Tips for Choosing a Designer

Budget and skill

Good designers can cost anywhere between $25 an hour to hundreds, but don’t make the mistake of only looking at designers in your price range. Luckily, creative folks like these are often attracted to shopping at co-ops. Offering them some cash and a member-share or working-member discount might make working with them a possibility.

Keep in mind too that good designers can come from any background. They may have a degree from the best design school, could come from the local community college or trade-school or might be self-taught and hold no degree at all.

Determine your overall needs

You may be just redesigning your logo now, but this kind of change for a grocery store will inevitably lead to sale signage, deli signage, brochures, your web page, member drive materials, banners, ads and anything else associated with your brand. So you will likely want to find someone who has a well-rounded portfolio. Making a list of your needs and what those projects might also affect will help you make an informed decision both about the designer and whether your budget will support such a project.

When Neighborhood Co-op Grocery was given the opportunity to add their name to their shopping center’s marquee last year, we considered changing our logo’s typeface so it would have more impact on the sign. The typeface we use for our logo had always had issues because of its thin strokes and long descenders and ascenders, but when we realized that this small adjustment to our logo would cost multiple thousands of dollars in redoing all of our large format signs, print materials and daily signage we knew we had to find a compromise. In the end we decided to do the marquee sign in a related typeface that had more weight to it and less height, but the same general characteristics. Not an ideal branding choice, but certainly the best choice given our budget and overall needs at the time.

Review the portfolio

Some designers have specialties, so when evaluating their portfolios keep in mind the style of your store. Finding a designer with a similar aesthetic can save labor hours trying to communicate what you need and want for the project.

Check references

This may seem unnecessary when the designer has a wide variety of clients represented in their portfolio, but checking references is a must. Equally as important as the quality of their designs is their professionalism and how easy they are to work with.

 I did a re-branding project recently for a company who contracted with a friend-of-a-friend designer to create a new website. His portfolio was impressive and displayed the breadth of his talent for simple, yet highly functional and elegant sites. However one week into the project it became clear that his process for working with clients was disorganized and his writing skills were extremely challenged. Had they checked his references they would likely have been told that even the most basic yes or no question typically resulted in several hours long conversations with this designer and that when ever he placed or wrote text content, the syntax and typographical errors were so extensive that proofing took two to three times as long to correct. This seemingly small issue of bad communication and writing skills caused the budget for the project to go heavily into overruns both for that designer, because he underestimated his “process time,” but also for the organization’s labor in dealing with him.

Work style

There are two basic approaches to design work -- the consultant and the “doer.” Designers who take a consultant’s approach to working with clients will not only deliver an end product, but they will also guide you through the process and point out any pitfalls in the choices you might make. The “doer” wants to give you what you ask for and basically get the job done and move on. The consultant approach does take more time, but often the end product is more considered and resolved. The “doer” approach can have fantastic results and save money if you know exactly what you want and have an eye for good design. When looking at designers consider what approach will work best for your store.

Process

Ask the designer to describe her process for the project. This will give you a clear understanding of what to expect and will indicate how experienced and effective she is at organizing their thoughts and processes. Typically the designer will spend a good deal of time at the beginning getting to know you and your business. From there he will put together a design brief outlining the scope of your business, the project and the budget. This may come in the form of something like a contract where, if you agree with the contents of the brief, you sign off and he begins his work. Next she will research your industry and your competitors, including the brands of these entities.  Next, comes the fun part of sketching out the concepts he has developed for you so you can provide feedback and choose a direction.

This is a good time to take a moment to reexamine the goals of the project and whether you are on course. This is also the time to make adjustments, because typically once the direction is chosen you work from there to get to an end product. There is a lot of work that goes into these preceding steps and it is immensely helpful if you have a very clear understanding of what you want so that you don’t terrorize your designer with changes, more changes and then shifting to a different idea altogether later on in the project. This is unfair to you and to the designer.

Once the concept is agreed upon the designer will often develop many concepts of that one idea. He may show you all of these or, more typically, will whittle that number down to just a few of the best designs.  At this point minor changes and tweaks refine the idea and help your resolve the concept to reach your final logo.

While you certainly want to arrive at a logo that you love, reflection really is your best friend in this process. I have heard horror stories from designers about clients who get to the tweaking stage and want to go back to the drawing board because of tiny sticking points such as the shape of the “l” in the typeface they’ve chosen or because Pantone doesn’t make a shade of blue they like. Taking time to reflect on the concept is important. Keeping in mind that no one will ever over-analyze your logo like you are during this process is good too. After all, there are millions of typefaces (your designer can spend days looking at them searching for the perfect one) and Pantone only makes so many colors -- so there are limitations, both budgetary and that of reasonable expectations. Taking time to step back from the ideas presented often helps neutralize these kinds of issues.

Giving room

Designers are creative people, artists even, who often work best when given room to explore. A good designer can certainly churn out what you are asking for, but if given the creative space and appropriate input they can create something you didn’t even know you wanted.

 

 

 

 

See other articles from this issue: #156 September - October - 2011