Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for advice from people who are looking for a new graphic design agency. Maybe the workload is too hefty for the in-house team, or their go-to designer isn’t going to work out any longer. The good news is you don’t have to be a great designer yourself in order to hire one who offers a great experience.
Here are seven simple steps to help you learn how to get great service from a talented, cost-effective graphic designer or agency who will make you look good.
Check out their samples
Before you begin any dialogue with an agency, take a good look at samples of their work. Professional design firms have an online portfolio you can review without even letting them know you’re interested. If they don’t have a website or their own marketing materials, consider it a red flag.
Looking at samples is a great first step because it gives you some idea of a designer’s skill and what type of work they do regularly. If you’re creating a brand identity for a philharmonic orchestra, for example, an agency that specializes in posters for thrash metal bands may not be the right fit for you. If you like a designer’s style but don’t see the type of samples you’re looking for, it doesn’t hurt to ask—they may have something more appropriate that just hasn’t been posted.
Insist on senior-level expertise
While you don’t have to work with the head of a big agency, you shouldn’t settle for someone who “hands off” your organization’s public identity to junior designers or interns. Don’t rule out freelancers—many are highly-skilled, especially if they have a design school or agency background.
Service is as service does
How quickly do you get a response when you email or leave a message? Can you get your designer on the phone easily? Is your contact organized and detail-oriented, or do they regularly complain about how busy they are? If you have to wade through a phone-mail jail, a management maze, or office politics to find the person you need when you need them, it’s time to find someone else.
Make sure they can handle you
There’s nothing wrong with using a freelancer or small agency, as long as they won’t be overwhelmed by the size and scope of your workload. You can usually find all the clues you need in their portfolio. If they have only one major client, or if it looks like you’ll easily outpace everyone else they’ve worked with, they may not be used to working with an organization of your size. If they’ve got multiple samples from a variety of household names, they can probably keep up with you.
Look for a collaborator, not a dictator
Far too many people put up with rude, narcissistic, and even abusive designers. A friend recently told me her last designer made her cry every day while running up $60,000 in charges for a website that still doesn’t work. Life’s too short for that. You have the right to hire someone who’s easy to work with, able to explain technical concepts in plain English, and willing to treat you like a valued partner. If a designer is defensive, offhand, or disrespectful during the interview process, their behavior probably won’t improve when you start writing checks.
Passion is a plus
You’ll probably pay more for someone who specializes in your industry, but it’s often more cost-effective than hiring the lowest bidder. A designer with an expert understanding of your target audience can generate a stronger response than someone who’s never done anything in your field. Look for someone who asks intelligent questions about your market and has similar clients in their portfolio.
Trust your gut
No matter how savvy you feel about design, you should be inspired, confident, and comfortable with the service you hire. If the prospect of a relationship ties your stomach in knots, don’t do it—even if they’ve got shelves groaning under the weight of design awards and submitted the cheapest quote. Take the time to find someone you like who clearly wants to know more about you, asks thought-provoking questions about your organization, and makes your engines rev. You’ll be glad you did.
Where to find your next great graphic design service
Now that you know what to look for in a design agency, give us a shout and put us to the test. We’re lean, nimble, responsive, and we’ll make your success our highest priority. And if you’re curious about working with a graphic designer, be sure to check out the latest 9 Reasons to Hire a Graphic Designer.