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Your job is simple: create a series of appealing advertisements to be posted on Facebook in a weeks time. What’s the frustration you have?

First, your boss refuses to hire an in-house designer because she doesn’t have the head count or can’t afford one. Second, you’re in the process of describing what you want to a freelance designer who doesn’t seem to give a damn to your requirements.

You sit in despair, worried about meeting your deadline. When you finally got to your feet to suck it up and get the job started with your designer, another problem surfaced: any request for an amendment to your copy is never welcomed with an amicable reply.

Your once friendly, fresh-faced designer suddenly turns into “designer-from-hell”, and that leads to an awkward tension that holds you back from making further communication with him.

As the deadline draws closer, you end off leaving the designer to complete his job and all you want to do is to get the marketing campaign over and done with.

I know, all you want is a graphic designer who does high-quality work, is good at taking directions and a great reliable communicator. And you wonder if this person ever exists.

At times you’d rather take matters into your own hands and a work on the designs yourself. But you know investing in good design will pay off.

Based on a research posted in 2014 by Design Management Institute, for more than 10 years, companies that value and invested heavily in design “maintained a significant stock market advantage, outperformed the S&P by a whopping 228%“, as shown in the screenshot below:

Companies use design to outperform S&P for more than 10 years

These companies include Apple, Coca Cola, Ford, Herman-Miller, IBM, Intuit, Newell-Rubbermaid, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Starwood, Steelcase, Target, Walt Disney and Whirlpool.

So, in this article, I want to show you how to work best with any designer to create your best marketing campaign, instead of spending way too much time and money hunting for the so-called “best designer in town”.

1. Do not hire designers solely based on talent

What’s the first thing you do when you need to hire a designer? Check the portfolio?

Wrong. Having worked with hundreds of clients for the past ten years, the best work that happened has absolutely very little to do with my portfolio, nor my talent and abilities.

Sure, it should be a prerequisite that a designer possesses both the basic technical skills and creative eye for aesthetics.

Most marketers request for a designer’s portfolio because they are sceptical that some designers may be bogus. Get around this simply by giving them a chance to tell you the story behind the designs they claimed are done by them.

Or, test their skills with a mini project by paying them a small fee. Don’t be afraid to mention it’s a test to see if you guys will be a great fit.

I hate to say this but anyone can fake a great portfolio from the billions of images on the web and say he or she is a graphic designer. Sadly, there are many people doing this to win customers.

Hence, what you’d like to test should not be solely how great their past work is. Talent is just one small piece of the puzzle. You should be testing how designers communicate with you and how they work under tight deadlines and immense pressure.

Start by considering combining these 3 elements of a graphic designer:
1. Talent
2. Process
3. Mindset

How to hire a graphic designer who creates great design

Let’s run through each of the elements one by one.

Talent

I get it, there’s no point if you pay someone to create something that you can do yourself in less than an hour. That’s absolutely valid. So talent does have a spot in the hiring process. However, that shouldn’t be the only thing.

Think Voldermort versus Harry Potter:

Voldermort versus Harry Potter
[via Flickr by Snape’s True Love]

You would agree that both of them possess exceptional wizardry talent but how they use their talent led them to a different outcome.

So how do you know if your designer harbours a ‘Voldermort’ or a ‘Harry Potter’ trait?

As mentioned by Julie Zhuo being interviewed in the First Round Review, working in Facebook taught her that hiring best design talents in the world is important, yet on the flip-side, as promising as their past work may be, these designers have to be able to work hand-in-hand with you and your team.

How Julie Zhuo of Facebook hire the best designers

So how do you find the ideal designer who fits your needs? According to Julie Zhuo, there are only two steps to this process:

Step 1: Find promising candidates, aka, they must be talented right from the get-go

Step 2: Decide if they’re a good fit for your team – I admit this can be intuitive, so follow your gut tells you!

Simply put, you don’t hire a designer just by his or her impressive credentials. Hiring the ideal all-rounder and talented designer to work best with you to churn out the right results is just like marketing: you’re in a constant process of building relationships with a talented designer of your choice, just like you do with your audience.

It’s a two-way street because even designers themselves have the right to hand-pick the customers they enjoy working with.

Mindset

Designers who help and truly wish to help vs Designers who think that clients are out to exploit them and hold back their efforts.

I’m sure this is not new to you. You’ve probably seen tonnes of portfolio by truly talented designers who have created out-of-this-world designs. You’re in awe of their abilities and their past work.

However, when you hired them, it seems to you like they could have done much better than what they’ve delivered. In other words, the outcome for you was disappointing.

In this case, they’ve not provided the value you’ve expected them to deliver or any result based on what they’ve done for others as seen from their past work.

So how should you go about to understand the mindset of a designer? I’m not telling you to be a mind-reader. The simplest way to go about this is not to assume and don’t judge on the first impression.

Make sure you’ve got some time to have a conversation with the designer. It doesn’t have to be in-person. Nowadays, anyone can work with any designer from all over the world.

A 15 minutes chat through Skype, Whatsapp or Facebook will work well. Even via email is also as effective because it all depends on what you are looking out for from your designer.

If I were you, I would want to know what are his values, his principles and his vision as a designer. He may say anything at all, from working hard to merely earn a steady stream of income or dreaming of building an empire. From the conversation, I’m able to tell if there’s a potential chemistry between us.

