You need a graphic designer—but navigating portfolios, finding the right fit, knowing your budget, and more, is a hefty task. How do you even start to find the right designer for your next project? Relax. We’ll get you started out on the right foot. Here are six of our favorite tips to help you choose the perfect freelance graphic designer.
1. Someone You Can Work With For The Long Haul
One of the first things you should realize about selecting a freelancer is that you need to think of it as the beginning of a long relationship. While you can find plenty of discount means to get graphic design work done, the absolute best work—and the work that will be effective—is born from a strong collaborative effort between you and your freelance graphic designer. When that relationship works, you’ll end up with a go-to resource who can quickly and easily deliver great work that exceeds your expectations.
For that reason, it’s always important to meet your potential graphic designer in some capacity, whether that’s through a face-to-face meeting, an interview over the phone, or even an online chat. (We always recommend face-to-face, which is how we choose our freelancers.) Look for a team or person who responds to your requests quickly and is interested in hearing your feedback on their design work. And most importantly, someone who can translate that feedback into the design you envisioned.
2. Ensure Design Quality is Up To Par
This is sometimes trickier to assess, as everyone’s taste is slightly different, but there should always be a level of quality to all the designer’s work. One place to start looking is their website. Now, the work you see on your prospective freelancer’s website doesn’t need to exactly match the work you need done, but you should always like what you see. What it should match is the modern web design you actually see out in the world. If you find an outdated or poorly-maintained website for a graphic designer, then they probably aren’t taking their image seriously. It’s probably time to move onto the next candidate.
To help guide your search, it’s helpful to find design styles that match what you intend for your own project. Having a visual to even loosely represent what appeals to you serves two purposes: 1) Gives you a visual by which to gauge what you like / don’t like about the designer portfolios you review and 2) Gives you a visual to provide to the designer you interview to see if they are able to see what you are envisioning (and match it, including the adaptations you need for your project).
Having a visual is a great tool for an interview, too! Ask your design candidate for their favorite brand from a visual perspective (which brand they like the LOOK and FEEL of). Then ask what s/he likes about it and what makes it unique. Even a designer with a strong portfolio could have had influences (like a strong creative director) that may have impacted the samples in their portfolio.
3. Review Their Portfolio
Looking at their overall portfolio site architecture, look and feel, user experience and content is an important start. But to get down to the day-to-day paid work, you’ll need to look at the work a potential graphic designer has completed by selecting individual pieces that interest or concern you. Most designers will have pictures and links to their portfolio on their website. Review their portfolio pieces and see if you like their particular approach. Naturally, your projects will look different from the ones you see, but many designers have a signature style or approach. By going through a portfolio, you can get a feel for that signature and decide if it’s right for your business.
As you go through each piece, ask what their role was in the project. Per above, they could have contributed to the design but maybe not been the impetus for the parts you like and need for your project. Ask about their design process, their interaction with their team and how they handled having to make design choices that they did NOT agree with (we assure you that every skilled freelance designer has had to do that). Uncovering this information will give you a glimpse into how this designer might work with you and your team - or not.
4. Figure Out Your Budget
Every project has an anticipated value or return, whether it’s for an external client or an internal department. Your design spend will need to work within your overall budget for that project and take up the right portion of your spend. So start there: How important is the design to the success of this project? If very important, be willing to be flexible on what portion of your overall budget goes to getting the very best designer you can afford. Once you build a relationship with your favorite multi-talented freelance designer, you can easily work that cost into your overall spend (another great reason to think long-term when looking for design help).
If you need help knowing how much graphic designers cost in your area with varying levels of expertise, reach out to a Vitamin T agent and request a salary guide or quote for your specific need.
5. Setting Expectations Up Front
There are several things that will improve the relationship with your freelancer. One of them is a clear list of your expectations and proposed projects. Setting basic parameters (when you work and when you don’t, expected response time to emails, payment schedule, etc.) is important to discuss up front.
You also never want to approach a freelance designer and say, “I want a website” and little else. Instead, make a list of all the design work that you need done (ideally with visual examples they can see that show what you like) and then consider what you need for each of those items. From page count to functionality, the more information the better. If you don’t, the disorganization may lead to a strained relationship and your freelancer may just move on. Then it’s back to square one.
6. Working Together - A Test In Patience
Even the greatest graphic designers on the planet aren’t going to get everything perfectly right the first time. Discovering what works for you and your business is going to take time and every one of your projects will go through a growing period. It’s important to understand that this process is a good thing. Without it, you would simply be using your “first draft”, which will never be your best effort. As with any project, learning to provide feedback will produce better results. The best designers are extremely coachable and enjoy - and act on - constructive feedback.
Along those lines, it’s important to also recognize that really good designers need reasonable deadlines. Giving unreasonable due dates or asking for changes and revisions to be done near-instantaneously will only harm the final product and the partnership with your designer. Instead, provide reasonable deadlines that will ensure everything is to your standards long before you need it, that is, well before it launches. If you need help on what’s reasonable, reach out to your professional network (or internal team if you have one) or simply ask the designer when they can deliver, then see if that matches your timeline.
If you’re looking for a freelance graphic designer, be sure to do the research and really think about what your needs will be. Then look through portfolios and websites until you find someone you like. It’s the best way to find a top quality freelance graphic designer and create a long and productive working relationship.
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