8 things to look for in a graphic designer

Are you looking for the holy grail? Is what you want out there? A graphic designer with relevant experience, an understanding and sensitivity for your work and that something indefinable, an edge that will make you and your business really shine?

Here’s a set of 8 top tips and aspects to look for when appointing a freelance graphic designer or design agency to carry out your work.

The brief is simple, you need a new visual identity, a brochure, a website, a promotional campaign or just a quick clean and polish for the business and you need a whiter smile.

The road to delivering these things has historically been an expensive problem… and nowadays there are so many individuals out there, presenting themselves as super professional graphic designers, there is so much apparent talent, but how do you compare or screen them, where do you start and what do you do?

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author and he would like to offer an open minded, open armed approach to any feedback or errors he may have made in the attempt provide an entertaining read.


1. It’s all about business.
2. Attitude and Manner.
3. Motivation.
4. Skills and Expertise.
5. The Business.
6. Process and Approach.
7. Personal Qualities.
8. Portfolio.


1. It’s all about business:

It’s all about which type of business you are looking at.
Freelance designers and design agencies fall into several categories along a spectrum from the hard nosed commercial providers and agency style brusque of a team of specialists and marketing professionals through the hard working ‘earnest principled’ individual seeking constant improvement to those preoccupied with a pretty appearance and inappropriate glitter.

Regardless of whether you can apply a label to the person or team you are looking at, the lowest common denominator is simple. Are they in the business you are in? Do they get what you do? Do they have commercial experience in your field? Do they understand sales and marketing? Do they have an understanding of, or a likelihood to learn about, your market? Can they write a headline or make a sales offering look great without cheapening tactics?

Many designers work for charitable organisations, non profit making bodies, the government and councils. I gratefully count myself in this bracket and can confidently say that they are as business like as any other commercial business with a public facing product or service at its core.

2. Attitude and Manner:

There is a saying… people don’t always buy the portfolio, people buy the person?

You might be in this relationship a long time. OK, there are no formal divorce papers as in a conventional marriage, but any relationship entered into may be messy getting out of, so invest your time wisely.

Designers will be going through the same thought processes.

It is all about personalities and whether they fit. Can you see yourself working with this person or persons? A solid understanding will lead to confidence and a more productive and creative working environment, which in turn will lead to more on the nail marketing material and ultimately improved sales and profitability.

All this might sound familiar?

It’s all about mutual respect. If you don’t respect the clients work then it won’t work
and if the client doesn’t respect your work it won’t work either.

3. Motivation

Your goals and ambitions versus the agency or individuals’ goals and ambitions.

I have always seen designers on a spectrum from the fully artistic to the fully commercial with a majority sitting somewhere in the middle with differing degrees of each skill set.

The artists’ goals and ambitions may include, in their purest form, a strong desire to create a masterpiece, a jaw dropping work of total originality that will change the face of modern contemporary art. Ask them.
The full on commercial agency and designers will be driven by a need to deliver a great service and a product that will do the job and impress you and the customers as well as improving sales and driving your business forward. But you will be paying for it.

Basically it’s horses for courses. So have a good look at your needs and budget expectations before appointing. Ask plenty of questions in advance and get a written quotation including hourly and day rates.

Note: Artistically biased designers, especially the talented ones, also know how to charge. So there are no hard and fast rules which brings me onto the next point.

4. Skills and Expertise

The craft, the art and the talent. The Relevant skills and Areas of expertise to look at…

Visualisation, Ideation, Creation and Production:

Page layout.
Fonts and type.
Image editing including Photoshop.
Artwork and illustration.
Software for 3D modelling.

Specific and specialist skills and expertise:

Website design.
Apps design.
User experience and user behaviour psychology.
Identities, logos and brand development.
Poster and illustration design.
Brochure, magazine and book production.
Campaign creation, advertising and promotion.
Exhibition and museum interpretation and design.
Product and packaging design.
Conceptual art.

Additional skills and expertise usually brought into a design agency include:

Copywriting and headline writing.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it might prove useful to get a broad outline of the various disciplines on offer or identify what you are looking for.

5. The Business

The actual business and the practicalities of the set up.

It might be worth looking at the management, services and commitment to the individual or companies mission and perhaps considering background checks and looking at the financial implications and cost of supporting the services you need from the business if it is relevant.

6. Process and Approach

This is the major area where designers and agencies may vary and differ.

There is a straightforward, tried and tested process, project delivery system and managed approach to delivering the most complicated work from brief to delivery.

These are all put in place mostly to ensure consistent communication and client liaison. Most agencies still lose most clients due to poor communication or complacency. Corners could be cut, of course, on smaller project management needs but approaches to the creative process will vary with almost every individual and agency.

These different approaches are the different ways of tackling your need or problem and the mental stratagems of looking at what is required. Years of experience has thrown out a few nuggets of wisdom.

‘It’s all about the mind set’

You may have a fixed mind set and are determined to prove yourself right all the time and often life becomes one great self fulfilling prophecy and you feel brilliant that you stuck to your guns and the business is thriving as a result of your stubbornness. However creative professionals may be different!

Great designers, artists and creative individuals all have one thing in common.

They have a strong sense of questioning, a restless heart that is always asking – how can that be better or different? An open minded approach a constant state of learning, developing and improving.  It’s called a growth mind set by the psychologists.

But… It’s actually all about the questions.

The greater the quality of questioning and the more thorough it’s follow up, the more likely the quality of the final product. The final product is all in the planning and foundation work, the questioning and reasoning, the research and analysis.  A great product, focussed and aimed at a specific audience.

If the goal is a headline that strikes home and a design which evokes a positive emotional or memorable response then this is more likely to be delivered with a thorough working process and approach that covers all the bases. Then of course there’s no accounting for the supreme power of the human mind to process this requirement and deliver greatness in an instant. This is a rare event and proper process will usually guarantee more consistent results without the hit and miss nature of waiting for an inspired moment.

That said many of the most memorable advertising and creative works of recent years have been art directors delivering greatness taking a bath, watching a sunset or a movie.

7. Personal Qualities

A few essential personal qualities to look for…

Again tricky under the pressure of a deadline or limited time allowance, but a patient attitude can be managed even when you only have one day to produce. A lot of confidence and self belief that the best work will come if you go down a certain road will help. But time will always be a number one need and as with the size of a suitcase, will always be filled.
A determination to keep pushing to find elegance, refinement. The rule of the greatest design is that where there is nowt left to take owt or that of ‘less is more’.
This is pretty self explanatory but important. Self discipline and organised professional behaviour will always be necessary to get a complicated task done on time and on brief.
Design and contemporary awareness and knowledge of what’s current, trending new and happening will always serve a designer well. A good designer won’t be able to help themselves here and spend their every waking moment scanning and note taking on every sign, notice, magazine, app, website, billboard, book that comes within half a mile of their computer screen weary gaze.
Ability to sell.
This might be an arguable point. But a designer who cannot sell themselves may not be as readily able to sell your product or service off the page? They may however have other great skills that compensate such as genius level visualisation skills and art direction capacity to deliver an award winning video.

8. Portfolio


As good a portfolio as necessary to convince you they can do the job asked of them and if this number one tick doesn’t do the job you can run through the above.

If you would like to see my portfolio – I would welcome any opportunity to show you.

Thanks for reading.

Mob: 07515 903173


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