As a small business, you’re likely wearing many hats, and besides your role as an executive officer, you may be your own marketing director or even designer. All of a sudden, it’s time to design your logo or create those eye-catching ads that have people were taking notice of your business.
Where do you start? It’s time to call a design agency. And if you’re thinking of going that route, it’s important to ask the right questions when vetting potential candidates. If a company is good enough for your website design work, social media management, and advertising campaigns, they should be able to handle this 10-question phone interview with ease.
What is the average time it takes to get a final design?
Time spent on each project varies from designer to designer and even from client to client. Some designers take more time for revisions than others. For example, if your designer is a one-man shop and works completely on his own, he may not be able to dedicate as much time per client as someone who has an entire team of designers working for him.
Also, how long it takes to get a final design will vary depending on the complexity of your project (the more customizations involved, the longer it will take). However, most professional designers can provide you with a ballpark schedule during the initial consultation or contract signing.
When reviewing your designs in the final stage, check whether that timeline seems reasonable based on what you were told initially. If there’s any discrepancy or confusion at this point, address it promptly with your designer or website developer so you can avoid any surprises later on in the process.
2. What experience do you have?
The first question to ask any designer you’re considering for a project is about the experience—but not just about years of experience. Think about what kind of experiences your designer has had that make them the best choice for your job.
For example, you might want a designer who has worked with your specific type of client in the past or who has completed this type of project before. You might want someone who can design a marketing plan to get your message out there or one who already has experience working with the publication you want to target.
It’s up to you to figure out what experience will be most helpful for you, and it may take a few rounds of questions to get it.
3. Do you have a set process for handling business and revisions, or do we decide that as we go?
At the beginning of a project, you and your client need to define the terms and conditions under which you will work together. You want to make your process clear to clients and ensure that they understand the amount of time it will take for you to complete projects, how many revisions they can request, and whether or not they have the option of working with other designers while you are completing the project, etc.
A big source of confusion when hiring a designer is finding out later down the line that what you were told at the beginning of the project isn’t actually true. This can be devastating if it happens several months in—and if you’re going out on a limb by taking on a job for which you don’t have a ton of design experience, it could be downright devastating.
You want both parties (designer and client) to be on the same page from day one so that there are no surprises down the road. Asking questions about how things will work from the get-go will help prevent any major issues in the future. The best way to do this is to ask questions like: “How do you handle business before we begin?” “Will I receive an invoice before we start working?” “What kind of communication should I expect during our time working together?”
4. Can I see examples of your work with my type of company?
When you’re hiring a designer, it’s always important to keep the long-term vision for your business in mind. That’s why it’s critical to ask for examples of work with businesses similar to yours—if a designer can’t share any with you, it could be a red flag that he or she is unfamiliar with that type of work and may not be a good fit in the long run.
It can help you tell whether they have experience working with your type of customer base, as well as what they do with them. If all their previous clients were similar to your business, it’s definitely worth asking questions about how they made each one unique and how they handled each client’s specific needs. The ability to create something tailored to your business’ needs is crucial for the growth and development of your company, so you want a designer who can do that effectively.
5. Are there any additional costs associated with hiring you, or will this fee cover everything, including revisions and delivery?
The first thing to ask a potential designer is whether the quoted fee includes everything. Many freelancers are willing to work for free or for a low rate, but you may be surprised to find out how many hidden costs can creep in.
Some freelancers may charge a flat fee and give you unlimited revisions and unlimited rounds of proofs, but some designers will charge a flat fee that covers one round of proofs, plus another fee if there are any additional rounds. This means that if you make changes after the initial proof is approved, your fee could go up.
Some designers will charge an hourly rate for their time. This may seem like an easy way to keep your costs down, but it could end up costing you more in the long run. The idea behind this rate is to give you a baseline cost when the designer doesn’t know exactly what they’ll be doing or how much time they’ll spend working on your project, but it can set a limit on how much work they’re willing to do for you and how good of quality that work will be.
For example, if you ask them to design a postcard and they tell you this will take 10 hours and cost $1000, what happens if you decide halfway through that it would be better as a brochure?
6. What differentiates your work from others in the field?
It’s a tough question to answer, but it’s one you have to consider when you’re looking for advice on hiring a designer. You need to know whether the company or individual you’re considering hiring will be able to provide you with something that stands out. If you can’t explain what makes someone special, then they probably aren’t. Let me tell you a story.
