How To Choose A Reliable Design Partner

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In our 6 years of running Brew Creative, we’ve met many business owners who didn’t have any prior experience working with a designer. They’ve never worked on any branding, print or web design projects.

Some lamented that their first experience with a designer was less than pleasant. One prospect was still waiting for the completion of her e-commerce website after 2 years, and the designer had begun to go M.I.A. Others were not given any options at all with the designs, and felt like it was a ‘take it or leave it’ situation.

To save you some heartache (and tearing your hair out), here’s our buyer-beware guide on how to choose a reliable design partner:

1. Prepare a design brief.

How do you know what to look for, when you don’t know what you want?

Design projects are based on work scope and don’t come as a flat fee, so you’ll need to provide a basic design brief. It creates an outline and some clarity on what you want to achieve. It should cover:

  • Type of project: Is it a logo design, a brochure design or a website?
  • Purpose/objective: Is it for general brand awareness, a product launch or a special offer?
  • Where/how will the design be used: Is it for a tradeshow/event, or for door-to-door sales?
  • When do you need the project to be completed: The answer always seems to be ‘yesterday’!

2. Ask for recommendations.

Put your networks to good use! Ask around for design agency recommendations — you’re bound to find a few contacts who have hired one for various projects. The clearer you are about what you want, the easier it’ll be to be specific about the experience the design agency needs to have. Most design firms will have a forte or clear specialisations. Be sure to highlight what you want to your contacts, e.g. “I need a design agency that works extensively with SMEs.”

Do ask about the overall experience, and what they liked about the design agency.


3. Check out the portfolio and references.

Assess the portfolio based on range of design style, range of industries covered, aesthetic value and practical application. You may also want to ask if the agency has any additional work that they would like to show you that’s relevant to your design brief.


4. Keep an eye on response time.

This is a clear indication of how they will be corresponding with you when you are a client. To be fair, allow up to 3 to 5 working days for a response to your initial contact. If you don’t hear back by then, don’t bother — why should you when they clearly won’t?


5. Meet face-to-face.

Who likes to go on a blind date? Probably not many people. Whenever possible, meet the people you’ll be working with in person — human dynamics play a huge part in the outcome of your project. If the designer is based overseas, there are always tools like Facetime or Skype.

Find out if you’ve got a good rapport with the project manager or designer. There’s nothing more painful than being an awkward penguin for the duration of your working relationship!


6. Ask about the work process.

Projects flow better and produce better results when you have a better understanding of the work process. A good design agency will take the time to share and educate you about this, as it builds a stronger working relationship.

You may also want to ask if the work is going to be done in-house, or if parts of it will be outsourced. This is important to know as you’ll want to know how outsourced contractors are going to be managed for reliability.


7. Don’t hire based on price alone.

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned the scenarios that some of our contacts have experienced. They made the mistake of being blinded by the attractive price tag without doing the other necessary checks.

Don’t let the price be the governing factor on your decision-making, even if you’re on a tight budget, or you may end up paying in other ways.

“There are two piles of poop. One is a dollar and the other is fifty cents. Which do you want?”– Vicki Lew, Firestarter at Brew Creative.


8. What are you paying for?

When asking for a quote, be sure that there is a breakdown of the scope of work and deliverables, so you can be clear on what you will and will not receive. Read the fine print of the contract, so that everyone is on the same page before moving forward.

Typically you’ll be expected to pay a downpayment prior to commencement of work. The amount may vary — you should be able to negotiate a win-win fee schedule that both parties are comfortable with.

Upon final payment, you should receive the deliverables highlighted in the agreement.

So there you have it, a quick guide to engaging your design partner! If you’ve got any questions or design needs, please feel free to drop me an email, or tweet us @iheartbrew.

This post was also published on ExecutiveLifestyle.sg