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What to Expect When Hiring a Graphic Designer

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Working with a designer can be a big investment, not just financially, but of time and energy as well, so it’s natural to have a lot of questions and want to know what you’re getting yourself into before you commit. To help ease your qualms, here’s a rundown of what to expect when hiring a graphic designer so that you can confidently take your business to the next level with some kickass design!


Let me quickly preface this article with this so I don’t have to repeat it with each point: every designer is different. The things that I believe you should expect when working with a designer may differ from designer to designer so please don’t hold me accountable when someone else has a different process or set of expectations – I don’t want to hear anyone protesting with, “but Hollie said…”! That being said, I genuinely think that this will give you a great basic understanding of what to expect when hiring a graphic designer, no matter who they may be, so let’s get started!

The Process

I’ve already written a whole article on understanding the branding design process so I won’t go into too much detail, but it will generally follow a version of these five steps: inquiry, discovery, ideation, iteration and delivery. This isn’t always a linear process and can vary from designer to designer and even from project to project depending on what you’re working on, the timelines and the desired outcomes.

To put this simply, you’ll get in touch, you and your designer will get to know each other, your business, your goals and your audience, the designer will present some ideas, you’ll work together to tweak them to perfection and then you’ll get your goodies! I’m pretty biased but it’s a super fun process!

The Timeline

The timeline of a design project will be largely based on three things: your deadlines and both the designer’s capacity and process. Sometimes your project has a clear deadline attached to it – say for example you are running an event at the end of February and you need a month to promote it and the printers need time to print all of the collateral so you’ll need your designs by the end of January. Maybe you’re working with a few different suppliers which means you’ll need your logos, colours and fonts done in time so that your website designer can work their magic and the developer has time to build it and your marketing team can get it out there all in time for your big launch. Oftentimes it’s a case of working backwards to determine the deadline that you will need your designs completed by at the latest. Coming prepared with this when you talk to a designer will help set clear expectations from the beginning.

Your deadlines also need to balance with the designer’s capacity and process. For me, a full branding project takes an average of 6-8 weeks from start to finish, but this is also dependent on my capacity at the time. I may be able to complete a project sooner if I only have that one client, but if I have a few on the go, it may take a little longer or I may have to wait for a project to finish before I start a new one. Understand that while we can’t wait to work with you, we may have obligations to some of our other fabulous clients too and we want to give you all the best experience and create the best work with you that we can!

Don’t forget that good things take time, and you are investing in a designer to create something that is worth both of your time, energy and money. Communicate with your designer about your deadlines, and be understanding of their time frames too, that way you’ll both be on the same page and can settle on a timeline that works for everyone, with no unexpected surprises and a way to keep one another accountable too!

The Cost

The biggest question everyone usually has about what to expect when hiring a designer is how much it’s going to cost and the annoying thing is that I can’t give you a concrete answer because every client, project and designer is so different. What I can give you are a few things that will impact the cost of your project so that you can come prepared:

  • Speed – As we know, time equals money, and the faster you need something done, the more condensed time your designer is going to need to spend on your project. Not only this, but a designer may have to put other projects on hold to complete this work for you, so the extra cost covers their potential losses with other clients. You’re also putting additional pressure on the designer, which warrants further payment.
  • Quality – As we discussed before, good things come with time, so as with speed, with better quality comes more cost. Here you may be paying for a better designer and/or more devoted time spent on your project but either way, it will impact the overall cost.
  • Quantity – The amount of work done is a clear variable that will affect the cost of your project. A quick text update to an existing document is going to cost significantly less than a huge branding project for something brand new, so it’s good to be aware of how much you are asking for.
  • Experience – I briefly mentioned this when discussing quality, but the experience of the designer is likely to impact the cost of the work you do with them. Someone still studying is likely to be much cheaper but have less experience, while an industry expert will charge big bucks due to their drastically greater breadth of experience, knowledge and understanding. There are pros and cons to every level of designer, but whoever you choose will have an impact on the bottom line.
  • Value – A lot of designers will charge what is known as value-based pricing. This means that they charge for the project based on the value you will gain from the service that they provide. For example, a business card design for a local solopreneur starting their first business on the side is likely going to generate much less value than a rebrand for Apple or Nike. While the value for the solopreneur may be in the hundreds, design work for Apple of Nike could generate millions of dollars of revenue, and a designer may charge a percentage of this estimated revenue. So knowing who you are and what the work entails will give you an understanding of the value of the work you need doing and how that could impact the cost of the project.

