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Working With A Designer

How to choose one and what to expect.

The most obvious is talent. Although personal referrals are the best way to go, do check out their work as well. Look for a portfolio that shows a range of items, including very recent pieces. Look not only at design concepts but follow through and final results. Look for cohesiveness in a series of pieces, and look for obvious errors. Notice if they have a style that can be seen again and again throughout the portfolio. Many designers do, and that is fine, if you like it and it suits your business. For example, don't choose a funky rock and roll style designer because it's cool and then expect something clean and corporate for your straight-laced business. This applies to both large studios and independent freelancers.

Rapport is important in any business relationship. You want to feel comfortable with the people you work with and that you can trust them. You should feel that they are listening to and understanding your requests, even the vague ones - within reason. They should be open to your input and not be a diva about it. Conversely, they should also be willing to tell you when you're wrong, explain it and recommend what they feel is right. You should be able to exchange ideas freely and trust their expertise.

Having a suitable business structure - the right size company to serve you. The smallest and usually least expensive would be an independent freelancer. They may have a lot of talent and be an excellent solution for small or low demand businesses. However, if you have a large-scale project, don't choose based on price. A freelancer may have the best intentions, but simply not have the means to deliver on a large scope project. At the other end there are large agencies with account execs, creative directors and marketing experts, all of whom are needed to service a large account. I know a of start-up company who went to a large ad agency because they felt they had to impress their investors. The agency did not take the small gig seriously and this was demonstrated by inattention to the account and (it seemed) putting their most junior creatives on the case. In the middle there are varying degrees of smaller studios, or groups of independents in different disciplines working together as a team who have the time and expertise to deliver on larger scope projects.

What to expect when you begin working with a designer will vary with the company structure. Basically, you'd have an initial meeting with the key player(s) and brief them on what you're looking for. There should be a lot of questions about where you would like things to go, long-term plans, target markets, competition and maybe even "if your company was a car, what kind of car would it be?" Whatever it takes to understand the business and it's goals.

From here the designer or firm would consider your ideas, what's needed and put together a proposal detailing recommendations. The proposal should include parameters like number of concepts presented, rounds of changes included, pricing, what is included and not included (ie: photography), what is expected of the client, payment details and a schedule. Even if it's done very casually, their should be a written (email's fine) okay on the proposal. All of this protects both parties and helps things run smoothly by putting expectations up front. A deposit is usually required. Many prospective clients innocently don't know this, but asking a designer to do work first, then paying for it if you like it is not ethical.

Once engaged, further interviews or research may be required. Eventually, they'll present design options to choose from for final development. Don't be deterred by things like colours you don't like when the concept is good - ask to see others. You may find you like elements of different layouts and ask to see them combined. Or, you may ask for specific tweaks on your favourite layout or two. These are all part of the rounds of revisions included in the agreement. Most are flexible about this as they want to satisfy the client but there are limits to be sensetive too if not a hard line. For example, just because the designer presents ten options, doesn't mean you should ask to see them all in blue. If you get farther along in the project and decide something isn't quite right after all, by all means speak up. This is your business, your interests and there is nothing wrong with backing up a step - just be prepared and for a Diva sigh and to revisit the quote.

Once you decide on a design, the text, colours and images used will be finalized, maybe after several back and forths, depending on the complexity of the project. It's very helpful to discuss the best way of communicating changes beforehand, and providing one source of contact from your company to avoid contradictory requests. Once all changes are satisfied, the client will be expected to provide written or electronic approval before it is printed, published to the web or splattered on a 20' billboard. This protects you (if you don't get what you approved), the designer (if you approved the wrong info) and both of you in case something goes wrong in the production process.

Outline your own objectives, target audience and budget. Ask for referrals - the best thing someone can say about me is that I did good work and provided good customer service by doing it on time and on budget. Be realistic when deciding if a freelancer or a larger firm is best for you. In the end, the best way to choose is to follow your instinct.

Faith Seekings is the owner of Faith Seekings Design. She works with businesses owners to help align their business goals with their business image. She can be reached at 416.368.8956 or email faith@faithseekingsdesign.ca.

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