This is the second — and final — part of my How to Hire a Graphic Designer series. Read the first part here.
We’re going to start with a tendency that takes over otherwise logical business people when hiring a graphic designer.
Something inside them whispers, “I know a fast (and cheap) way to get great design. Don’t bother thinking through what you need. Don’t search for a graphic designer to build an ongoing relationship with. Just run a competition!”
Related: Is It Time to Rebrand? 3 Red Flags That Mean Yes
“Spec” work and competitions
For some reason, people seem to think it’s acceptable to ask a graphic designer to work “on spec.”
You give them specifications for a project, and you ask them to provide a solution before you commit to paying them for their work.
Or, your business or organization advertises a competition and vets the entries. Or you run a design competition using one of the crowd-sourcing sites.
People think that graphic design is “fun,” and they don’t need to pay for the work. No other professional would agree to these conditions.
- Ask a business consultant to draft a multi-page business plan without agreeing to pay them?
- Ask a physician to examine and diagnose you without paying them for their time and experience?
- Ask a lawyer to research your case and recommend a plan of action for no pay?
- Ask a respected musician to write a piece of music for you for free?
Of course not. And here’s something else to keep in mind:
Any time a professional agrees to work for free, you should question just how “professional” they are.
Even if you decide to run a competition with a monetary prize, the majority of the people who enter won’t be paid.
This is not OK.
You respect your business and take it seriously. So invest either your time in learning how to do it yourself, or your money in paying a graphic designer.
Don’t expect someone else to do it for you for free.
What to look for in a design portfolio
If you read last week’s post, I’m hoping you’re convinced it’s worth the effort to develop a relationship with a professional graphic designer.
But if you’ve never done it before, you may feel a little unsure about how it works.
You might be wondering how you’ll ever feel comfortable paying a designer without seeing what they’ll do for you. These next two sections will help.
The first step is to look at the portfolios of the designers you’re considering.
We talked about how it’s important to know your ideal customer and your brand personality before hiring a designer.
As you page through graphic designer’s portfolios you’ll begin to see that each one has a visual style.
Some look polished and corporate, others are young and upbeat, while others look kind of hipster, or even grunge. You want to look for designers who already design using a style that’s similar to the one you want to communicate.
You should also use everything you’ve learned about design on these pages to judge the quality of their work.
- Do their designs show a clear command of color?
- Are they using typography skillfully?
- How about white space, and visual hierarchy?
Then take the pulse of the designer personally. Do they seem knowledgeable? Friendly? Easy to work with? Enthusiastic about your project or your business?
In a perfect world, this person will become a long-term member of your team. Do they seem like someone you’d want to spend time with?
How to hire and pay a graphic designer
The other part of this process is how to pay the designer. Most professional designers expect a payment upfront before they begin your project. This is especially true if you’re a brand-new client.
Once you have a history with them, this may not be necessary. But when you’re just starting out, they will often ask for:
- A down payment to begin
- A second payment at a mid-project milestone
- The final payment when the job is complete
The definition of “complete” will vary, and should be spelled out. It may mean your web-based design is online and functional, or your artwork is delivered to a printer.
It may seem strange to pay someone before they start your job. But breaking up payments like this offers good protection for both the client and the graphic designer. The designer is paid for their work, and you pay only as things are handed over.
These terms should defined in a simple contract or letter of agreement. Both parties need to be clear about:
- Expectations around materials that are due to the designer
- Deadlines for first drafts and final art from the designer
- Who owns the final artwork
- How many sets of revisions are included
Another option for paying a graphic designer is to put them on retainer. If you have a steady amount of work and have developed a good working relationship, this is an alternative to paying by project.
Retainers work well for both parties: you to control your cash flow by accounting for a specific payment toward design expenses each month, and your designer can count on consistent cash inflow each month (which freelance designers usually love).
You’ll also be reserving your designer’s time in advance, so you’ll know you can count on it. And once you know you have that time, you’ll find all sorts of ways to use it, believe me!
Your goals in the designer/client relationship
When searching for a professional graphic designer, your goal is to find someone who understands:
- Who you are trying to reach with your marketing materials
- What you want to communicate visually
- What your overall business goals are
Your ideal graphic designer uses a style that’s a good fit for your needs. They’re easy to work with, responsive to your emails or calls, and know how to meet the deadlines you set.
As a client, you must communicate your needs clearly to your designer. Give them enough information to do their job well, and set realistic deadlines so they have enough time to give you their best work.
It’s not easy to find this “dream” designer and build a productive relationship.
Once you’ve found a designer who’s a good match, you’ll have a strong ally on your team. This person will guide the visual presentation of your business and your brand for years to come.
9 thoughts on “How to Hire Your Dream Graphic Designer, and Avoid Becoming a Nightmare Client, Part 2”
Hi Pamela, great post! I’m embarking on an e-commerce venture and I’m looking for a designer to create some posters for sale. I completely agree with the value of forming a long-term relationship with a designer, it’s so much better in the long run.
Would you have any information or links showing how to create a contract for working with a designer? You mentioned the terms that should be defined but do you know of any templates to start from?
Thanks for stopping by! I look to the American Institute for Graphic Arts — the professional organization for graphic designers — for guidance on these things. They have a Standard Form of Agreement which you can read about and download here: https://www.aiga.org/standard-agreement/
That looks great, and love that it’s customizable! Thanks for the link 🙂
Hi Pamela, I’m considering hiring a designer for a personal project–designing a custom cycling jersey that only I will ever wear. What is a reasonable rate to expect from a good designer? Do most designers charge by the hour or per project? I’m willing to pay for a good design but I also don’t want to overpay.
Hi Marni. I’m not sure what to recommend for this: sounds like a textile design job, and that’s outside my field. Good luck!
There’s actually a website that allows you to upload your artwork as a .jpg or .png file and they transfer it to the jersey. I made one before, using a kids’ printable that I found on the Internet and colored in via the Paint program on my computer. For this new jersey, I want something more custom but I don’t have the skills or the software to create it. Any guidance you have about average rates, charging per hour or per project, etc., would be terrific.
I’d recommend asking for a project price rather than an hourly rate.
It’s hard to say how much someone would charge because it depends on so many variables like: how involved the design will be to create; what you are providing to them; how quickly you need it; and even what part of the country you live in.
I’d recommend doing a Google search for graphic designer rates in your area to see if you come up with anything.
That is very helpful, thanks! 🙂
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