Maybe you’re a self-published author who needs their first book cover designed. Or perhaps you’re a brand new company in need of a logo. You need a professional graphic designer to take your brand to the next level, but you’re not sure where to start. What makes a “good” design and a “bad” design? What should you watch out for?

I don’t like to use the terms “good” and “bad” when it comes to designs, because those terms are subjective and not very helpful. There are designs that get results and designs that do not.

It’s not just about aesthetics or your personal taste. You want the design to reflect your brand and to clearly communicate how you can help your clients or customers. As a designer, I do my research and create the identity or design that will most likely appeal to your target audience and encourage them to choose your service or product. Sometimes that means going with light green, even though–from a personal standpoint–you’d much prefer dark green. I wouldn’t be doing my job to the best of my ability if I just gave you what you wanted without doing research and letting you know the results. I might be a “creative”, but I’m also a big fan of stats. They give clear direction and they don’t lie (most of the time).

So, where do you even start looking for a professional designer? Check out aiga.com or behance.net. You can locate designers by geographic location or simply browse portfolios and see if a designer’s style speaks to you. Ask your friends, family, or coworkers if they’ve worked with anyone and had successful results.

Once you narrow your search down to a handful of lucky designers, here are 10 questions I recommend asking:

What is your rate?

For those of you on a tight budget, this is the first question you’ll want to ask. If a designer’s rate exceeds your budget, it doesn’t hurt to ask if there is any way to reduce their rate. For example, some designers will offer you a limited use license for a design – meaning you can use it for a specific, agreed upon purpose, but the copyright will not be transferred to you (see copyright question below). Remember: Cheaper isn’t always the best option for you. It’s like any other contractor you hire. I recommend you get at least 3 bids before deciding.

What is your process?

All of us designer types have a process–and that process is as unique as we are. But you want to know if our process works for you. A professional designer should be able to explain their process in detail. I offer free 30-minute phone or Skype consultations to determine whether or not we are a good fit, for example. It’s also a great time to ask the questions below.

Do you have references or previous client work I can see?

Unless you’re working with a newbie just building their portfolio, it’s good if the designer has previous work to show and references they can share. Sometimes this will be former employers and sometimes they have a whole client list readily available on their website. Let’s face it. Sometimes people pad their experience or put up work that isn’t their own. Getting a reference or two will help you verify the designer has the experience they say they do.

How do you go about choosing a design?

A good answer is one that involves the designer doing research and gaining a solid understanding of your target audience before they make a plan for your design.

Why do you think your design idea will appeal to my customers or clients?

Once a designer has come up with an idea, they should be able to explain why it’s the right one for you or your company. Do they have any statistics to share that they came across during their research? Have they had success with clients who offer similar services or products?

Will you be creating all the work or will you be using any stock imagery?

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Using stock imagery in a design is NOT always a bad thing. Sometimes it saves money and time, such as when you need a great image for a brochure.

But using stock imagery isn’t so good when we’re talking about logos or artwork that is part of a corporate identity, in my opinion. For one thing, many stock art sites prohibit the use of any of their art in a trademark, such as a logo. Also, logos and corporate identities should be unique to your brand. This is your corporate identity – the one image that will represent your business wherever you go. That means your logo should be a piece of art that was specifically created for your business and only your business.

I have this really awesome (image, font, illustration, etc) I want to use. Can you incorporate it?

This gets tricky. Do you have the right to use that image or illustration? Did you buy the license from a stock art website? If you’re using a friend’s illustration, do you have their written permission? In general, unless you own the image (as in you created it or own the rights), you shouldn’t use it without permission.

What happens if I don’t like the design?

Well, that’s a bummer. I kid, I kid. This often happens for a few reasons:

  • The vision you laid out for the designer doesn’t look the way you expected it to. For example, maybe you thought ornamental swirls would liven a piece up, but in reality it just looks cheesy.
  • The designer misinterpreted your vision.
  • There was miscommunication on both sides.

This is a great question to ask during the process discussion. For example, I include two mock-ups in my quote, because I’ve been at this long enough to know miscommunications happen, no matter how many questions are asked. Make sure you understand how a designer handles this situation before moving forward on a project.

Who owns the copyright of the design? Can I use it any way I see fit?

That depends on what you agreed to. Designers can transfer the copyright to you or they can license a design to you for a specific purpose and/or time period. If we’re talking about a logo or corporate identity package, it makes sense to fully own the copyright and be able to use it how you see fit. If you’re on a tight budget and need a flyer made for one specific event, it might make more sense to go with a limited used license, where the designer retains the copyright.

That said,  I am not an attorney. In regards to copyrights, you should seek the advice of a licensed attorney to decide what is best for you.

Do you have an agreement/contract?

Some people may think “contracts” or “agreements” are too formal. Some even find them scary. But, in my opinion, a formal agreement is a very good thing. The intent is to outline expectations and  protect BOTH parties. You want your design delivered on time. The designer wants to be paid for that design. A good agreement will typically hold you both to that, in addition to outlining who owns what, the timeline, the designer’s process, what deliverables are expected, how any disputes are handled, and more.

Any questions? Feel free to drop me a line on my contact page.

Disclaimer: These are my opinions. Use the information here at your own risk. I am not an attorney and nothing I say should be taken as legal advice. Please see my website terms and conditions for more information.