Word of mouth remains the favourite way of selecting designers, with nearly half of all businesses preferring to rely on personal contact. But design is largely subjective, so who’s to say that a particular recommendation will be a good match for you?
What if your business and personal networks draw a blank, leaving you to try and shortlist several designers based on their website content? If you’ve no direct experience of buying graphic design services, then the process can be quite a daunting task.
Hopefully some of the tips and advice includes in this guide will steer you down the path to design fulfillment and help you find your creative match.
A useful checklist to assist you when shortlisting designers you haven’t worked with before
1. Design experience
Perhaps an obvious but important starting point. With design experience comes the ability to clearly understand the key objectives of your project, helping you prepare a design brief if necessary.
An experienced professional designer will be focused, methodical, budget conscious and capable of offering a select number of creative concepts that leave you spoiled for choice.
Of course, there are many different design disciplines so do make sure that the experience is relevant to your particular design requirements, if not your specific market sector.
You shouldn’t be put off by newly formed companies if the team members have a credible design industry pedigree. The majority of design companies employ less than ten people, many of whom will have served their apprenticeship and gained invaluable experience working for large design firms, before deciding to plough their own furrow.
These are ambitious and highly motivated designers who will be hungry for your business. Loyal clients are the lifeblood for any designer and so they will be keen to impress.
3. Find out who you’ll be working with
Strong working relationships help produce good design. It’s well worth trying to find out who would be responsible for producing and managing your design work and to consider speaking with, or meeting them, before you agree to anything.
Many design websites include ‘meet the team’ profiles to introduce the individuals behind the names. If there’s nothing much to choose between designers, you may decide that you’d like to work with someone who shares similar interests… perhaps they even support the same sports team as you!
4. Skill sets
Different projects demand different creative skills and you should check at the outset that the designer or team you choose to work with has the required skills and expertise; either in-house or using trusted associates, as is common practice with individual designers or small companies.
Certain design projects might require specialist skills and again, it’s a good idea to do your homework before you commit to a particular designer. If in doubt… ask.
5. Website design, language and tone
We all have own our favourite websites and blogs but what makes them so appealing? Content may well be king but don’t underestimate the influence of online design.
A well-designed site enhances our online experience, encouraging us to explore in greater depth. On the other hand, visual distress caused by badly designed, cluttered web pages can distract us from the very content we’re trying to absorb.
Websites along with social media channels offer designers a great opportunity to showcase their work; share knowledge, news and views; and the chance to express their personality with maybe the occasional touch of humour.
An online presence offers you the opportunity to learn something about a designer and assess their creativity prior to making any contact. If you’re not so keen on the creativity on show, or if the written content is peppered with typos indicating a lack of attention to detail; you can quickly move along without commitment.
Designers will usually showcase what they consider to be their best creative work online but try not to be dazzled by a ‘coat of many colours’. Just because a piece of work looks appealing doesn’t necessarily mean that it totally fulfilled the brief, or was indeed created entirely by the website owners.
Our advice is to dig a bit deeper and find out more about a particular project that interests you, if the supporting online information seems a bit vague.
Industry award programmes can act as a very useful barometer of genuine design talent. Whilst some ‘beauty pageant’ ceremonies focus mainly on the aesthetic, there are others that concentrate more on the genuine value that design brings to commerce.
The Design Effectiveness Awards run by the DBA (Design Business Association) recognize each year “the absolute best examples of design that have had a tangible and measurable effect upon business success”.
8. Working process
Designers all have their own way of working and sometimes outline their preferred process on their website, explaining what is involved at each key stage of a project. This can provide a good platform for designer and client alike, helping to keep progress on track and within the agreed framework wherever possible.
Whether or not you have some idea of budget in mind when shortlisting suitable designers, a key consideration will inevitably be how much it might it cost to employ their services.
Depending on the size and complexity of the project, a designer’s fees will normally be estimated by either working out the cost of:
i) The approximate time required, applying the relevant hourly rate(s).
ii) A total price for the project broken down into key chargeable stages.
Some websites may include details of the design fee structure which can be a very helpful indicator, no matter how approximate – saving both designer and enquirer from wasting each other’s time if not compatible.
Not that many years ago, certain clients would disregard designers that weren’t within one hour’s travel time of their office. Now we’re connected more than ever before and able to share digital files with ease.
It’s perfectly feasible and not uncommon for designers and clients to never actually meet in person but we believe that meeting face-to-face, if only on occasion, builds better working relationships and delivers better results.
You may want to consider a designer’s location and whether or not they are prepared to come and meet with you or even halfway, depending on your situation and preference.
Trust your gut instinct
OK… let’s suppose that after reading this article, you go on to shortlist two or three designers that appear to have solid credentials, the right degree of creative flair and, on paper at least, they tick most of your boxes. Maybe you have a chat with them but still struggle to choose… so how on earth do you make a final decision?
As a businessperson you make lots of decisions every day, many of which will be based on intuition and feeling, rather than science and fact. The chances are you’ve shortlisted some very credible designers, all of whom could probably do an excellent job.
We suggest you could do a lot worse than to simply trust your gut instinct.
If you follow our advice on doing your homework first, then you really have nothing to lose. So listen to yourself, take the plunge and enjoy the experience. After all, good design can be very rewarding in many ways.