A good graphic designer can be one of the most important contributors to your business’ success. Yes, a strong value proposition, concise messaging and frequent outreach are all essential to an effective communications plan. But, no plan is complete without a first-rate creative presentation that separates you from the crowd, engages your audience and influences their behavior.
Great graphic design can help you reach those goals with an identity that looks smart, reflects your values and resonates with your audience.
But, what are the criteria for choosing a graphic designer who suits your needs?
Many markets are flooded with very talented designers. But, they are not all the same. Creative ability is only one piece of a larger puzzle. Functional and practical application of that talent is where the separation begins. Here, we outline ten important factors to consider while sorting through the field of available talent.
1. Experience. Look for diverse experience. While most graphic designers share many of the same skill sets, those who have worked in ad agencies usually have served a variety of clients and are generally efficient with their time. Those who worked in corporate communications have likely developed skills across more disciplines and are more sensitive to budgetary constraints. If you can find one person with both histories, then you’ll have the best that each can offer.
2. Portfolio. Look deeper into their online portfolio. If they show a small sampling of work, that might be an indication of inexperience. Look for graphic designers who present a broad variety of work for a wide range of industries. See if they’ve done work for businesses similar to yours and how their strengths align with your immediate and long-term needs. If you’re looking for advertising help, but see mostly logos, they might not be the right fit. If you’re in a high-tech industry, a designer who focuses primarily on retail goods might not understand your audience or be able to handle a learning curve.
3. Subject Matter Expertise. How does the graphic designer think? Do they have a blog? Are they active in social media? What does their LinkedIn profile look like? Do they use these media to focus only on showing samples of their work, or do they offer helpful advice and tips? If they have a blog and you find yourself learning from them, then they likely offer more bang for your buck.
4. Testimonials. Nothing does more for any business than the words of others. The same thing applies to graphic designers. If they have a web page of testimonials, it tells you that their customers are satisfied and willing to go on record saying so. But, look closely at the types of comments, too. Are they all the same, or do they offer insights into the relationships they’ve had? Consider contacting some of their clients and asking them about their experience working with the designer.
5. Expectations. Understand how your business fits into the business model of the graphic designer. Can you be confident that you’ll receive the same level of attention that every client gets? That’s a direct question you should ask any candidate. You need to state your expectations clearly, which can avoid a lot of wasted time for both of you. But, remember, expectation management works both ways. You’ll likely be one of many clients and you all can’t come first. Be sensitive to their need to manage their own business, and the relationship will be better for it.
6. Proximity. You should seriously consider hiring locally. A local graphic designer should want to meet you face-to-face to discuss your needs. And you should, as well. A lot can be learned from engaging in a conversation that goes deeper than the project at-hand. You can’t get that by hiring an online “$99-dollar logo” service that outsources work overseas. A strategic relationship is critical to the success of any communications effort. And understanding you, your product or service, your audience, your industry and your competition is paramount. Furthermore, reflecting your attitude, personality and style in the work is not only entirely appropriate, it brings to you real ownership. All of this requires a relationship of proximity. To segregate the creative professional from the client is not only misguided, it productizes the service.
7. Billing Rates. While you might find that less-experienced graphic designers charge lower rates, they tend to work slower and might require more handholding and direction. That means more of your time spent. Experienced designers charge higher hourly rates, but typically need less direction, work more efficiently and are more attuned to best practices. They also tend to have relationships with industry experts, vendors, etc., and can help you find the right resource to complete the job. Finding the cheapest designer might have some appeal. But, you could actually end up paying more through your time spent or in revisions.
8. Value. Take the time to research what graphic design services cost and determine a realistic budget before you contact anyone. (Round numbers are fine.) Understand the true value of what you’re looking to buy. Graphic design is not an expense; it’s an investment. So, be sure to maintain the right perspective when evaluating fees. Most people don’t hesitate to pay the furnace repairman or auto mechanic $90.00/hour. Yet, nobody can argue that the face of your business is less important. Avoid those who undervalue their services or offer deep discounts to get your business.
9. The Bigger Picture. When interviewing candidates, take notice of how they view your needs. Are they thinking along a project-by-project path, or do they want to understand the bigger picture of how it all fits into your business goals? The designer who looks beyond individual projects is better suited to provide holistic advice that fits your bigger picture. Certain projects might be approached differently, if there’s a larger objective to be met.
10. Remain Open to Advice. An experienced graphic designer has likely been there, done that, and may offer advice that could cause you to reconsider some of your own ideas. This is a good thing! Look for a designer who is willing to challenge your thinking. And be open to it. If you tell them, “I know exactly what I want. I just need someone to put it together,” you might just get exactly what you want. But, it might not be what you really need.
The Initial Meeting
A face-to-face interview with your short list of candidates will go a long way toward determining the best fit. If this is new territory for you, there’s nothing wrong with letting them know. The true creative professional is the one who is willing to help you along, because they know it will benefit everyone in the long run.
Look for the candidate who engages you about your business, market and audience prior to discussing your project. They should want to understand your challenges and long-term vision, which will put them in a better position to provide sound recommendations.
Ask them about their work and experience. Do they simply rattle off a list of projects, or do they discuss responsibilities and results? Look for genuine passion in what they do. Inquire about specific clients or projects you saw on their web site and what role they played. Find out whom they work with and what they offer beyond their primary discipline. For example, some designers are also good writers. But, nobody can do it all. They likely work within a network of experts, including developers, printers and photographers.
A dynamic working relationship with your designer can yield results that look great, are effective and provide a platform on which you can grow your business. But, the more latitude you give them, the greater chance you’ll have of receiving options you might not have even considered. However, they also need to keep you involved throughout the process so you don’t lose ownership of the final result. In the end, if you’re both willing to learn from one another, everyone flourishes. With the right team of experts in your corner, you can take your business to the next level. And a great graphic designer is a valuable resource who can help you get there.
Story by Ron MacDonald