Yes, it’s just like dating. You do wish to look for a partner who thinks in the same wavelength as you are.

Process

If you want the best results from your marketing efforts, you know that proper planning of your marketing strategies and timing is vital.

Same with creating a particular design for just a single advertisement. You have an end date, a series of actions to take and you work backwards to the start date when you begin work.

As much as you are able to schedule these steps onto your calendar, designers are able to also do the same when it comes to creative work.

Before you pay your designer, find out what is his or her client design onboarding process. Do they take your money, your brief and disappear till the deadline has arrived?

Wrong design and creative process

Or do they have a standard procedure that allows them to understand your needs and concerns first? Have they considered what is the outcome you’d like this project to lead to?

Your designers need to know your goals before they are able to help you reach them.

Do they give you an overview of steps they will be taking and bring you along with them before starting work?

Designers who develop a plan, timelines, provide regular updates without clients hounding them down and freaking out VS designers who simply hide in their caves for days or weeks before sending something the clients don’t want. Sounds familiar?

Well, I’m ashamed to say I used to be one of them in the past. As I got more experienced, I’ve developed a simple process by proactively setting deadlines on behalf of my clients rather than waiting for them to respond as and when they are available to do so.

Here’s an example of a Google calendar with timelines of specific steps leading up to the completion of a website building project.

Use Google Calendar to set graphic design timelines and processes for clients
[Click on image for larger version]

What happens if your designer does not have such a process? Your designer may take a few weeks or even a month before finally sending you a polished design that you may not be happy with.

By then, requesting them to make the changes will be tough since they have taken so long and so much effort to create the designs. They ended up feeling shortchanged.

That’s when they don’t treat their clients as nice as they would like to and things turn sour and frustrations ensue.

Proper processes are what brings great experience to your working relationship with your designer. They lead to better communication between the two of you, instead of leaving you high and dry, making you wonder what they are paying for.

A great designer believes in iterations to small drafts, to final, complete and approved versions.

2. Don’t ask “When will the design be done”. Ask “when can you update us”

If you need the design as soon as possible or that it has an urgent deadline, where in most cases they always do, it’s not so much of asking your designer a great question, but more of how you phrase your question.

In my experience, many marketers tend to ask me the question, “When will you send me the draft?” or “When will the design be done?”.

It may sound fine to you. Yes, it’s a valid question because same as when you travel from one place to another, you’d want to know when you’ll reach the next rest stop or when you’ll arrive at your destination before you are able to plan for the next action.

So what’s the problem here?

The problem with asking “When will the design be done” gets many designers nervous and defensive. Truth is, most times, designers wouldn’t know when it will be done.

Most designers give you an arbitrary date just to give you an answer and move on to allow their creativity to rule their world. Many designers aren’t trained to design at their best when given added pressure which may result in a less than satisfactory design quality.

For most designers, time is not as important as them immersed in the creative work at hand.

At the same time, this question gives them the perception that the next step after the brief is the complete job.

That’s when they give you an end date, then go into hiding and take days or weeks to design their masterpiece without updating you the progress along the way. That in turn, makes you panicky.

Calvin and Hobbes comic strip waiting for inspiration

But in fact, all you wanted to know was how things are going, and the right designer for you is someone who understands what you value and provide you with a regular day-to-day update of the work in progress.

If you are working with a designer now and he or she isn’t updating you regularly enough, phrase your question to ask, “Roughly by when can you update us?”.

Then follow up by reassuring him or her that you’re not asking for the finished design, you are just interested to see the work in progress and wish know how it looks from day-to-day.

3. Test and experiment

Before spending money on publishing your latest advertisement, work with your designer to create A/B tests on each and every one of your marketing campaigns first. Without this experiment, your money spent on the advertisement is no different from a gamble.

You may think that great designs are subjective. In my honest opinion, nice designs are based on individual tastes and they can be subjective.

However, great quality designs can be measured because there is science to how good they are. And they have to be measured based on your audience type. Not all colours, fonts and images work the same way for all industries.

My suggestion is, never rely totally on your designer’s taste and neither should you disregards his or her advice.

A great designer will also suggest to set up A/B tests before confirming the right advertisement to publish everywhere because most times he or she wouldn’t know your audience better than you do.

Take for example the design of your website. You may have a killer content with exceptional copy that speaks the language of all your audience. But you may never know if your font choice, colours or layout is affecting the conversion rate of your visitors to customers.

Here is a case study by Unbounce on a 336% conversion thanks to one A/B test:

How A Single A/B Test Increased Conversions by 336%

Therefore, my suggestion for you is to always have your designer create each of your campaigns with different sets of tests. One set may have different colours with all copy, image and fonts remain the same, the other set may have the same colours, copy, image and different fonts.

One set may have different colours with all copy, image and fonts remain the same, the other set may have the same colours, copy, image and different fonts.

Then, the next most important step is to track and measure and record your experiments to see which test set works best.

Once you’ve identified that clearly, you’re off to the races with full confidence to run that particular advertisement. In this way, you are sure that you’ve got a great design created that will garner the results you’ve always wished for.

In your opinion

What’s it like for you when you work with your designer to conceptualise a marketing or advertising campaign? Looking forward to hear from you in the comments below for all to learn and be better digital marketers 🙂

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