A client once said to me, ‘graphic designers are like hairdressers, once you find one that you like, you keep going back’.
I love this comparison, because while they’re very different industries, both are services that require both the client and service provider to have a mutual trust and understanding to achieve the best results.
What does the perfect designer look like?
Designers are not one-size-fits-all. Every designer or agency has their own style and specialities. They also come with different price tags, personalities and levels of customer service. That's why it's important to have a think about what you are looking for in a designer before you set out on your search!
What is your working style?
It's a good idea to find a designer that is suited to your working style. Is it important that you find a designer who can be flexible and work quickly to meet tight deadlines, or will you always be able to deliver briefs well in advance? Are you looking to build a relationship by offering regular, ongoing work, or is this a one off project? You should also consider how you like to communicate. Would you prefer to work with someone local who you can meet in person? Or will Skype, FaceTime or email work better for your needs?
What does the brief look like?
Next, consider the type of work they might be doing. This may help to narrow down your search, as you can look for designers that have experience or expertise in these areas. Consider what kind of skills should they have–do you require an illustration, social media artwork, publication layout, app design or web design? Do you need them to work on print designs, digital designs or both? Are you looking for a designer with lots of experience, or would you favour quality designs over their number of years in the industry?
Which styles do you prefer?
Like a lot of creative industries, design is subjective. While many designers are versatile, they will all approach a brief in different ways. Do you need an all-rounder who has the skills to develop a range of styles? Or would you prefer someone who specialises and excels in one area? You should never assume that an illustrator has layout skills or that a graphic designer has illustration skills. If you require both skill sets, then you'll have to find an all rounder, or hire two different designers to work together.
Always look at a designer’s portfolio to gauge their capabilities. If they don’t have one available online, ask to preview some of their previous work. This will give you a glimpse into their style and type of work they usually do. Are you impressed by the work they’ve delivered for other clients? What do they specialise in? If you love their portfolio work, then chances are you’ll enjoy what they produce for you!
A designer’s or agency’s portfolio should be enough to help you make a decision about their skills and abilities. I never suggest asking a designer or agency to create a design for you for free to see if you like it before you employ them. This is known as ‘spec work’ and it devalues a designer’s work by asking them to work for free. This video from Zulu Alpha Kilo might help explain why we’re against spec work.
What is your budget?
Designers may charge hourly or flat rates. These will vary based on their experience level, location and what they are delivering for you. At the lower end of the price spectrum, offshore designers, students and some freelancers may be the best fit for a design on a tight budget. If you’re able to spend more and are after experience, customer service and high quality, then some freelancers, an agency or professional consultant may be better suited to you.
What do other clients say about them?
If you’re curious about an agency or freelance designer's work ethic and communication style you could opt to contact some of their previous clients. Most designers would be happy for you to contact their past clients and will pass along contacts if you ask. You could also find this information in their portfolio or on their website.
Nobody is perfect, so don’t discount someone based on small errors or one client’s experience. Be cautious, but consider that there may have been other elements at play. Just make sure you watch out for red flags like not finishing a project or poor communication. If you hear anything like this repeatedly from clients, I’d be crossing that person or agency off my list!
Where to find great graphic designers
The first place to start is to ask your friends, family and colleagues for referrals. You may find that there are designers who have experience working in your specific industry that can bring an extra level of expertise to the table. The referrals may turn up a few gems, but don't stop there! Here are some other great places to find designers:
- Behance- this website showcases designers from around the world and allows you to search by location, type of design and keywords. Bonus tip: it's also great for design inspiration
- Google search- This one’s an obvious one, but if you’re specific with your search it could turn up some good leads.
- Your local graphic design association (AGDA in Australia has branches in each State)
- Upwork (Formerly Elance and ODesk)- This allows you to post a project where designers can submit a proposal and quote to complete the service. Prices tend to be cheaper, and if you’re looking for offshore designers you’ll find them here.
- LinkedIn- do a search for people in your area with the title ‘graphic designer’ or ‘web designer’. Often they’ll have website links you can check out in their profile.
- Universities/Colleges/TAFEs that teach design- Ask a lecturer or teacher if they can recommend any talented students who might be looking to build their portfolio. If cost is a big factor in your decision, emerging designers are likely to have lower rates as they are still learning. You might just find a great person who can learn and grow with your business!
A note on crowdsourcing sites
You might notice the absence of crowdsourcing or bidding sites in the above list. On these types of sites, a client posts a brief and budget and lots of people submit designs to be considered. The client picks their favourite design and pays one person for their work. I don't support this approach because I strongly believe that designers (and anyone else for that matter) should always be paid for their work. The only exception should be for charitable or volunteer work, or they are getting mutual benefit from the project (i.e an internship or in-kind donation). Bidding sites like these demean the value of designers and their expertise by asking them to create work for free on a regular basis in the hope that they’ll get paid. And that's not something I can get on board with.
But if you are considering using these sites, here’s a few things to think about;
- Talented designers probably aren’t creating work on these sites, because there is no guaranteed pay cheque. They would rather spend their time working with clients that are definitely going to pay.
- What do you think a designer does with the work that doesn’t get selected? Do they delete it? No way! They've spent time on it, so they’re going to tweak it and pitch it to the next person. This means that your business may receive a design that’s not unique or that other companies are using 'variations' of.
- For the same price as you might pay on a crowdsourcing site, you could work with closely with one offshore, freelancer or student designer and you’re likely to get a better result and unique design that accurately reflects your brand. You’re also not asking 50 other people to work for you for free.
Set the foundation for a great relationship
Once you've found your dreamboat designer, avoid miscommunication and errors by having a contract or agreement that clearly outlines expectations before you begin. If you're working with an agency or freelancer, they should provide this, but if they don't, ask for one! Having everything written out clearly will ensure everyone is on the same page before you get started.
Here's what it should include:
- The scope of the project (what is being delivered, by who)
- The format of the final deliverables and who owns these once they are completed
- The timeframe of delivery
- The total project cost
- How much revision time is included (if any) and how much 'out of scope' work or additional revision time will cost
- Terms and conditions (including who owns the work being produced, the terms of the relationship and what happens if someone wants to cancel)
And there you have it–my tips for finding and selecting a great designer. I hope this article helps you to find someone who works well for you and your business.
Do you have tips on where to find or how to select a great designer? Let me know in the comments!
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