How to find and work with a graphic designer

beth mende conny graphic designer

Source: flickr Creative Commons

Looks matter.
The design of our books, brochures, Web sites and stationery tells others who we are—personally and professionally. That’s why it’s critical that we find just the right graphic designer to create just the right image for our material.

But where and how do we find such a talented soul? And what can we do, as clients, to keep our projects on track and within budget?

As the founder of, I work with dozens of individuals aiming to get their varied projects into print. I also work with numerous designers, who help my clients and students accomplish their goals. Over the years, I’ve learned much about how—and how not—to work with these talented folks. Let me share this knowledge here so you can flatten your learning curve and save a few bucks in the process.

Know what you want.
That may sound obvious, but it’s a bit more involved than you think. Say you want to create a brochure to promote your business. You’ve got to be able to tell the designer what size it should be in terms of dimensions, folds and/or pages. Will it be a self-mailer, have photos, be one-, two- or even six-color, etc.? What kind of paper do you want? What is the look and feel you need to communicate? In short, you’ve got to nail your concept before anything else.

Collect samples.
Become a pack rat, at least temporarily. Pick up samples of publications that have elements you’d like to incorporate in your project: books with great layouts, business cards with interesting logos, ads with eye-catching type. These will help you better understand your options and literally show a designer what you want.

Be prepared to pay.
Another obvious point, yet the cost of design work catches many of us by surprise. What we think is a simple job often is a lot more complicated and, thereby, costly. Design, after all, is not a matter of throwing a bunch of type and pictures on a page. Designers have spent years learning and perfecting their craft, not to mention keeping up with technological advances. Like lawyers, doctors and CPAs, they’re professionals, so be prepared to pay them accordingly.

Start your search.
Graphic designers are everywhere; nonetheless, finding the right one can take a bit of time. Get recommendations from friends and colleagues. Thumb through the Yellow Pages. Get leads from those who work with designers: printers, ad agencies, public relations firms, etc. Surf the Internet. Call the organizations whose publications you admire and get the names of their designers.

Review portfolios.
Most graphic designers work on a wide variety of projects and can create different “looks” for different clients. Other designers specialize (e.g., they do Web sites only) or have a particular style that may or may not work for you. Peruse the designer’s portfolio to get a gut sense of his or her work. Just a few years ago, you could only do this in person. Today, you can use of the Internet to view the work of more technologically savvy designers.

Spell it all out.
Once you’ve narrowed the field of designers or have chosen the one you most want to work with, it’s time to get specific. Here’s where you share your “specs,” meaning project specifications. You’ll tell the designer what you want, and he or she will tell you how much it will cost and how long it will take to complete it. Know that this isn’t an exact science. Still, if you follow the steps below it should keep you in the ballpark.

Make sure you’re compatible.
Compatibility is only partly personal. Sure you want to like and work well with your designer, but there’s more involved. Your computer software, files and systems also need to be compatible. This may or may not be a complicated business, so make it your business to work such issues out beforehand. And while you’re at it, make sure your designer is compatible with the company doing your printing if you’re the one who will oversee production.

Decide on who will oversee printing.
Designers usually have particular printers they work with. From experience they know that certain printers are better than others for specific projects and that some are more reasonably priced. Because of these established relationships, communications between designer and printer are often seamless, person to person and computer to computer. Consider this before shopping your job around to other printers. Sure, you may be able to get a better price elsewhere, but that savings will quickly disappear should the project hit technological snags.

Stick to the plan.
If you want your designer to keep on track, don’t change the course and scope of the project midstream or after reviewing the designer’s proofs. There will be frustration all around. The designer will then have to go back to the drawing board, and you’ll have to go back to your pocketbook to pay for additional work. Now that doesn’t mean you have to accept (or pay for) work that’s inferior or misses the mark. It does mean, however, that you really need to pay heed to the points above.

Pay on time.
Again, graphic designers are professionals. They expect and deserve prompt payment for their services. And don’t forget to say thanks. The best way to do this? Send other clients their way.


  1. Ready to Self-publish? Follow These Five Guidelines | Write Directions Blog and Podcast - January 16, 2014

    […] As with a printer, you must choose a graphic designer carefully. For tips on how to do so, refer to my article “How to Choose—and Work with—a Graphic Designer”. […]

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