Hiring a Graphic Designer? First Ask These Eight Questions

September 12, 2013 Elaine Marquis

During my career as a marketer, I have worked with a range of graphic designers and have designed numerous graphics pieces. Since I have worn the graphic design hat before, I understand the perspective of a graphic designer.

I also understand the perspective of a marketer: quickly generate quality work that produces results and increases revenue.

If you are hiring a graphic designer to help with your marketing efforts, whether it be a freelancer or a full-fledged agency, be sure to ask the following eight interview questions.

1. Does the designer have experience with YOUR needs?

Define what your goals are, and be sure the designer has experience in that area. Do you need a website design, a logo, a trade show booth, or perhaps a complete brand identity you’ll use for years to come? You don’t want a designer using your account for experimentation, such as trying to figure out the best way a graphic design translates into website code.

2. Does the designer have a portfolio?

Every graphic designer has a portfolio of his or her work, and you should be sure to see it. The portfolio should include samples of the type of work for which you are hiring. I once had a potential freelancer come to the office to interview with no portfolio because since I had told her I was in a rush to move my project forward. You can’t hire someone until you see capabilities and style.

3. Can the designer work in your timeframe?

Some designers will submit drafts of work to you within a day or two—or even overnight if the work is minimal. Others will put you in queue and require several days or a week before showing you drafts or edits. Ask the potential designer if he or she can work in your timeframe, and also take note of how responsive the designer is to your emails, phone calls, and request for a proposal during your initial talks. If the designer has no sense of urgency during the interview process, there will be even less timeliness if hired. Most marketers are under tight deadlines and need projects completed yesterday, so it is ideal to work with a designer who is cognizant of that.

4. Can the designer work within your budget?

Graphic design fees range greatly, from $25 per hour for a recent graduate to $200 per hour for a high-end design agency. Can the designer work within your budget? Does the designer invoice by project or by the hour? I personally prefer a mid-level designer with experience who bills by the project. In this case, I know that I am retaining an experienced professional, and I have an estimated cost in hand, before the project begins.

5. Does the designer understand you’re running a business?

The artwork (and designer) should contribute to the goal of selling your product or service. Some designers may get caught up in the beauty of a piece and forget that it needs to achieve a business goal. Is your potential designer used to working with corporate clients?

6. Does the designer plan to use royalty-free art or custom art?

There are different types of licensing for the photography or illustrations your designer plans to use. Some notable royalty-free images are available for as little as $10 per image, whereas a suite of beautiful custom art can garner a price tag of thousands of dollars. Several years ago, I saw a company receive an unexpected invoice for $50,000 worth of custom illustrations since they had assumed the artwork was part of the graphic designer’s fees and not an additional cost. Does your designer use royalty-free art or custom art, and what will the cost be?

7. Which programs does the designer use?

Your designer should use industry-standard programs, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, just to name a few. This means you can easily take the files to another graphic designer if you and your original designer part ways. It also demonstrates that the designer is up to date and follows industry best practices.

8. Is the designer willing to hand over the source files?

This is something I ask out of habit, but some marketing departments feel their designer will balk at the request. (Indeed, your designer will prefer to keep possession of the files.) Source files are original, layered files the designer creates before packaging up the files into jpegs, PDFs, or whatever the end format requires. If you have the files in possession, it means you can have an in-house resource edit the files or even move to another graphic designer in the future. Tell your designer you’d like the source files after each project or perhaps monthly, so it becomes a habit.

As an additional point, you as the customer should gather samples of work that you appeals to you. Once you’ve hired your designer, share these examples with your designer. I recall once starting a $150,000 web site redesign, and an executive telling me the design should be “understated but elegant.” Showing examples of what you find compelling is much more effective than just describing it.

Most graphic designers are passionate about what they do and intend to provide the best work they can at a fair price. However, asking these eight interview questions up front will help ensure you hire a skilled designer who understands your business goals, budgets, and challenges.

Do you have anecdotes or questions regarding graphic designers that you would like to share? Post your comments below so that the rest of the community can learn from your experiences or give input.

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