Course Content

Total learning: 27 lessons / 4 quizzes Time: 6 weeks

Hiring a Graphic Designer

Hiring a Graphic Designer

Video: Top Qualities of a Graphic Designer to Look for Length: 10:41 min

Together in this module we’ll discuss tips to look for when hiring a Graphic Designer to choose the best candidate for you.

At first glance the top qualities of a successful designer to look for are:

  • Passion for design
  • Strong business acumen
  • Inquisitive learner
  • Confident and assertive visionary
  • Strong communication skills (especially listening)
  • Front and center customer service skills
  • Handles constructive criticism and rejection with diplomacy
  • Positive attitude
  • Good work habits

It’s your job to discover this for each interaction with a Graphic Designer you think will be a potential candidate. There is a book called Creative, Inc. listed in the Recommended Reading section, which is helpful to understand the inner workings of the creative industry, discussing all branches of creative professionals like Graphic Designers, Illustrators, Animators, Art Directors, Photographers and more. This book will help you see, hear and feel what it’s like to be a creative designer to understand how the design process works and how the industry operates to help you conduct business with them.

Let’s break the process of hiring a Graphic Designer down to help guide you when selecting the best candidate for your business.

Module Topics

Here’s what you will learn about when hiring a Graphic Designer:

  • What questions to ask during the hiring process to help guide you in selecting the best candidate
  • Stronger understanding of  the quintessential Graphic Design stages from start to finish
  • How to clearly define deliverable goals for projects to the designer
  • What skills to look for in a Graphic Designer

Module Topic Learning Objectives

After completing this module and participating in the online discussion, you will be able to:  

  1. Ask a Graphic Designer questions during the interview process to determine if they are the best candidate
  2. Learn about the style and types of Graphic Design that is needed for your projects
  3. Understand how to create Goals and Deliverables for your projects
  4. Learn the quintessential graphic design stages from start to finished project

Video: What kind of Graphic Designer Do you Need to Hire? Length: 9:46 min

What Type of Graphic Designer Do You Need?

First you’ll want to determine the type or category of Graphic Designer you need to work with. It will depend on the type of graphic design you’d like to create. There are different branches of Graphic Design so it’s important to clearly state what category of design you want to create for you to determine whether the Graphic Designer’s skillset suits the project objectives.  Some areas of Graphic Design are: Print Design, Web Design, User Interface Design, Illustration, and Package Design.

“A graphic designer is responsible for the design of graphic applications such as collateral material, environmental graphics, books and magazines, corporate identity and branding, film titling and websites, from concept to completion.” Source:

Each area defines a specialist in Graphic Design so it would be ideal to look for a Graphic Designer who has experience in the area of design you wish to create. Once you have determined what type of design you need, you’ll know what special skills to look for. Although just because a designer does not have previous experience with Illustration or Annual Report design, it does not mean they are not capable of designing the piece needed. Not every every Graphic Designer is a jill or jack of all trades with well-rounded design experience, so it’s important to ask questions around their portfolio experience to help you determine if the designer holds the experience suited to the project needs. Sometimes a designer wishes to add the new skills to their portfolio and in that case they may be a fit. Many Designers like to work on a branch of design because it’s a speciality niche, but keep in mind they will work on other branches of design when there is a demand.

A way to find a Graphic Designer is to solicit design proposals or estimates in the Graphic Design community with a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Information (RFI). A RFP is generally used to solicit designers by bringing awareness to a funding opportunity to work on a project, and Request for Information (RFI) helps you create a short list of suppliers, while drawing attention to the project and the business. RFP’s are very time consuming projects for a design firm so it’s encouraging to Graphic Designers to have an invite to submit a proposal. Alternatively, you may ask colleagues for referrals (for example, who’s the designer you worked with on your annual report, website, logo?) or post a job opportunity on an online job board to accept resumes.

What Style of Graphic Designer Do You Need?

There are Graphic Designers who work with budget constraints and use stock photography and icons, or Graphic Designers who will creating everything from scratch like vector based icons and illustrations, vs real life imagery using Photoshop photography and bitmap based graphics. It’s important to understand the style behind the Graphic Designer and their tool deck to help you determine if the look and feel they will create will suit your brand.

This includes a bit of looking at the designer’s portfolio and asking yourself, does this suit the brand look and feel I wish to create? The reason you want to know this is because it’s important they understand how to integrate their design style with your brand. You want to identify their skills and strengths and see if they embody a style you want merged with your brand.

Be sure to identify how well the Graphic Designer communicates, and not only verbally or written, but through their art. Does the design resonate? Do you see, feel and/or hear who the intended demographic market is through the design of visuals and written messages? In this step you are searching for continuity between project pieces of a brand, and synergy between the visuals and written words so that it is a skill set implemented in your design. Ask yourself, how well does the designer do this? After all, that is the point of Graphic Design, to easily convey a message to an audience, especially in today’s world where everyone is very active and leading full lives.

In addition to style you also want to hear the approach of execution the designer takes to finish a project. Business acumen is often overlooked because the portfolio has all the nuts and bolts to meet the needs of the project. You want to establish without a doubt their professional responsibilities match your expectations. Carefully inspect the portfolio, and perform due diligence to be satisfy your expectations that the designer will execute the project as you requested. Check for testimonials, and verify the testimonial is validate, where the statement matches the referenced name.  If testimonials or references are not available ask questions about why they are not. A designer should be able to indicate they have worked with clients successfully in the past, and have ended all business relationships successfully, on good working terms with ease.

Understanding Objectives, Goals and Deliverables for your Project

It is important for you to know the project objectives with clearly defined deliverables, usually in reference to due dates so that they are met. The rest of the design process you will leave to the Graphic Designer to execute, although you want to be sure the Graphic Designer is responsible and accountable to count on them to deliver a final design.

