How to work with a designer

I’ve started you on your jour­ney as a ty­pog­ra­pher. But you may still en­counter a project that’s too large or com­plex to at­tempt on your own. And that day, you may say “per­haps it’s time to hire a de­signer”. If so, some tips.

De­sign­ers are every­where, at every price point. I wish I could say that price and qual­ity cor­re­late. They don’t. But a good de­signer, at what­ever price, is a great asset.

  1. The most com­mon er­ror made by de­sign cus­tomers? Spend­ing too lit­tle time se­lect­ing a de­signer and too much time mi­cro­manag­ing their work.

    In­stead, in­vert the pri­or­ity. Spend all the time you want choos­ing a de­signer. Be can­did about your ex­pec­ta­tions. But then step aside and let the de­signer do their work their way. You’ll get bet­ter results.

  2. These days, any de­cent de­signer has an on­line port­fo­lio. Re­view­ing port­fo­lios is the eas­i­est way to find po­ten­tial de­sign­ers. Ask col­leagues for rec­om­men­da­tions. Or note de­sign work you like, and find out who did it.

  3. There are thou­sands of de­sign­ers out there. This will sound a lit­tle mean, but I think nec­es­sary: if any­thing about a de­signer’s on­line port­fo­lio gives you pause, then move on. In par­tic­u­lar, if a de­signer doesn’t host their own port­fo­lio un­der their own do­main name, it sig­nals lazi­ness or in­ep­ti­tude. Move on.

  4. It’s fine to ask de­sign­ers to show you sam­ples of work they’ve done for sim­i­lar clients. It’s also fine to ask for a de­tailed pro­posal with de­liv­er­ables and bud­get. It’s wise to ne­go­ti­ate a fair pro­ce­dure for can­cel­ing the project be­fore the end (e.g., a pro rata kill fee).

    But don’t ask for dis­counts or spec work. That just makes you look like an ir­ri­tat­ing cheap­skate. At the bot­tom of this bar­rel are those who fur­ther in­sist “this project will be great exposure”.

  5. It can be con­ve­nient to work with a lo­cal de­signer. But it’s hardly manda­tory. De­sign­ers to­day are com­fort­able work­ing re­motely and email­ing ideas and proofs. In­deed, if you live out­side a ma­jor city, a re­mote de­signer is prob­a­bly inevitable.

    It used to be that if you were work­ing on a print project, it could be an ad­van­tage to work with a lo­cal de­signer. They’d of­ten know of good lo­cal print­ers. But these days, print­ing is also done re­motely. So this mat­ters less.

  6. Test all de­sign work in con­text be­fore ap­prov­ing it. For in­stance, if you hire a de­signer to make let­ter­head, al­ways test sam­ple de­signs by print­ing out a real let­ter, or have the de­signer mock one up. Like­wise, for a web­site, in­sist on some real HTML pages, not a Pho­to­shop prototype.

  7. Con­sen­sus kills. If you work with oth­ers, ap­proval au­thor­ity for de­sign work should be vested in the small­est pos­si­ble group of peo­ple. And def­i­nitely not sub­ject to pop­u­lar vote. You’ll never please every­one, so there’s no point in trying.

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