I’ve been working on a website for a general contractor and, during the course of conversation about the building and remodeling trade, we landed on the subject of professionalism and some of the things he would like potential clients to know about his expertise. We came up with a list entitled, “Things You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor” which includes educating clients about licensing and permits, the breadth of knowledge a contractor should have, and how a he should help his clients approach their remodeling projects with a long view towards durability and home resale value.
This exercise made me think about the graphic design profession and what things might end up on my own list. The following is by no means exhaustive but highlights three important things to consider before hiring a graphic designer.
Clear and thorough design process
The process that a designer uses to determine the goals for a project and the steps that will be taken to achieve those goals is as important as the outcome, whether it's a website, a logo, or a business card. A thorough design process should include a discovery phase, a concept phase, and a production phase.
Discovery is just a fancy term for answering the question “what is the problem we’re trying to solve?” This usually involves several conversations between designer and client as well as a form or questionnaire to help the client think deeply about their project. I’ve had many clients approach me with a solution already in mind but, during the discovery phase, we determined that their problem really required a different solution. Once the problem has been identified, specific goals can be set which shape the boundaries of the rest of the design process.
In the concept phase the designer, with input and feedback from the client, works out the visual design. Working within the boundaries of the project goals provides a safe place to explore possible solutions while minimizing scope creep or breaking the budget.
For website design, I use three different tools to determine the following: a Visual Inventory to establish the design direction, an Element Collage to develop a design language, and Page Mockups to provide context for the application of the design language. To see these three tools in action, you can check out this case study.
The concept phase may take several weeks to complete but I have found the time investment eliminates unpleasant surprises deep into the project timeline because the client has been an active participant in the process from the beginning.
This phase is all about finishing well and making sure the design execution is as professional as the concept. For websites, this means the finished product matches the client-approved design and the site also functions well. For printed marketing (like a business card) it means the fit and finish of the final piece is of the highest quality.
This might seem like an obvious point but, if the website of the designer you’re evaluating doesn’t look good or function well, chances are yours won’t either. Here are some things to note about a designer’s website:
There should be a page that provides an overview of their process and/or a few case studies that will give you insight into how they solve design problems.
The website should include a portfolio of work that covers a broad scope, preferably categorized by type (web, print, packaging, identity, etc.) if they are a multi-discipline designer. For website design each portfolio piece should have a link to the client's live site.
The designer's website should be easy to use, especially on mobile devices. The majority of today's consumer research and purchasing is done on phones and tablets so your designer’s website should be evidence they understand that fact.
Reputation & Expertise
What do the designer's clients say about them? The website should include at least a few testimonials, with names and titles. Client voices speak loud and clear, not only about the finished product but also about the experience of working with the designer.
A designer’s expertise is based partly on the quality of work they produce but also includes their design knowledge. Does their website include a blog that is regularly updated with engaging and educational posts? Do they share that knowledge anywhere else such as Twitter or LinkedIn?
Working with a professional graphic designer can be a rewarding and profitable long-term experience. But just like any other marketing investment for your business, you should make sure you're hiring someone who can provide a thorough process, present a professional website, and establish their expertise and knowledge.
icons courtesy of Garrett Know, CBi Icons, Kevin Niu – Creative Commons license