How to Hire a Graphic Designer – 9 Questions to Ask

It may be easy to find programmers or coders online but hiring a graphic designer is ten times more difficult. So what questions do you ask potential graphic designers in order to find the perfect person for your new project?

questions graphic designer

But wait! Before you reach for your phone, look at the designer’s website to see if (s)he has done similar work to what you want doing first. That done, here are some questions to ask:

1. Have you done this type of work before?

Even though you know this designer’s work, it’s a good idea to ask them this question anyway. A designer may have created the type of website you’re looking to build, but have they worked in your particular niche before? That would be a useful talking point.

Ask for samples of work that may be particularly pertinent to your project. Most designers will have work that isn’t in their portfolio but may be much more relevant to you.

2. What processes will you use?

What steps and stages are involved in the design? How many revisions? You should be able to get firm answers to this sort of question. Avoid anyone who is completely vague about this.

3. How long will it take?

Although the answer to this question will generally depend on you, the client, the designer should be able to give you a rough estimate of the amount of time to complete all the stages that were elicited in the previous question.

You should not only want to know how long the project will take but also if the designer has the time to do it.

4. How much is it going to cost?

There are many different ways to charge for design work. Smaller jobs maybe charged by the hour. Whereas designers may prefer to give an estimated fee for larger projects.

If given a fixed fee also ask for the hourly rate and see how they compare.

5. Are we going to have a contract?

Most designers will prefer to draw up a contract for new clients. The contract should benefit both parties as it will specify the various stages and deliverables of the project as well as the payment deadlines.

There may be clauses in the contract to stipulate what happens if the project is stopped before completion as well as information on who retains copyright or ownership of the designs. Which brings me on to my next question…

6. Who will own the copyright?

Typically, the designer will retain the copyright to any work unless it is signed over to the client in the contract. Most designers will be happy to do this.

Legal tussles can ensue as a result of lack of contract and copyright agreement but they are extremely rare. The most important thing is communication, and this brings me on to my next question…

7. Do you understand the purpose of this project?

Many clients will say what they want without explaining why they want it. It is essential that a web designer, for example, understands the purpose of the website. Otherwise they’re just making it look pretty – and that’s not design.

8. Can you meet in person?

It is always better to talk face-to-face rather than on the phone but the designer’s time is precious. Make an effort to meet the designer near or at their place and buy them a coffee.

Try to find out their core values as a designer and see if they resonate with what you’re trying to build.

9. What’s your gut instinct?

At the end of the day we are human beings and we make decisions emotionally. Sometimes rightly; sometimes wrongly. But, usually, it’s better to go with your heart than with your head when hiring designers.

What can you do?

Remember to do your homework when hiring designers:

  • Research their websites and previous work to see if they may be a good fit for you
  • Think through the project to decide what you need and why you need it
  • Communicate the above to the designer in an email before the conversation

And, designers, make sure you have good answers for the above.

Thanks go to Cheryl Picket on Google+ and the In-House Designers group on LinkedIn for ideas.

Did this help you? If so, please share!

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  1. says

    Good post Rob.

    There are a lot of people claiming to be designers who in fact lack the knowledge and skills to complete a lot of projects that clients may have. I don’t mean to knock them but asking these sorts of questions can help you spot someone who’s perhaps a little too inexperienced to complete more specialist projects.

    From a designer’s perspective I always ensure I know as much about a project as I can before I commit to it. I’m up for a challenge but if work is out of my field or something I know I’m not able to complete I’m happy to admit this and pass the work on. This is also the case if I know I’ll be too busy. I’d much rather turn down a job at the start than get half way through and end up letting a client down.

    If possible I prefer to meet a client face-to-face so that I can get an understanding of a project directly and am able to ask questions on the fly. It also builds a relationship and helps with point 9, giving you an idea of wether or not you and the client are compatible.

    • says

      Thanks, Paul. I agree, if you ask someone about the processes that will be involved in the project and you don’t get a good answer – there’s a red flag right there.

      I think you’re right to turn down certain jobs – I do that as well. Thanks a lot, Paul.

  2. says

    In an expansion to #7: See if they can provide a workflow.

