8 Tips for working with a designer

How to choose one and what to expect.
by Faith Seekings, Rapport Communications and Design Inc.
Working with a designer or ‘creative person’ is different than working with many business consultants or suppliers. They typically dress and act more casually and express themselves more colourfully. They also tend to think in visual concepts and words. It shows alternative thinking and creativity that can be a significant point of leverage for your own business success. Finding and choosing the right designer for the advancement of your business can be tricky. At Rapport, we’ve put together the following eight tips to help you in choosing the right designer.

Ensure they can do the job.
The most obvious element to look for is when hiring a designer is talent. Although personal referrals are the best way to go, do check out their work first. Look for a portfolio that shows a range of items, including very recent pieces and pieces that are relevant to your goals. 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 their work is cool and then expect them to create something clean and corporate for your straight-laced business. This applies to both large studios and independent freelancers.

Think of the hiring process as a dating ritual: Could you spend 3 hours locked in a room with this person?
Rapport is important in any business relationship. You want to feel comfortable with the people you work with and know that you can trust them. You should feel that they are listening to and understanding your requests, even the vague ones — within reason. The designer you choose in particular should be open to your input and not be a ‘diva’ about it. Conversely, they should also be willing to tell you when your ideas aren’t conveying the right message to your audience, explain it and recommend what they feel is right. Both you and the designer you choose should be able to exchange ideas freely and trust each others expertise.

Recognize that size DOES matter.
Select a designer that has a suitable business structure — the right size company to serve you. The smallest and least expensive would be an independent/freelancer. They may have talent and be an excellent solution for low demand businesses. However, if you have a large-scale project, a freelancer may have the best intentions, but simply not have the means to deliver. At the other end, don’t think that you need a large agency to do good work. There are large agencies with account execs, creative directors and marketing experts, all of whom are needed to service a large account. Is that you? 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 project seriously and this was demonstrated by inattention to the account and (it seemed) putting their most junior creative designers 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. Pick a designer and design team based on your needs and the level of service you want.

Manage expectations, yours and theirs.
What to expect when you begin working with a designer will vary with the company structure you select. 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 make of car would it be?” This is all part of the process. Good designers and teams will do whatever it takes to understand the business and its goals. They should also be clear on how they conduct business so both of you can set realistic expectations.

Know what you’re buying and get it in writing.
Once you’ve met and discussed the project, a good designer will put together a proposal detailing recommendations and pricing. The proposal should include parameters like number of concepts to be 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, there should be a written (email’s fine) approval 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 good business and it doesn’t foster trust.

Know what you want and what you like.
Once engaged, the designer / design team will present options to choose from for final development. Don’t be deterred by small details when the concept is good — ask to see variations like; elements of different layouts combined or 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. For example, if the designer presents ten options not three, it 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 — just be prepared for a Diva sigh and revisit to the quote.

Be open to the process of creative execution.
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.

Ask for referrals, or ‘choose your friends wisely.’
Always remember when choosing and working with a designer to outline your own objectives, target audience and budget. Ask for referrals and contact them. You’re known by the company you keep and you want to ensure that the designer and design team you choose has the same values of service and quality that you do. One of the best things a client, or anyone, can say about my company is that we did great work, provided great service and delivered on time and on budget.
Overall, choosing and working with a designer for your business should be fun and productive. Be realistic when deciding if a freelancer, medium sized boutique or larger firm is best for you and your business. In the end, the best way is to always follow your instincts.