these experts often do have experience in graphic design, you most likely won’t be searching out this type of designer for your graphic content project.
When looking for a design pro, find one that complements your personality. If you’re highly creative and tend to be hands-on with design projects, you’ll do best with a designer who excels at following directions. On the other hand, “clients who aren’t as creative may need a designer who can conceptualize ideas themselves and bring graphics to life without much direction,” Sims explains.
And one last note: if a designer only includes one or two rounds of revisions in their fee, find a way to renegotiate — or seek out an alternative designer. “Revisions are a necessary part of design,” says Sims. “You may need to go through several to get it right.”
2. Hire based on past work.
“Just like in the medical field, some designers are better at specific styles or for certain mediums than others,” says Kristine Neil, graphic designer and founder of Markon Brands. “You would never see a podiatrist because you’re suffering from allergies!”
Request a portfolio, and hire a designer whose past work aligns with your vision. Though experienced designers are able to work in a variety of styles, it’s far more efficient to work with a professional whose previous work already aligns with your project. Here’s why:
You won’t have to spend as much time or effort describing the “look” you want. If you’re already in love with their work, you can reference specific materials from their portfolio as examples of what you’re looking for.
You can give them more creative license. The less time you spend micromanaging, the more time you have for your own responsibilities. Plus, more creative license means higher morale for your designer — which can lead to more unique and innovative designs.
Fewer revisions. If a designer is already creating highly refined work, you won’t have to spend extra hours going back and forth to make adjustments.
3. Finalize copy before you send it to the designer.
The visual layout of your marketing materials will vary greatly depending on the length and composition of your written content. Nothing is more frustrating to your designer than being given partial or unedited content, and then having to revise their design multiple times because of last-minute changes to the copy.
It’s a classic case of “measure twice, cut once”; you’ll save a massive amount of time and energy for everyone involved if your content has been written, edited, proofread, and officially approved before you send it into design.
4. Create a detailed brief
Your design brief sets the tone for the entire project. If it’s lean and open-ended, you can’t complain when your designer turns in a first draft that’s completely different from what you had in mind. To avoid this, include the following key points in your design brief:
- The final format. Will this piece be printed, used online, or both? Graphic designer Bill Ferris, founder of Decor Interiors, suggests requesting visual mock-ups of the design in the environment in which it will be used. “It’s easy to fall in love with a design when it’s all by itself, but it can be a whole new ballgame when it has to compete with other elements on a website, hard copy publication, outdoor advertising or email application.”
- Target audience. Who will be reading or using this design? Include a description of the persona you’re targeting, or schedule a call between your designer and key stakeholders to go over your target audience.
- The call to action. What action do you want readers or viewers to take after interacting with the design?
- A list of deliverables. Will you need just a final draft of the asset (for one-off projects like an eBook) or multiple design files for your team to re-use (like in a brand redesign)?
- Project milestones and deadlines. Design projects often go through several revisions. To avoid bottlenecks, establish a review process and stick to it. Let the designer know who their main point of contact will be, and how much time they’ll have to complete revisions. Avoid rushing your designer or making assumptions about what’s appropriate in terms of deadlines. What may seem like a quick fix to you may be an elaborate process, so collaborate with your designer to set deadlines that work for everyone.
- Examples of designs you like. Send links or attachments of designs that match the aesthetic of the project you’re assigning — or provide examples of what you don’t like.
5. Know a little “design-speak,” but stay focused on the end result.
You don’t need a Master’s degree in art theory to effectively hire a designer, but it’s helpful to have a broad grasp of some key design elements and how to describe them. Here are some of the main components of design, and words you might use in your feedback to suggest alternatives:
- Colors: Warm (reds, yellows) or cool (blues, greens); monochromatic or polychromatic, saturated (color is intensified), tinted, opalescent, transparent
- Composition: Minimal, two- or three-dimensional, negative (blank) space, foreground/middle ground, open/closed, shallow/deep, photography-based or illustration-based
- Mood: Calm or excited, stoic or sentimental, conservative or eclectic
- Shape or form: Amorphous or geometric, heavy or light, linear
- Texture: Smooth or grainy, leathery, prickly, corrugated (grooves), sandy, metallic
- Typography: Serif or sans serif, bold or italic, all caps or lowercase
Of course, as a non-designer, you may not know whether you want something to be amorphous or geometric until you see it — which is why it’s helpful to describe your project in terms of the end result you want to achieve. For example, you’ll get different results if you describe your project as “cheerful and kid-friendly” versus “professional and traditional.”