Remember that you’re also not just paying for the time spent working on your design, you’re investing in their expertise, taking into account the years of study and professional development they’ve done and acknowledging time spent communicating with you, strategizing about your project, researching related topics, answering your questions, talking to your customers and the many other things that aren’t directly design but are often part of the design service.

Side-note: many designers will ask for a deposit of whatever the amount is before the project begins. This is usually a percentage ranging from 10-50% and the rest is sometimes then split into milestone payments or paid upon completion of the project. A deposit is beneficial for both you and the designer as it secures your spot in their workload, means that the designer can pay for any upfront costs they may incur as part of the project and keeps you both invested. It’s a win-win!

The Communication

Communication is key in any relationship, but particularly in a client-designer one, but how and when should you expect to communicate? Well just like every business and team probably has a different way of communicating, so do designers. From my experience, I’d say the most popular method of communication would be email, however some designers may prefer phone calls, video chats, communication software such as Slack, Voxer or Facebook Messenger, or something completely different. I generally use a combination of email, video chats and in-person catch-ups. My preference is always for face-to-face, real time conversations, but not everyone will be the same, so just ask your designer how they would prefer to communicate with you.

Another good thing to ask your designer is when you can expect communication from them and when you will be expected to communicate back. Some key moments in the process that you can expect will require your input are in the discovery phase to organise the formalities and get to know you and your business, in the ideation and iteration phases when feedback is required, and in the delivery phase so that you can give your tick of approval and any additional testimonials or reviews.

The Deliverables

The deliverables are the final product/s that you will receive at the end of the project. What you can expect to be delivered will depend on the project and what you agreed with your designer before the work began. This could range from logo files to a completed website to printed collateral, digital templates, video exports and anything in between. Make sure that you confirm with the designer before work begins what the deliverables will be so that you’re both on the same page and know what to expect when the project is completed.

It’s handy to note that some designers will require you to pay the final amount before delivering any final files or products to you. This is pretty normal and is just to protect the designer so that clients don’t just run away and never pay them for the work – this isn’t likely to happen but it’s happened enough that it’s sometimes necessary so don’t be shocked if you’re asked this. Again, it’s good to confirm what the payment terms will be with your designer before the project begins, just so that everything is clear.

The Preparation

There are a range of things you can do before hiring a designer that will help you both out a lot, enough to warrant their own article at some point, but for now here’s a quick list of things you can think about:

  • What the problem or issue is that you are trying to solve
  • What you’re hoping will solve the problem and how the designer can help
  • Any deadlines that may impact the project
  • Who will be involved in the project on your end
  • Who will be the person with final decision-making power on your end
  • What the goal of this project is
  • Who your target audience is
  • Who your competitors are and what they’re doing to solve this problem
  • How you want your audience to respond to/feel when they interact with this work
  • Any inspiration you have and why you like it
  • Anything you absolutely hate and will want to avoid design-wise
  • Anything that will need to be included (logos, fonts, copy, colours etc)

Your designer will likely guide you through these questions in the discovery phase, but if you can come a bit prepared, it will speed things along and help you both understand the project better.

The Questions You Should Ask

I’ve already noted a few questions throughout this article that you should ask your designer but here are a few more that if covered in the initial stages will get you both on the same page and make sure things are clear for you moving forward:

  • Is this the type of thing you can help me with?
  • Do you have examples of similar work? (You may have already seen these on their website or portfolio but if you haven’t, it’s good to make sure they’re a stylistic fit)
  • Do you have the capacity to take this on right now?
  • How long do you think it will take?
  • What does your process look like?
  • Who will be working on this? Is it just you or do you have colleagues/collaborators who will also be involved?
  • How would you prefer to communicate?
  • When will you require input from me?
  • When are the key milestones for the project?
  • What will be included in the package I purchase?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What are your payment terms and how will I be able to pay you?
  • What exactly will the deliverables be?
  • What are the next steps?

These are just some of the questions you can ask, and they don’t all have to be asked the first time you speak to the designer. Often, the designer will answer these questions without you even needing to ask, and they may come one or two conversations down the line so don’t stress too much straight away. I would, however, recommend ensuring that you are clear on all of these things before you commit to anything by signing a contract or paying a deposit.

I hope that this sheds some light on what you can expect when hiring a graphic designer. I know it can be a daunting task, especially if this is unchartered territory for you, and when you’re investing money into the process, but it’s really not that scary once you understand what is involved. Like I said at the beginning, it’s actually super fun!

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November 26, 2018



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