In Business

6 Tips for Hiring the Right Design Firm

What’s in a picture? More specifically, how can an experienced designer help your company establish a brand and image best suited to your target audience? Whether you’re a small, start-up with only basic needs or a larger company with a major, new project, finding and hiring the right design firm can seem intimidating. You may have heard, or even experienced, nightmare scenarios of designers who are unreachable once they have a deposit or who send bills for far more than the agreed-upon price. However, finding the right fit means you’ll develop a strategic partnership with a firm or individuals who are as committed to your success as you are. You want to work with designers who understand that meeting your needs will become a win-win for everyone.

1. Ask For Referrals

This is a great time to reach out to your network of colleagues and friends, particularly if they have had design work done that you admire. Ask them about their experience with the process — were the designers easy to work with, communicative, timely, honest — and are these clients happy with the results?

Don’t be too concerned if the recommendation comes from an industry different from your own. A good design firm will learn about your business, your company and its goals, regardless of whether your product is socks or financial services.

2. Start Early, Especially For Large Projects

The right firm must get to know you, so don’t wait until the last minute to hire someone. You’re spending time and effort to build your business or launch your next project, so don’t leave design until the last minute or treat it as an add-on. Well thought-out, strategic, creative production should be an integral part of the development process and requires time. The best design is created through a collaboration with everyone involved in the project.

Waiting to start until the eleventh hour also leaves you at the mercy of who’s available on short notice, or worse, a firm that promises to drop work for existing clients to fit you in. That may be fine when you’re the one getting priority treatment, but not if you’re the existing client. Ideally, someday you’ll be that existing client and you’ll want a firm that values you for the long term.

3. Assess Your Needs Upfront

Do you “just need business cards,” or do you really need a whole identity package with a logo, branding guideline, stationery, email signatures, and possibly a PowerPoint template or two? Consistency is a key element here. Websites, at the very least, require well-written content, logos, and compelling visuals. And your website may need to do a great deal more. Do you have those elements now, or should they be developed? Will this be a one-off project, or will you have ongoing needs?

Have a realistic assessment of all aspects regarding your project so you’ll be better equipped to ask the right questions when interviewing potential design partners. In turn, you’ll have better answers for their questions, too. This helps you set timelines and expectations, both internally and with the firm you select.

4. Ask And Answer Lots Of Questions

Chances are, you may not be familiar with what to expect when working with a firm, so go ahead and ask! Just as designers aren’t experts in your field, they don’t expect you to be specialists in theirs. If you don’t understand something, ask. Learn about their process, experience, and professional affiliations (AIGA and the Graphic Arts Guild are the two largest in the U.S.). Do they have a good track record with other clients? Ask for referrals, particularly if they’ve done projects for a client with needs similar to yours.

A good design firm will have many questions for you, too, from broad inquiries about missions and goals to specifics about the target audience, any existing branding, timelines, competitors, and budgets. If you aren’t sure of the answers, be honest and realize that getting that information may be part of the process.

5. Price Quotes: It’s Not Earl Scheib!

Don’t be surprised if you don’t get an immediate, definitive answer to, “How much is a ______ (brochure, website, etc.)?” Most often, you’ll get clarifying questions in return – and that’s meant to set parameters, not to be cagey. It’s similar to asking, “How much is a car?” Well, that depends; are you in the market for a used Yugo or a new Bugatti? Will your new website be two or three simple, informational pages or a 500-page eCommerce site? The cost is based entirely upon the project’s scope.

Similarly, asking for your budget range isn’t based on greed. It helps the design team make decisions to keep within that range. There’s no point in showing you options for high-end, specialty papers and printing if your project budget covers only 100 prints at the local copy center.

6. Trust Your Instincts

Choosing a design firm should be similar to selecting any other service partner. Do you feel comfortable with them? Do you communicate well with them? Are you being heard? Do they respond promptly? Are they asking the right questions? Are they honest and reliable?

Remember, your success is their success — and vice versa. Finding the right design firm means you’re adding a strategic partner to help your creative and marketing team become even more effective.

This article also appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Women Lead Magazine.

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