What Should You Look for When Hiring a Designer?
Tips for choosing the best designer for your business needs.
For many small businesses and startups, hiring a brand and/or website designer will be their first experience of outsourcing to a third party to help them, so naturally it can be a daunting process.
Below are some tips I've put together that can help you ask the right questions and get the information you need in order to feel confident choosing a designer for your business' specific needs:
1. First, consider exactly what you need help with
Your first thought might be 'I need a logo', or 'I need a website'. But there's actually more to those requirements than meets the eye.
Firstly, if you want to ensure your business is memorable, modern and future-proofed, you don't need 'just a logo'. What you actually need is a brand identity, which can include a colour palette, brand fonts, a logo, logo variations, submarks/icons etc.
So if you do want to create a cohesive, professional-looking brand, you'll need to a 'Brand Designer', not just someone who can make a logo in a day for five quid....
Knowing this is the first step in finding the right person for you.
Similarly, when you say 'I need a website', you need to then ask yourself a range of questions to help you find the right person:
- Do I want a completely custom website?
Websites can be made in two ways: from scratch with a custom design and developed for you, or using a template and customising it for your needs. Custom websites made from scratch are much more expensive (usually thousands of pounds), as they require a designer AND a developer (or someone who can do both) and they take longer to create. If you are a small business requiring and you need a fairly basic website, blog or ecommerce site, it's likely that you don't need a custom development job.
- Do I need a developer or a designer?
As mentioned above, if you want a completely custom site, you will need a developer to do this as it requires building the website in code. But for most small businesses reading this, it's likely that you just need a website designer! We customise existing templates to suit your needs, and many of us have some coding knowledge too to do more complex customisations if needed, but generally we are cheaper than developers because we aren't starting from scratch.
- Do I want my website to be on a certain platform?
If you decide you need a designer to build your website, you might also want to consider what platform you want your website designed on (eg. WordPress, Squarespace, Joomla, Wix etc.). If you have no idea which you prefer, move on to step 2 (looking at the designer's portfolio!), and see if you like what they do, and ask them to suggest the platform based on that. Many designers, like myself, specialise in one platform, so if you have your heart set on WordPress, for example, you'll want to check that the designer you like will accommodate that.
Read more: Squarespace vs. WordPress: Which Should You Choose?
- Do I want someone to maintain & update my website for me?
Once you've decided you want a designer who specialises in Squarespace, for example, you'll want to check what sort of packages they offer and what's included in their design fee. Some may offer maintenance and update packages, so you pay a monthly fee and never have to worry about editing your website yourself! Or some, like myself, include a guide and video tutorials as part of the project so you have tools to make edits yourself and not rely on a designer.
2. Take a Good look at their portfolio
I'm not sure why anyone would ever reach out to a designer to help them without seeing their portfolio, unless perhaps they'd had several glowing recommendations - but even so! Just because someone has the skills you need, doesn't mean their style is compatible with your or your business.
All designers have their own style, and you can tell this when you look through their portfolios. As you look through, take note of the types of businesses they've worked with; are the small or large? Highly professional or fun and edgy? And consider if you would fit in with this.
If you can't see a portfolio section on their website, ask them to send you some examples of their previous work so you can see if you like their design style.
3. Read their testimonials
If they have a portfolio visible on their website, it's likely they'll have a few testimonials to go with them as well! Have a read to see what people have said about them and whether people mention what style they were going for etc.
If really want to, you can always reach out to their previous clients and ask them how the experience was working with that designer if you can't find enough information.
4. Get to know them from their about page & social media
I think it's really important that you like and share values with the people you work with; especially with a designer who is going to be delving into your brand and goals as part of the project.
Read their 'About' page and see what they're like, or have a look on their social media to see what things they've been posting . Try to image yourself working with them - would you fit well together? Would you get along if you weren't working together and had just met at a networking event? If yes, go for it!
5. Check what files they provide you with
This one is important if you plan to be doing more with your brand and logo than just adding it to your website and social media. Most designers will provide you with web optimised files, but you should check that they also give you files that are optimised for print just in case you need it.
If you're doing any larger print work such as posters or signage, you'll definitely need a vector version of your logo too, so make sure your designer will provide you with this.
6. Understand how their process & timeline works
By reading through what their process entails, what exactly they'll need from you and what timeline to expect is another great way to find out if you'll be happy working with this person.
For the perfectionist who likes structure, you may prefer working with someone who has a step by step process that provides plenty of options for you to feed back on and several revisions.
If you're more of a spontaneous type who likes to go with their intuition, you may find it more fun to work with someone who provides one, definitive brand and logo concept after an in-depth 'getting-to-know-you' process (yes there are designers who do this and I think it's awesome and brave!).
7. Check their availability
If you're in a rush or trying to work to a strict upcoming deadline, it's probably a good idea to check the designer's availability before you get too attached to the idea of working with them! Many designers get booked up months in advance, so it's a good idea to start planning who you're going to hire in advance of wanting to start the project.
Other commonly asked questions...
What are their qualifications?
Some of the most amazing designers I know are self-taught, and so am I. My background is in business and marketing, but I have no design qualifications. I personally don't think qualifications matter as long as you love their work and it's high quality!
Do they have experience working with businesses in my industry?
Sometimes I'm not sure this particularly matters either. If you have a very niche industry, it's going to be hard to find someone with that specific experience. What I think is more beneficial is if you look through their portfolio and see businesses with similar goals and values as your own, and a style that could be transferrable to your industry.
What tools do they use?
Brand/logo designers actually use a variety of tools! Many of us use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, while others use Gimp or other vector programs.
Again, as long as the results are high quality (and the file types you are provided with are correct to what you need), it probably doesn't matter what tools they use, unless you're looking for specific compatibility with your own software - but most of the files they produce are inter-usable.
Will they give me the editable source files?
Many designers do not provide the editable logo files for their clients. This can be because of copyright reasons (discussed below) OR most likely it is because of the risk that a client may make edits to the design, and still promote the fact that the designer created it. When this happens there is a risk that the reduced quality or altered style of the design can affect the designer's reputation.
Will they give me the copyright and full ownership of the brand files?
Whether a designer should hand over the copyright to the client or not is actually a pretty big debate in the design world. In my contract I state that I am happy to hand over the copyright along with the final design files after the final payment, but I also state that I have a right to display their project in my portfolio and use for marketing purposes - which is all I need!
Having a copyright of a logo often isn't a big deal for small businesses and freelancers, and many designers who keep the copyright state in their contract that the client is allowed to use the logo however the please. But for larger businesses and for anyone who is interested in registering their logo as a trademark so their competitors can't copy them, owning the copyright is required. Read more on the copyright debate.