Are You Working with a Great Designer? Here are 5 Easy Ways to Tell.

Great designers know that they must uncover the root of the problem to propose a design solution that provides real value. Here’s how they do it.

As a designer, I’m often asked by friends who run startups or small businesses to vet the designer they hired, especially a freelance one. What makes a great designer? Here are 5 important qualities that separate great designers from the rest of the herd.

First of all, keep this in mind:

Great designers are great problem-solvers who happen to have great taste.

Great designers know that they must uncover the root of the problem to propose a design solution that provides real value. They cannot do this by simply taking your brief and start designing right away based on either personal taste or assumptions. Instead, here’s how they do it:

5 Things Great Designers Do

1. They ask in-depth questions about your business.

Great designers recognize that you are the expert of your business. They need to learn relevant information from you before they can start designing, for example:

  • The nature of your business: objectives, problems, long-term vision
  • The brand: key attributes, brand story, unique selling points, message you want to convey
  • The industry: competitors, trends within your product/service category

Great designers are skilled at synthesizing this information into a design solution that helps you achieve your business goals while staying true to your brand and standing out from competitors.

2. They want to understand your users.

Great designers want to know who they’re building for—that is, your target users. They want to ensure that their design can fulfill users’ needs by identifying:

  • The demographics (age, income, education, etc)
  • The psychographics (lifestyle, interests, preferences)
  • The problems users face & what they need to solve these problems

Understanding the users also help streamline a visual style and messaging users can truly relate to.

3. They clarify the success metrics early.

Great designers want to know what their design needs to accomplish to be considered successful. They would clarify how you measure success early on, so that they can create a design that truly adds value.

For example: your main goal is to increase user sign up rate on your website. Great designers would prioritize your business goal by designing a sign up call-to-action section that communicates the values users get by signing up.

4. They involve you in their process.

Great designers become your co-creators. They neither need you to micromanage, nor disappear for a few weeks only to baffle you with a design that’s not all at what you expected.

Great designers are transparent about their process, and they will outline important points up front:

  • Each stage of the process from start to finish
  • The goal of each stage: why it’s necessary and how it will lead to a better end result
  • The deliverables at each stage
  • Your expected involvement at each stage

You can expect to see something like this on their website or in the proposal:

My standard process for designing digital products, e.g. website or app, from discovery to final product.

5. They do not argue on personal taste.

Great designers understand that taste is subjective, and that a successful design takes much more than looking good.

They don’t design based on personal preference. They don’t tell you that your current website looks bad, and then dictate the way it should look because, somehow, being a designer magically equates to having a superior aesthetic.

Great designers focus on the objectives—using design as the means to solve problems for users and achieve business goals.

How can you hire a great designer from the beginning?

Pay attention to their website or portfolio. Look for:

  • Case studies outlining how their design accomplished a goal for a client
  • Design process—how they work on a project from start to finish
  • Reasoning behind their design decisions, not just pretty-looking screens

During the first meeting, pay attention to the questions they ask. Do they ask questions to clarify things, or do they simply say “got it” and want to start right away without an in-depth understanding? Great designers would try to make sure you’re aligned on all points I mentioned above.

You can tell right off the bat which ones are real problem-solvers, and which ones are simply “beautifiers.”


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