    When I was doing draft work for my old company – it was a world of difference when we actually sat down, mulled over every little detail, wire framed, and created a workflow for the projects.

    I know a lot of designers that dive right in – hoping for the best – and expecting their client to immediately love it. Unfortunately, everyone thinks different and you can’t rightly expect the design to be what they want without asking the important questions and detailing the work flow.

    • says

      Absolutely, Murray, providing a workflow can save a ton of time on big projects. I was guilty of “diving in expecting my client to immediately love it” a few years ago. Lesson learned. Thanks a lot. :)

  3. says

    I have a question on copyright. You said “Most designers will be happy to” sign over the rights. Now, I generally work with larger companies and have to sign their contract – they insist on it. But there was a lively discussion on LinkedIn where the designers were saying it’s (basically) stupid to give rights unless you charge double for it. So I felt like a dummy for being OK with it. But you feel this is common?

    I know that if I want to take on new, small biz clients, I’m going to have to get very organized with all this stuff. I prefer working with the big guns who are already savvy to how all this works. I’m in some sort of transition right now and not sure where I’m headed 😉

    • says

      I would preface this answer with the “I’m not a legal expert” caveat. But I think designers can expect a fee to sign over copyright – whether it should be double is a matter for the designers and clients to hammer out.

      Even if you are doing work for a big client, sometimes contracts and copyright aren’t even discussed in my experience (in the UK) and there are no problems. I do this on a client by client basis. It’s very much up to their expectations.

      Hope this helps, Louise.

  4. says

    Very useful questions that would have come in handy when I recently hired a graphic designer. Fortunately it all turned out well but I plan to save this for future use. Thanks for the post.

  5. says

    If only clients DID ask these kind of questions. I find myself trying to teach these workflows, explain the rounds of revisions and the like… sigh. For #8 – a lot of us work remotely; a FaceTime or Skype chat could also qualify as a coffee consultation. And #5 – that’s a red flag to me if a potential client doesn’t expect there to be a contract.

    The other factor is much of this falls on the freelancer (design or writing or web) to determine. It’s not just a matter of doing what the client says they want, but what they NEED to achieve their goals. YES it’s important to establish timelines and budgets upfront, but also crucial to manage expectations; if the deadlines and budget aren’t gonna get the job done, then the consultant needs to say so. That’s part of what I do; yes I write, design but I also plan, advise and develop overall communications strategies to make those projects work. It’s a two-way conversations, and asking/answering questions like these are a big step in the right direction. FWIW.

    • says

      Really insightful comment, Davina. See I agree, this applies as much to the freelancer (or the designer, writer, developer who is working for a company, be it their own or someone else’s) as to the client.

  6. says

    What a great, concise guide Rob. I wish I could have this handed to every client BEFORE they picked up the phone to me.

    Davina, you are so right about #5. Many years ago in my early days of freelancing I got burned once (and it only takes once) by a ‘client’ who I put good faith in and didn’t get them to sign in. Never again. Its the same as backing up your files, you only make that mistake once.

    Now I have a rather finely-tuned alarm in my head, developed over many years, about that certain type of client who includes phrases such as ‘If this is a success there’s alot more to come’ (there isn’t), ‘Can you just prepare some concepts for me to see before I commit’ (erm, no) and that old beauty from clients new, old and future ‘Could you just…’ (translates as could you just do this for free) – Erm, no again.

    Interested to read further posts from you Rob., Good work fella :)

    • says

      You have your “finely-tuned alarm” I have my “red flags” and they appear to be activated for the same reasons. ‘Could you just’ also infers that the task isn’t difficult, well, if it’s not difficult don’t get a designer to do it! Yes, we’ve all had these ‘clients’. There’s a lot on this site for graphic designers who are running their own business, Jim, I hope you get to enjoy the content here. All the best! :)

  7. Brian says

    I’d like to point out that although finding a programmer may seem easy, most programmers are completely useless. It is much easier for a potential client to access a designer’s competence than it is for them to assess that of a programmer.

    • says

      Good point, Brian, I guess I was being presumptuous thinking getting a programmer was easy. I’ve been lucky getting coders from oDesk, etc., as you can see how they’ve done in previous jobs and how they’ve been rated, etc. But I take your point it can be difficult finding good programmers.