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The definite guide to hiring designers

If you are reading this post, chances are you are new to hiring creatives. Or you might have tried collaborating with someone, only to be burned by a sloppy individual who didn’t deliver on time or didn’t have the skill to meet expectations. Either way, you have a business idea that needs to look sharp to win your future clients’ hearts and minds, and you are struggling to find the right creative partner. With so many designers competing for your precious budget, you need a checklist to help you pick the right one. In the following 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

Let’s face it. Entrepreneurs are often well-versed in their areas of expertise. They know the ins and outs of their product, are familiar with their target audience, and have a vision of where they want their business to be in ten years. While they know their brand all too well, they often can’t tell a great logo or packaging from a mediocre one. This makes the hiring process the more difficult – you don’t know what to look for when scoping for designers and feel lost. While talent and skill are somewhat subjective, the right candidate should ideally be able to:
1. Think abstractly and connect the dots. Impactful design is often about combining two seemingly unrelated themes with a common thread that is not immediately obvious. This applies to logo design in particular, where a visual pun can make the identity more memorable. I always try to add a double meaning to my logo designs as it is a great way to make the logo stick in the client’s mind. Here are a few examples from my portfolio:

2. 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 in use on merchandise and existing products.

3. Demonstrate a deep understanding of branding. They should have the ability to study the brand, market, and target audience and develop 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 an appropriate 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 the market and what the company stands for. Whether or not the designer can think strategically often becomes apparent from the very beginning – a careful researcher will ask many questions and pitch a lot of creative ideas before they even start conceptualizing and sketching out designs. Whether through a questionnaire or an exploratory call, they will make it their job to ask all the right questions.

4. Showcase multiple good initial concepts in case studies. This is big since most novice designers focus on just one good logo concept while going sloppy on the rest. Coming up with multiple fresh and original ideas for each project is grueling, so as designers, we sometimes get tempted to be lazy, especially if we are snowed under and feeling burnt out. But you need 2-3 good initial designs to ensure that you have explored the design process from different angles. When you look at case studies of branding projects, you should 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 consistently produce not just one but a few high-quality initial concepts is what sets apart the experts from the crowd. Here is an example from my portfolio of multiple initial logo concepts for the same brand:

5. Be Original. A pro designer is always on the lookout for new ideas. They are always looking to develop their style and process a little further. Copy-paste work is unacceptable – the right designer should guarantee that your new visual identity will be one of a kind. You don’t want to spend a fortune on a bland and generic logo and identity – it will not help create a unique brand.

A good indicator that the designer develops ideas of their own is when they sketch out tons of thumbnail concepts at the beginning of the project. You 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 work. Always striving to do original work takes a little bit of dedication and research and, obviously, a level of integrity. This brings us to the next point.

They are 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 deadline. They lose interest in the project once they find more exciting 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 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 those they are about to submit for feedback, ensuring that someone else hasn’t arrived at the idea first. Positive references, published articles, awards, and testimonials are positive signs – the more, the better.
They are easy-going and fun to work with
Last but not least, the right creative is easy to communicate with. They are upbeat and always exude an energy of passion and thrill because they love their work. Great designers are not only talented artists – but they also know how to be kind and nurture relationships with clients. They are excellent communicators and realize that it’s their job to listen and make sure they understand their clients.
Easy to work with also means the designer is humble and willing to take full ownership of their mistakes – they don’t get defensive in the face of criticism and understand that it is their job to make the project run smoothly. Competent designers don’t need handholding and don’t expect you to be familiar with design but are willing to patiently explain each step of the process to you, educating you along the way.
To cap it off, you are after someone passionate and good at what they do, that is also easy to work with and shows up and delivers on time.  Walking out of the project with a remarkable design every time is possible if you know how to look for the right creative partner and stick with them once you have found them. 

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