At the end of the day, simply communicating your goals really may be enough. Neil says, “I’ve found that the most successful projects are ones where clients trust that as design and communication experts — we are better equipped to find a solution to a design ‘problem’ than they are. Most of us have a very refined design process and will help get you to a great result if you allow us to do what you’ve hired us for.”
6. Make your feedback ultra-clear and compact.
Your designer has submitted a first draft, and you can’t wait to check it out. It may be tempting to fire back an email with a few quick notes — but resist the urge. At this phase in a design project, scope creep is incredibly common, especially if you’re working with a new designer (or you have multiple reviewers who must approve the design).
Here’s a QA list you can steal to help ensure you don’t miss a thing in your review:
- Specs. Depending on the nature of the project, there may be specific specifications you have to meet. The last thing you want is to send your “final” design project to the printer, only to have it returned because you didn’t add enough bleed, or your colors aren’t in CMYK.
- File type. If your design needs to be work for print, a JPG or PNG may not be enough – you’ll need a vector file. If you’re hosting the artwork on your website, it will need to be properly formatted for modern browsers, including mobile browsers. Have the right file formats before you close out the project.
- Copy. Read through the copy slowly to check for typos, spacing problems, or missing content. It may be wise to have your copyeditor give the design a final once-over before you call it done.
- Colors. Do the colors match your brand requirements? Do they convey the correct mood? Will they look good in multiple environments, if you’re using this material in different places?
- Photography. Are the photos crisp and clear? If they’re portraits, do they show diversity? If they’re landscapes or objects, do they convey the right tone or locale?
- Alignment. Edges of nearby elements and blocks of text should usually be aligned with each other.
When you write the designer back with a list of revisions, avoid vague terms. “I don’t like the font” is unhelpful, but “can you make the font sans-serif instead?” is much better. And if the revisions are extensive, save time by hopping on the phone and discussing rather than simply hoping nothing gets lost in translation over email.
Your approach to the revision process also depends on the type of designer you’ve hired. Sims explains, “designers who are great conceptualizers often dislike too much client input because they feel as if they are being micromanaged. On the other hand, those who are better at following directions will become frustrated if the client has not provided enough details.”
7. Treat your designers with respect.
It should go without saying, but graphic designers are skilled professionals and should be treated as such. Here are some of the top challenges that designers face when working with clients, and how to avoid them:
Scope creep. “Typically, this comes up when someone tries to wedge in a free logo, or four extra product page designs,” says graphic designer David Brooks, founder of Northward Compass. “It impacts you as a client, as well. Sometimes it can be used to build up invoices by tacking things on.” The solution: Brooks suggests having all deliverables agreed upon at the beginning of the project.
Too many hands in the pie. “Have a single point of contact,” suggests graphic designer Jeff Davis. “Many decisions within a company, even a small one, are made by committee. Gather all of these decisions and hand them to one person. Let that person communicate with the designer. Nothing wastes money faster than competing and conflicting tasks.”
Not providing enough (or the right) source material upfront. “To create polished work, a designer is also going to need great photos and sharp versions of your brand material,” says Brooks. “Without those, even the best designers will struggle to make your project shine. If you have piles of quality assets on hand, your designer will thank you over and over again.” He adds that providing these can even reduce the cost of your project.
Lack of honesty and communication. “Don’t be afraid to ask why a designer did or did not do something a certain way,” says Ferris. “Every project is a learning opportunity and understanding the ramifications of different options can make you more efficient and allow you to develop a more collaborative working relationship.”
Keep these potential pitfalls in mind, do your research, and you’re well on your way to developing a profitable relationship with a graphic designer for the long haul.
Need help with your print? Talk to a live print expert today: 800-930-7978.