5 questions to ask a designer before hiring one

what to ask before you hire a designer
what to ask before you hire a designer

If you're like many people, your first place to go for advice when you need to hire someone is to your friends, colleagues, or peers. While you may get some great recommendations, your research should not stop there.

I'm often surprised when I get an inquiry from a business owner who was referred to me by a friend or one of my former clients who has not first visited my website to check out my portfolio. There are many graphic designers out there, each with a different viewpoint, meaning there is someone for everyone. However, beyond determining their design skill level, you should consider things like how they communicate, what their rates are, and how well they stick to timelines.

When you make the investment in design for your business, it's important to ask lots of questions to make sure someone is the right fit for you and your brand. Start with these five questions to determine if a graphic designer is a good fit for you:

How would you describe your design style?

Above all else, I find this question to be of utmost importance. Someone may say she specializes in your niche, such as web design for restaurant owners, but if you look at her portfolio and see that all those restaurants are bright and colorful while you want something moody and sleek, it could be an issue. It's true that some designers work well in a variety of styles, but if you're working with an individual {as opposed to a design firm that would have many styles on staff}, I strongly recommend seeing if that designer's work resonates with you in style.

You may not be sure exactly what aesthetic is right for your brand, or be able to articulate what style you want, and that is totally fine! But, you should look at the designer's work that you are considering and get a good, excited feeling about the work they've already done.

What is your preferred communication style like?

You will have to go through lots of back and forth while working with a designer, and it makes a great difference if you are on the same page from the start about how to share information. Many designers have specific business hours during which they answer emails, they may or may not accept texts, or they may request all communication stay on a platform like Basecamp or Asana.

If you're someone who thrives on sending Facebook messages at midnight on a Saturday, you should make sure you find a designer who is okay with that. Or, if you're someone who takes a week to answer an email, talk to your designer about that and brainstorm the best way to keep in touch. Be open with how you best communicate, and you'll have a more effective working relationship.

On what timeline would you be able to complete this project?

Some designers book as they find work that is a good fit and can start a project quickly. Others book several months out and will require you to reserve a spot in advance. Can you wait a little while to work with the designer who is the best fit to design your logo & branding? Do you have a specific launch date goal for your new website? Answer all these questions up front so you know what timeframe you are proposing to your designer, and whether you have any flexibility or not.

If you need something in a hurry (like a logo with a week or a business card design yesterday ;) ) be prepared that a rush fee may apply. You might also ask how well a designer is able to stick to timelines and if staying on track is a priority in projects.

What will my responsibilities include as the client?

This is another scenario where defining expectations will help the project run more smoothly. Many designers will ask you to fill out a questionnaire to get the project started. You will likely need to give feedback on design rounds and share your thoughts. A good designer will do everything she can to get to know and understand your brand, and you should expect to help her do so.

Designers are not mind readers, so they will need at least some input from you along the way. If you're someone who considers yourself "very busy" and you don't want to have to answer questions throughout the project, you'll want to let your designer know that, or, even better, delegate a person on your team to be a point person for project communication. Conversely, if you're someone who tends to be quite eager and wants to be kept in the loop daily about the progress, you'll want to make sure you find a designer with that communication style.

What are your rates?

It's important that you work with someone who fits your budget. Rates usually reflect the designer's expertise and experience, and you can find rates anywhere from $50 for a logo in an Etsy shop up to a $10,000 {or more!} branding suite. Design is definitely a worthy investment in your business, and you tend to get what you pay for, but staying realistic about what you can afford is the responsible thing to do as a business owner.

The overarching lesson here is that clear communication and honesty are the cornerstones of a good designer/client experience. Both sides should state expectations and remain upfront about what they need to do their best work. What have you found helpful to ask a designer before working with him or her?