Selecting a Designer, Life Lessons from PhotoShop
Since I was a little boy I have loved to draw. I would draw on anything, anytime and anywhere. Usually those times were consider the wrong times to be drawing, such as during class time or at church when I should have been listening to the preacher. For the record, I was listening while I drew. But one day in my youth group at church all this drawing opened up my first opportunity. My youth pastor asked if I would design the t-shirt for the summer mission trip and he even offered to pay me. Get paid to draw? This must be a dream! I went straight to work and it did not take long before we settled on the design and the shirts were printed. I was so proud, but there was one problem. When the shirts were printed, my signature was somehow eliminated from the print. I was devastated. How would everyone know that I did this amazing piece of artwork that would be worn by at least fifty kids at the church? I quickly came up with a solution. I grab a sharpie and talked my youth pastor into allowing me to sigh each shirt individually. To this day I couldn’t tell you what is on that shirt, but at the time, it was the most important work of my life.
For many designers this is still true for them and the work they do. Fortunately, the collegiate graphic design program I was involved with quickly introduced review sessions with my fellow design students at least once a week throughout my time in the program. As a result, I developed a thick skin and began to understand that there are always multiple possible solutions for any design opportunity.
One of my favorite tools as a designer is Adobe PhotoShop. There are many reasons I like this application, but by far one of the primary reasons is that there are multiple ways to accomplish a given objective in the application. For example, if I have a photograph of a house with trees and landscaping all around and I want to remove a single bush on the corner of the house; I can think of three different possible approaches to accomplishing that task right now.
The same is true for designs as it relates to the needs you have in your business. There is no one solution for any given challenge. Some designers will lead you to believe that the design they put in front of you is the single best solution for the project at hand, but this is seldom the case. The truth be known that designer probably procrastinated and waited till last night to produce the work and just really did not have time to explore multiple concepts before the 8:00am meeting with you. If your designer can not offer you multiple design solutions for the task at hand, then they are either a lazy designer or so impressed with themselves that they think the first thing they layout for you is going to be the best.
Full disclosure, or maybe confessions of a designer but many times in the work I do my first ideas become the best ideas. But this is no reason to simply provide a single design for the project. There are always multiple possibilities for a visual challenge in your business. As a recommendation, if you are working with a designer on a project and they come to the first design review with a single design, do not be afraid to ask them to explore more designs and come back in a few days to review all the designs together. If the designer pushes back with suggestions of additional cost, then beware, the best solution may be to cut ties now and find a designer who is willing to provide you with options.
It is very common to find a designer who is “married” to their design. What you are looking for is a designer who is passionate about the designs they create, but flexible enough to receive your feedback, opinions and perspectives. A good designer will know when to push for a certain design and when to receive criticism and then work harder on the design to find the best solution. You do not want a designer who will not take a stand or get an opinion on what he or she designs; but you also do not want a designer that will not budge of the design they like the best. Always remember that this is your business that you have invested in; the designer works for you (or partners with you, stay tuned for more on this).
Obviously one of the first things you would look at when searching for a designer is work they have done previously. Though work is a good indicator of the quality they can produce, it does not tell the entire story. What that work does not tell you is how long it took them to produce that logo, website or brochure; and it also does not tell you another key piece of information that you will always want to ask. The question with every piece of work they show you: “Was this artwork/logo, etc. used or is it being used?” and if the answer is no, then a follow up question would be “Why not?” Sometimes an artist will do numerous designs and often good designs that do not get used but a designer will show these because of the high quality they produce. Other times, it may be a creative outlet, which will tell you that this designer is doing some extra unpaid creative exercises and that is a great sign. Or, it could just simply be that they work wasn’t chosen, but either way, you do not want to see only examples of things that were never used. It is fine for some of the work they show to be unused, but you certainly want to see work for clients that are being used.
Do not be afraid to ask questions. Click on links, go to websites. If the designer has created some logo’s for various companies, get on those companies websites and see the logos in that layout. Sometimes a nice logo design looks good on paper all by itself, but once it is applied to things like brochures, billboards or websites some parts of it may fall apart some.
In summary, here is a list of questions to be mindful of as you select a designer. You may choose to use all or just some of these questions, but they can be helpful as you meet with various designers in your search for a good fit for you.
- 1. Experience. How long have you been doing design work?
- 2. The examples you have provided, are they in use? Why or Why not?
- 3. How many other designs did you do for this project before reaching this solution? Ask them to talk about the design process.
- 4. What has been your best or favorite project and what has been your least favorite? Why?
Remember, this is your business. You started this business, you saw the opportunity and you understand the market better than your designer; at least initially. Your opinions and preferences are important and should be taken into consideration when the designer works. If you are getting the yes node, but you do not see it in the design, it is time to find a new designer. It is important that the designs work best for you, not the other way around.