What You Should Expect From Your Designer

Those of us who have worked with designers know that it can be tough to navigate. Poor communication and unrealized expectations can leave everyone involved with a bad taste in their mouth. Working with a designer shouldn’t be scary or overwhelming; it should be exciting. The great news is that the right expectations can set you and your design project on the path to overwhelming success.

Designers vs “Designers”

When it comes to experience and know-how, freelance designers run the gamut. There are more independent designers than ever, offering services that span a gigantic spectrum of quality and price. It’s harder than ever to find the right fit, to know how much you should invest, and to know what quality to expect.

I’ll start by narrowing the focus by leaving out crowdsourced design (contests), designers you find on craigslist, and your niece or nephew (unless they’re professionals, of course). Those options are fine – they fulfill a need for cheap design – but rest assured you won’t be receiving anywhere near the same level of service that you’d experience with a professional. If you’re looking for a strategic designer to help you achieve your business goals, this article will help you make sure they’re holding up their end of the bargain.

Research & Communication

Design starts long before a line gets drawn or pixel is pushed. In order for a designer to do their job, they need to know about your business and your goals. If your designer puts a pencil to paper, or hops on the computer after reading a short design brief, you’ll likely have trouble on your hands.

You should expect to have in-depth conversations with your designer before the project starts, and throughout your working relationship. They should listen carefully and learn as much as they can about your business and what sets you apart from your competitors. They’ll also research and get to know the people they’re designing for – your target audience. All this information will empower them with a picture of what success looks like to you and allow them to deliver on those expectations.

A Clear Scope

Now that you’ve nailed down what needs to be done, your designer should provide you with a proposal and agreement that sets a clear scope for the project. The agreement should include a timeline, a description of what everyone’s responsibilities are, and how much everything will cost. Keep an eye out for things like stock photos and premium font licenses, which may come at an additional cost. A clear scope doesn’t always ensure success, but it will help both of you avoid unrealized expectations–the primary factor behind most failed creative partnerships.

Strategic Thinking & Problem Solving

Design is so much more than aesthetics. You’ve decided to seek out a designer because you’re trying to achieve something, and I’ll bet there are motivating factors behind that decision. The designer should focus on the problems you’re facing and come up with strategic ways to solve them.

Flexibility & Integrity

Even if communication has been top notch, it’s rare that a designer will knock it out of the park the first time around. It may take some discussion and revision to get the design to where it needs to be. They should listen carefully to your feedback and address any concerns you may have (read some tips on providing great feedback). During the process, the designer may challenge certain elements of your feedback. They should be prepared to present a strong case for each decision they’ve made, and why they feel it’s the best direction for success. Try to remember you’re both working towards the same goal. You may be pushed to make difficult decisions that you didn’t anticipate, but chances are the resulting design will be the better for it!

Deliverables in Various Formats

This is a given, but once the project has been completed you should receive everything you’ve been guaranteed. If you’ve hired someone to design your visual identity, for example, it would be common for you to receive art files in a variety of formats and sizes, optimized for both print and screen, as well as Brand Style Guidelines that explain how everything should be used moving forward.

I want to take this time to help you avoid a common misunderstanding that can really get folks pissed off and in a tizzy. Many business owners are accustomed to work-for-hire relationships, where they automatically own anything that is created by an employee. Some freelance designers prefer to license their work to clients for limited use, while most hand over the copyright for the work created at the completion of the project. However, it’s rare in most cases for a designer to provide master files (sometimes called “raw” or “source” files) for a project. This issue has long been a point of contention between designers and their clients. Here’s a great article on the subject. If it’s important for you to have the master files for your project, ask your designer before the project starts–often they’ll let them go for an additional fee. It’s important that you make sure all this is covered in your agreement before the project begins.

Guidance, Respect, & Customer Service

It’s important that your designer values your time and helps guide you through the process without using confusing tech-speak. Email replies shouldn’t take much more than a business day. You should also expect calls to be answered during normal working hours, or at least a call back within a few hours. Even when your project has been completed, a great designer will make themselves available to address any questions regarding things like printing, files, etc.

Always remember–great design takes great communication. Now that you know what to expect, learn how to be great client for your designer.

Marc Allen is a Visual Identity Expert at Marc Allen Design Co.
He designs memorable and imaginative visual identities for emerging businesses, artists, and individuals.

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