Four not-so-obvious things to think about before you start working with a designer

What do you do when you set out to find the perfect match for your design project?

Obviously, you do the standard thing and take a look at the designer’s experience and portfolio.

But then what?

Here are a few not-so-obvious (but important) considerations you should take into account that can make or break your relationship with any designer and ultimately the work you produce together.

1) What is your visual brand, style, voice? What is your mission? Who do you want to reach?

Unless you’re hiring a designer with the stated expectation that they will be helping you figure out your mission, strategy, and branding you need to have these things nailed down. Making these important decisions and doing this work on the fly while simultaneously working with a web developer to create your website, for example, is a big NO-NO. I’ve seen so many hours and so much money wasted when small businesses work this way. You don’t want your team members stepping on each other’s toes, starting their projects from scratch because of branding changes made weeks in, or doing each other’s work. Plus, your web developer is probably not the best person to design your logo anyway, which brings us to #2…

2) What kind of designer do you need?

We toss the word “designer” around a lot without being specific, which can confuse things. I know I’m guilty of it. When people ask me what I do I usually say, “I’m a designer.” In the moment, during these casual conversations, I completely forget that “designer” applies to SO many different jobs. It’s not until someone asks, “Oh, like interior design?” that I actually clarify exactly what type of design I do and who I do it for.

So remember, just because your cousin John is a PowerPoint presentation pro doesn’t mean he knows anything about designing billboards, or product packaging, or the differences between designing for print or the web, etc. Consider what kind of work you need done before you reach out to your nearest “designer”.

Knowledge of tools and techniques isn’t everything when choosing the kind of designer you need. If you’re already set on exactly how you want your design to look and nobody is going to change your mind, then you’ll want to hire someone who is comfortable with working this way. Not every designer is going to want to take on a job where all of the big decisions have already been made. Some designers prefer to be a part of the conceptual phase, while others enjoy executing designs from strict instructions and don’t want anything to do with idea generating or decision-making.

SIDE NOTE: If you need someone who does a little bit of everything keep an eye out for the phrase integrated designer. This type of designer is more likely to have experience with everything from the conceptual phase to the preparation of the final materials, and will have worked on a mix of both print and digital projects (covering everything from your logo design, brand colors and fonts to your email template designs, print work such as business cards and brochures, and any other marketing collateral.)

3) How do you like to communicate? Is your designer on board with that communication style?

My stepdad LOVES talking on the phone. He can’t help himself. He doesn’t even need a reason to talk, he does it “just because.” My little sister, however, hates talking on the phone and prefers to text her way through a conversation. They are always butting heads over this. Their communication styles just don’t mesh. You don’t want to feel this way when you’re working with a designer (or anyone, really).

Ask yourself if there are any communication styles that drive you nuts or if there are any you really love — In-person meetings, phone calls, video chats (i.e. Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Skype), email, a project management app, etc. — they all have pros and cons. Some people could care less but if you feel strongly about one tell your designer up front. And ask them if they have any preferences, too. Find what works best for you, come up with a schedule if need be, and stick to it! Nothing delays progress on a project more needlessly than a poor system of communication. On that topic…

4) Who will be in charge of relaying information and updates to the designer?

If you’re a one-person shop you can skip reading this one, but if you’re working with a team it’s something you need to delegate. If you skip this step, it can result in some costly mistakes.
Imagine one of those meetings that goes on and on and on. But now imagine that you are paying your designer extra to sit in on those meetings. I have seriously sat through meetings of over several hours only to ultimately find out that they covered nothing relevant to my role in the project. Sure, I got paid for my time, but why was I there incurring this unnecessary expense?  In general, workflow is better when one person is in charge of compiling and relaying all of the info and feedback to the designer. If a bunch of opinions, corrections, revisions and emails are flying around things can get challenging for the entire project very quickly. You also don’t want to find out the day before your materials are due that your designer wasn’t aware of an updated deadline, because everyone on your team thought it was someone else’s responsibility to inform them!