Allow me to paint you a picture: You have an exciting design project that you want to get underway for your business. You decide it's time to find a designer to execute it and release it into the world. After tweeting about it and scouring Behance, Dribble, and four pages of a Google search, you become overwhelmed by all the options. What are the criteria for a graphic designer? It appears that everyone and their second cousin claims to be a "graphic designer with experience." I know you might feel like scraping the whole thing, but I assure you there are ways to pick the weeds from the wheat. Let's go over a checklist of what makes a graphic designer worthy of your project.
1. They are client-oriented problem solvers.
Yes, I'm telling you that it should all be about you! In your talks with a potential designer, the focus should be on what your problem or need is, and how they can solve it. If your designer is more interested in "building a portfolio piece," or is more interested in the exposure you can give them, you are setting yourself up for communication troubles later. You might end up feeling like you have fight for every bit of input.
A high-quality designer can spend a lot of time identifying your needs before they ever lay pen to paper. They know that success hinges on identifying what needs to be solved to reach an end goal. This can look like researching your target demographic, listening to the full history of your company, scouting your competition, etc. Designers need to know what they’re tackling so they have the best chance at knocking it out of the park.
If you are looking for a logo, a high-quality designer know what it takes to create a brand, and they’ll offer input and feedback to help you and the designs reach their fullest potential. If you are seeking a packaging design, they’ll make sure they know everything about your market so the designs can elevate the product’s value.
High-quality designers also know the worth they bring to your company. That means they are willing to talk about price, (usually before wasting much of their or your time by talking about the project before a contract is signed.) A good designer with experience can easily cost between $50 - $120/hr. If that's a price range you're not ready to invest in, then chances are you're going to have to settle for a lesser-quality designer.
2. They have a well-organized portfolio of work.
Good designers know that their work is worth thousands of words. I often send brief emails to leads that essentially say, "I'll let my work speak for itself. Check it out here." The world is full of smooth-talkers, but you want a designer who can back up their words. So go to the source of their livelihood and spend time browsing their work.
You also want to make sure that the designer you're looking at has experience where they say they do. Did someone tell you that they are a logo master? Then there should be extensive proof of that in their portfolio. If someone tells you that they can design a brochure, but you can't find any evidence of print work on their website, proceed with caution!
If you have a hard time finding any examples of a designer's work, move on! A good designer knows how to show off their work. They'll also readily have client testimonials to prove how satisfied their clients are. If those aren't showcased on their website, ask for them! A designer's past clients can tell you everything you need to know about the person you might work with.
3. Their professionalism is evident.
The kind of designer you want working on your valuable project is someone who takes pride in how they are presented. Professionalism isn't thrown out the window just because someone is a freelancer. If anything, more is required of them, because they are the only face of their business. Does the designer you're talking to use poor grammar, or is their Twitter timeline full of slander and complaints? Do they forget your scheduled phone call or do they run late to your meeting? The designer you interact with before the contract is signed is the same one you're going to work with and give money to. Make sure that they align with how you and your company operate in a professional manner.
*Sidenote: Bad grammar or spelling is not necessarily an indicator of someone’s skill level. But if your designer doesn’t take care in having excellent written communication, it is possible that will translate into their designs. A general rule of thumb is to be sure to triple check the copy of your designs before you approve them.
4. They are detail-oriented.
High-quality designers have a sharp eye for the details. That means typos are as rare as a unicorn dancing to the jitterbug. Previous clients are usually the first to point out how detailed a designer is. If their testimonials are full of phrases like "attention to details," "cared about all aspects," and "very thorough," then you've hit gold in finding a quality designer!
Working with someone who is detail-oriented also means that they are ready to improve your project, not just churn out designs. They will suggest edits to copy, or rethink how to present something so your project has the best chance to be successful. A high-quality designer is just as invested in your project as you are.
5. They show expertise in their field.
You might be thinking that this should've led the list. But I think that the previous four points need to be in place before a designer is ready to be perceived as an expert in their field. If they do have expertise, then it will also be evident in things such as published articles or presenting helpful information, they can offer constructive criticism, and they are up to date on current industry trends. Now, not all designers are good at writing, but in talking with your designer, you shouldn't be doubting if they know their stuff. A high-quality designer oozes with helpful information and knowledge.
The kind of designer you want to work with is also a designer who has reasons behind their decisions. If they suggest adding blue into your website, they can explain WHY you should add blue to the website. Proposing that you should drop words from your company's name should have ample reasons behind it! High-quality designers don't make unwarranted choices. If you are unsure of what is the driving reasons behind your designer's actions, ask them! If they can explain it to you, you're that much closer to finding the perfect designer for your project.
Starting a project with a designer is an exciting, yet daunting journey. You can save yourself time, money, and headaches by investing in a quality designer who becomes a partner and even a friend in the process. A common trait among quality designers is an insatiable desire to produce the best possible work, and if you are able to find and land someone like that, you are nearly guaranteed to be over the moon about the end results!