If you are reading this post, chances are you are new to the world of hiring creatives. Or you have tried collaborating with someone, only to be burned by a sloppy individual who never delivers on time or underwhelmed because they didn’t have the skill to do great in the first place.
Either way, you have a business idea that needs to look sharp to win the hearts and minds of your future clients and you are struggling to find the right guy/gal to lend you their creative genius. With so many designers out there competing for your precious budget, you really need a checklist to help you pick the right one. In the next few lines, I will try to shed some light on the art of hiring a designer. So what makes a creative hireable?
They Pack The Right Skills And Have What It Takes
Let’s face It, most entrepreneurs out there are well versed in their own area of expertise. They know the ins and outs of their product, they are familiar with their customers and have a vision for where the business is headed. While they know their brand all too well, they often can’t really tell a great logo or packaging from mediocre one. Which makes the hiring process the more difficult – you don’t really know what to look for when scoping for designers and you feel lost. While talent and skill are somewhat subjective, the right candidate should ideally be able to:
Think abstract and connect the dots; Talent is about connecting two seemingly unrelated themes with a common thread that is not immediately obvious. This also applies to logo design where a visual pun, if done the right way, can have a huge impact on the way the brand is perceived. I always try to add a subtle element of surprise to even the most rigid corporate identities as it is a surefire way to make the logo stick in the client’s mind. Here are a few examples from my portfolio:
Have a strong and diverse portfolio; Ideally, that would include detailed case studies and explanations on how they came up with the winning concept, why the client went with that particular idea and not the other ones instead and actual photos of the logo being used on merchandise and actual products.
Showcase more than one great concept for most branding projects in their portfolio; This is a big one since most novice designers and design-mills focus on just one good concept while just going through the motions with the rest. Lets face it – coming up with multiple fresh and original ideas for each project is gruelling so as designers we sometimes get tempted to be lazy, especially if we are snowed under and feeling burnt out. But you really need a choice of 2-3 good initial designs in order to arrive at a winning concept… especially since you are paying for a set of 3 to 5 initial concepts anyway, right? When you look at case studies of branding projects, you should ideally be able to find initial concepts that didn’t make it to the top but were no less impressive than the winner – the ability to always produce not just one but a few great initial concepts is what sets apart the experts from the crowd. Here is an example from my portfolio of multiple initial concepts for the same brand:
Show a deep understanding of branding and positioning and demonstrate the ability to study the brand, market and target audience and come up with a design that is relevant to all three of them. A great logo is not just pretty, it captures the essence of the brand in a straightforward and marketable way. So great designers need more than just imagination and Adobe Illustrator skills – they also have to step into the role of branding strategists, carefully aligning the visual Identity with what the market wants and what the company stands for. Whether or not the candidate is able to think strategically often becomes apparent from the very beginning – a careful researcher will ask a lot of questions and pitch a lot of creative ideas before they even start conceptualising and sketching out designs. Whether it is through a questionnaire or a Skype session, they will make it their job to ask all the right questions.
Be able to innovate; A pro designer is always on the lookout for fresh ideas, he doesn’t just go with the flow, regurgitating an old concept or design technique. The right creative should be able to guarantee that your new visual identity will be one of a kind – you definitely don’t want to end up with yet another generic letter “W” logo with fancy wings on both sides for your company. A good indicator that the creative has original ideas is when they sketch out tons of thumbnail concepts at the beginning of the project and you actually see the progression of their thought process and how the idea gradually came to life. It is somewhat of an assurance that the ideas are authentic and not just a tweaked version of someone else’s hard work. Always striving to do original work takes a little bit of dedication and research and obviously, a certain level of integrity. Which brings us to the next point:
They Are Trustworthy And Reliable
We have all heard the horror story of the freelance designer who suddenly breaks their arm (for the fourth time this year) just before the end of the project as they lose interest in the project once they find themselves with more interesting projects to pursue. The right creative will always pull through and loyally stick around until the end. You will never be left wondering where they are at with the design process – they will always keep you posted on their progress by sending regular updates. And while setbacks and slight delays can be expected, you will always know in advance if they need another day or so to finish off the work.
And like we said, honest and hard-working designers will always make it their mission to do unique work for your brand. They always do their due diligence once they have narrowed down their concepts to the ones they are about to submit for feedback, making sure that someone else hasn’t arrived at the idea first. Positive references, published articles, awards and testimonials are all positive signs – the more, the better.
Easy Going And Fun To Work With
Last but not least, the right creative is someone who is easy to deal with. They are upbeat and always exude an energy of passion and thrill because they love their work to bits. Great designers are not only exceptional at what they do – they are also big on fostering relationships with clients and brands. And they are excellent communicators as the job is all about really listening to what the client has to say and then being able to get your creative ideas across.
Easy to work with also means the designer always takes full ownership of their mistakes – they don’t get defensive when facing constructive criticism (they actually crave it) and understand that it is actually their job to make the project run smoothly. Great creatives don’t need handholding and don’t expect you to be familiar with design but are willing instead to patiently explain to you each and every step of the process, educating you along the way.
To cap it off, you are after someone who is passionate and good at what they do, that is also easy to work with and shows up and delivers on time. And if this is not enough, here are a few more tips for finding the right person or team:
To find a great designer, you need to know where they hang out – skip marketplaces like Freelancer and 99designs. They are great if you are looking for a quick turnaround on a shoestring budget but not so much when talent and craftsmanship are needed. To find the pros, you’d better check out Dribbble, Behance, Carbonmade and Instagram.
Set reasonable expectations that match your budget. In the design world, you definitely get what you pay for – design gurus with a killer portfolio, robust skillset and solid client base will definitely need strong financial incentive to work with you… if you make it to their busy schedule at all. Experts with average skills and experience will still charge a hefty amount most of the time. Remember, you are not only paying for their time but also for the hours they have put into honing their craft over the years and for their innate talent, which is a precious commodity. And if you only have a few hundred dollars and expect a stunning logo with stationery designs on the side… well, you will end up paying more anyway when you realise your new logo is barely usable. Only now you have to start all over again and invest more of your time into hiring and collaborating.
I really came up with this article in response to the pain and frustration that clients sometimes share with me when they describe the last time they worked with a creative. As with any relationship, the client-designer collaboration is a two way street – even if you drive carefully, you never know what is coming at you from the other end. Bumps in the road are always to be expected. Yet walking out of the project with a remarkable design every time is possible if you train yourself how to look for the right creative partner.