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Graphic Designers: How to spot a good one in the wild

Over the last few years, I've done quite a bit of work for people who had been elsewhere first and had a less-than-satisfactory experience with their original designer. Issues vary from lack of communication by the designer, to their designer just not understanding the brief, and in some cases the designer being so stubborn and pig-headed about what they want to provide the client, that the client ends up paying a fortune for something they strongly dislike or can't even use.

Working with a designer should never ever be like this, and if any of this is sounding familiar, I urge you to hit the eject button right now! Run, while there's still time! 

A great designer doesn't want you to just like your logo, brochure or business card (or at worst, simply tolerate it). They want you to Love. It. To. Bits. They want you to keep nipping back to your computer to have another look because, just quietly, you can't get enough of it! You can't contain that goofy grin that creeps across your face every time you look at, because it's your business identity and you had direct input into how it was shaped especially for you.

So if you're hoping to experience something in the love-it-to-bits ballpark, and you're hunting down a graphic designer to start this happy journey, how do you spot a good one?
It's not always easy. It's a bit like being at a fruit stand with your hand on a grapefruit and trying to make decision based on appearances. Just say you've never tried grapefruit before. Some people rave about grapefruits in general, so you decide to give it a try. But how do you know you've got a good one? From the outside it's really hard to tell what you're getting. I mean, it looks okay. It feels kinda right. Other people are buying them. But it's not until you get it home, peel off the skin and sink your teeth into it that you find out you don't really care for this particular grapefruit at all. In fact, you pretty much hate it. You wonder, 'Geez, is this what ALL grapefruits are like? 'Cos if this is what grapefruit's all about, I am steering clear of it for the rest of my natural life! And then some.' How could you possibly know up front whether or not you had a good one?

Unless you do a bit of homework on graphic designers, you could pick up the world's biggest sour dud and then feel you need to follow through with the damn thing because you already forked out the money to pay for it. But how could you know? What could you have done differently? 

I won't pretend to be an expert on, well, anything really. But I can give you some tips on what I would do if I was hunting for a graphic designer. And this information is based on a wonderful network of designers I know who are not only lovely and crazy-talented, but highly professional and original in their work (y'all know who you are!). 

So here's some tips if you're out there and looking (no carnations or blind dates required)...

Word-of-mouth recommendations
Easily the best way of finding a great designer. Just ask around - you'll soon hear about who had a great experience, and who is still suffering post-traumatic stress disorder in a padded room somewhere. Ask on forums, Facebook, real-life networking, the hairdressers, the pub, anywhere! People who have had a great
experience are usually very forthcoming and want to recommend their designer on as another way of saying thanks for a job well done.

Contact other businesses whose branding appeals to you
Be upfront and contact another business asking for their designer's details. If you're feeling brave, ask your competitors too (although they may not want to share their designer with you!) Or if you're feeling shy, check out the websites you admire for a link to their designer somewhere on their site, or perhaps a plug or mention on their Facebook page.

Look through a designer's body of work
You know that saying: 'Variety is the spice of life' ? It couldn't be more important when it comes to a designer's portfolio. Check out what they've done recently. Are they versatile? Scroll through their logo designs, and if you start to see a pattern
a recurrence of similar fonts, characters, graphics, and colours in every single logo, it's a bit of a warning sign that they aren't very versatile and yours could end up looking similar to a whole bunch of other businesses out there. It could also mean that particular designer will probably do what they want for your logo, instead of what you want. Find someone with a varied portfolio of high quality work, because it demonstrates they are capable of tailoring their ideas to individual clients' needs.

Ask up front what you will get for your money
Enquire with designers about their terms, how many concepts and revisions you'll get for your money, and if an extra fee is charged for work above and beyond this. It's also worth asking about turnaround times and start dates in case you book in and pay a deposit, and then find out your designer can look at your logo concepts shortly after hell freezes over.

How do they communicate?
Do they respond to your enquiries in a timely manner? (Bearing in mind that designers, like everyone else, enjoy family time on weekends). Do you have to follow up every single email or chase them constantly for responses? How do they communicate on their Facebook business page? Do they respond to enquiries on their page and interact with clients? Do you feel comfortable in your correspondence with them, or like you'd rather stab yourself in the eyeball with a dirty pen? Communication is the key when it comes to the designer/client relationship, so if it feels stunted and painful from the get-go, chances are it ain't gonna improve much!

In the words of Dennis Denuto: 'It's the vibe of the thing'.

If things are feeling awkward (and they never should be AT ALL), then you should probably save yourself the trouble and get out while you can. You want to be thrilled with what your designer comes up with so you can be excited about your business and move forwards with confidence.

Hopefully this will go some ways into helping you pick a sweetie from a sour dud. Good luck out there in the crazy big fruit stand that is the online business world!
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