Through a friend of a friend, I met with a certain designer to discuss working together. He was very personable and seemed knowledgeable about his craft. He had worked on several other projects around town that were similar in size and scope to the one I had in mind for him. Of course, there was just one problem: His portfolio didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen before!
It is completely normal for designers to be influenced by other designers, but this guy must have been taking cues from Picasso or something—every single project looked like it belonged on the cover of “Contemporary Deconstructionist Art Monthly.” It was worse than bad—it was confusing and made me feel like I would never be able to communicate with him clearly without getting an anxiety attack. Bottom line: I walked away, and I never hired him or anyone else who works like him again.
7. What is your process for visualizing and producing designs?
As you’re interviewing designers, it can be helpful to ask what their process is for visualizing and producing designs. It’s such a broad question that it will likely lead to many different answers, but it can give you insight into how the designer works and what their design philosophy is. Do they like to start with sketches or work straight in Illustrator/Photoshop?
Do they believe in the value of sketching out ideas on a whiteboard, or do they start with a blank canvas? Are they big on wireframing, or do they skip straight to the mockups? There are many different ways to get from point A (what you want to do) to point B (a realized design), and the right approach for one project might not be right for another.
One designer’s solution might be totally unworkable for you and your team, while another could be exactly what everyone needs. If a designer doesn’t seem like they have experience with your kind of project, it could be because their process doesn’t match yours—for example, if you need someone who can draw out interfaces and plans by hand, someone who only uses Photoshop might not be your best bet.
8. What kind of software do you use in your design process?
When you’re working with a designer, you can’t assume that they’ll have the same resources at their disposal that you do. Some might use 3ds Max or Maya to create their 3D models, some might use Adobe Illustrator, and others might use an entirely different program to build a different kind of model altogether. The truth is, every type of designer uses different software for each step in the process—including both physically based and digitally based designers—and it’s always a good idea to ask what programs they prefer before you get too deep into the project.
For example, if your designer has no experience with Cinema 4D and plans on learning how to use it from scratch, it could be a long time before they’re able to start modeling your product. On the other hand, if they use Cinema 4D for everything and are familiar with it already, you know that you can start working with them right away.
9. Do you use any plugins that help streamline your workflow?
When you’re starting to narrow down your choices for who to hire for a design project, one of the first things you should ask is whether they use any plugins that can help streamline workflows and cut down on the amount of time they need to spend on certain aspects of the job. These days there are plugins, apps, and other programs that can be integrated into your workflow in order to make it much easier than before.
There are plenty of options out there, but a few, in particular, stand out. The very popular and widely used plugin WordPress SEO—is a plugin that makes it easy to create SEO-friendly content without having to worry about creating readable code or keeping track of what needs to go where. If you’re using WordPress as your content management system (CMS) then this is definitely something you’ll want to consider using.
If you’re trying to get started with ActionScript 3 then FlashDevelop might be worth looking into; it’s one of the most comprehensive tools when it comes to programming with AS3, but it also has a platform for beginners who just want an easy way to get started.
10. If I’m not happy with the final product, can I get a refund?
You’ve done it: after weeks of browsing portfolios, interviewing designers, and comparing bids, you’ve found the one you want to bring your vision to life. Now, you’re ready to sign a contract and get started! But before you do that, read through this template of questions and concerns from past clients, and make sure you’re on the same page about everything.
The answer to this question is probably ‘no,’ but it’s worth asking, just in case. You don’t want to find out that there are no refunds after you’ve already paid for half the project. This is also a good opportunity to find out what happens if the designer requires more than the quoted price to complete your project. A good designer will be upfront with you about any extra costs they anticipate, so you can decide whether or not they’re worth it. In most cases, they are.
Things you should consider hiring a designer
Whether you’re hiring a designer for the first time or you’ve been through the process before, getting started on the right foot is essential to having a positive experience. While there’s no exact formula for what you should be asking, or even if your questions will all be the same, this list can hopefully help you establish rapport and get a feel for whether this person is a good fit.
(1) What is your design philosophy?
This is an opportunity to start looking at common interests and see if they align with what you have in mind. A designer who uses design as a medium to tell a story might be better suited to working with you on branding or print materials than one who focuses on just making things look pretty. This question can also give you insight into how your designer approaches problem-solving—you’ll want someone who’s resourceful and communicates well, so pay attention to how they answer.
(2) What are your favorite projects?
This will give you some indication of how experienced they are and show you that their past work has been successful. You can glean some clues about the kind of thing they do well by looking for patterns between projects that went well and ones that didn’t—it’s not necessarily about seeing which pieces are “good”
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