Some designers need clear instructions to get started with detailed feedback to progress to next stages, and other designers will begin the design process at the thought of you asking them to creating a Graphic Design piece. Neither path of execution is right or wrong, it is simply the way a Graphic Designer works. The importance in this stage is to understand the series of steps taken regarding Graphic Design in order to achieve the desired outcome by being sympathetically aware of the Graphic Designer’s natural disposition to lead the project. When you understand how to communicate effectively with the Graphic Designer, a strong communication channel is created to express and share ideas, thoughts, and feelings during the design stages, from iteration to mockup, to finalizing the composition so it is packaged and ready for use.

Give the Graphic Designer a clear understanding of the goal and expectations so they can decide if they should accept the proposal for work. For example, if you are attending a tradeshow and need promotional materials to distribute at the show, it’s important for them to know the date that you need the items in your hand, not just the date of the trade show. These are hard-deadlines, and if if the deadline is missed the assets will likely rendered unusable.

To learn the process of the Graphic Designer, you can ask questions like, ‘How did you get this project started?’ ‘What was the very first thing you did to start?’ and ‘How did you deliver the final project to your last client?’

Cost, Project Management and Final Designs

Do not rely solely on the portfolio of a Graphic Designer to qualify a candidate. Even though they may or may not have the portfolio items, that alone does not mean the designer has the knowledge to apply to your project. It’s also not important to focus solely on budget, while it is important, there a designers who place creative freedom at a high level of importance, where they are not totally driven by money when accepting a project. You may find a talented designer who is willing to work on a low-budget project if it’s creating social change (ToC), where their communication design piece can influence and change course of actions in business, not-for-profit, charity, and government sectors.

Understand Cost, Project Management and Design Stages from Start to Finish

Video: Stages of Working with a Graphic Designer Length: 14:33 min

The following sections we will discuss in detail concerning design process and how it works from start to finish, including areas of topic regarding cost vs time, plus project management in the quintessential Graphic Design stages.

  • Discovery Meeting
  • Retainer
  • Creative Brief to Mockup or Semi Compositions
  • Edits and Amendments
  • Final Composition
  • Payment and Package

Discovery Meeting

The first part of the design process is a discovery meeting or a consultation meeting. In the consultation meeting you will disclose information regarding the business, goals, objectives as related to the project. Be prepared to describe your project as clear as succinct as possible to help the Graphic Designer understand the project goals. If you are unsure about disclosing information about the business, bring a NDA for the Graphic Designer to sign, and let them know in advance an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) will be presented.

Here’s are some example questions to ask during the Discovery session:

What type of design do you work on? Are you experienced in print, web, user interface, illustration, package design? Please describe and show examples.

What software do you use? Please state the software and how you use it.

How would you describe your style? How would you apply it to *mention a brand name*? Please describe in detail.

Do you meet deadlines? Have you ever missed a deadline? Please describe a recent time where you had a hard deadline and how you executed it.

Can you tell me about your design process? Please describe the stages we’ll work through to move us from concept to a final design.

Cost & Retainer

Once you’ve decided you want to work with a Graphic Designer, they have provided a suitable references, recommendations, experience and portfolio examples, you will work on determining costs and fees.

Graphic Designer’s typically ask for a retainer in advance for a project to commence. There are all different types of guidelines around retainer amounts and designers bill at different stages of the project. For example, some Graphic Designers may ask a fee pee paid in advance in order to secure services and to begin work on the project, and some Designer’s may not ask for a retainer at all. Either way, be prepared to pay a retainer for the project to commence, and include time for funds to process adding that time to your Project Management Timeline. Retainers can be one-third of the total cost plus applicable taxes, or even up to 50% of the total project cost.

Graphic Designer’s billing can work on an hourly rate or flat-rate on a project by project basis. You can ask a Graphic Designer or Design Studio to work within your budget. Although be aware, Designers are familiar with No Spec work rule and strictly adhere to it.

Creative Brief to Mockup or Semi Compositions

The Creative Brief can be prepared by the Design Firm or your team, it is up to you to determine the best source of information to complete this task at the consultation meeting. It is also possible that the project will start without a brief, and notes from the consultation meeting can be sufficient enough to start.

Edits and Amendments

Edits and amendments can take some time, and the length of time between the first mockup to final is unique to each project. It’s usual for the designer to want a quick turn around to complete projects promptly and move on to new projects in order to keep money flowing in their business. It’s important you make decisions quickly when a designer sends compositions so you can keep the pace of the project. It is possible that a designer is moving slowing through stages because they have outsourced the work and don’t have control over execution times, or are juggling many projects at one time, and/or have a learning curve to complete the project.

Don’t be surprised that during this stage, edits and amendments can be tedious and take longer than you envisioned. If you wish to keep this process to a minimum if you are paying hourly for the Graphic Designer’s time, ask to transition to a flat rate cost. This is why a comprehensive Creative Brief is recommended, eliminating unwanted back and forth amendments.

Final Composition

Be clear in how you want the final composition to be delivered. Some Graphic Design studios will deliver fabulous Graphic Design concept design, and setup of the concepts with exact files dimensions can be additional costs. It’s important to understand exactly what it is you are paying for and will receive in the final the Graphic Design project.

Payment and Compensation

At this stage be prepared to pay the balance owing in full before any of the Project Deliverables are handed over to you. Graphic Designer’s follow this practice to ensure they are paid in full at the time of completion of project. Alternatively, Designers will ask for payment to be processed within 30 days of receipt of project. Ask in advance if the Graphic Designer you are working with can accept Credit Card payments if that is your preferred method of payment.


Choosing a Designer:

What Do Designers Charge:


The Business of Graphic Design: The RGD Professional Handbook