How to Hire a Designer

Here we are. You need something designed – a logo, a t-shirt, a website, an app, whatever – and you don’t know where to go. So you do a quick Google search and sites like 99designs come up. You’ve heard of those contest sites and know to keep away from them. But that still leaves you wondering—how do you get quality design work?

The secret of getting the most out of your designer lies in planning out your project and good communication. I’ve outlined some of these points in an earlier blog, but what about just getting in touch with a designer? That’s what we’re going to tackle today. This may be a long blog, but at the end, my goal is to inform you well enough about finding and hiring a designer that you can go out and do it yourself. It’s not that scary, I’ll take you through this in seven easy steps.

Every successful design project starts with the client clearly defining what they’re looking for. So what do you need? Why do you need it? How much are you willing to pay for it? These are your three most important questions; they determine the quality of work you get as well as the kind of experience you have with your designer. Let’s put all of that information into a powerful little document we designers call a “creative brief.” I’ve mentioned creative briefs before, and I promise that I’ll write a whole blog taking you through that some day soon, but I’m going to give it a quick overview for now:

The Creative Brief

  • General business information:

    Name, City, What you do.

  • Target Audience:

    Who is going to be using your product or service? (“Everyone” is the only wrong answer to this question)

  • Tell me about your brand:

    Your brand positioning, mission statement, all of those values that you’re trying to project

  • Competition:

    Who are your competitors? What are their brand positions?

  • Objectives:

    What are you trying to accomplish with this project? Better notoriety? More conversions? Design can help you achieve your goals, but your designer needs to know your goals in order to help.

  • What makes you different?:

    Hard question, right? Take your time. Really dig into your values. Tell me what makes you special.

  • Define success:

    As a follow-up to your objectives, how will you know when you make it there? What does halfway look like? How long are you willing to give it before judging success or failure?

  • Message/Call to Action:

    In a few words, what are you trying to say? What are you trying to do?

  • Specifications:

    Physical sizes of deliverables, number of pages in a website, platforms for an app, anything technical. Your designer will likely have more questions about your specs, but this is a place to get them started.

  • Timeline/ approval process:

    How much time do you have for this project? Outline an approval process. How often do you want check-ins and progress meetings with your designer?

  • Examples:

    Are there any brands out there that catch your eye? They don’t have to be in your industry, but throw in a few inspiration pieces to get your designer going in the right direction.

  • Budget:

    How much are you willing to spend on this design project? Remember that your budget is a huge factor in the talent you can attract with the job—pay peanuts, get monkeys.

The creative brief is an opportunity to focus your vision and clarify your goals. It’s also the BEST time to wrangle up everyone involved in the project and get their input. Getting everyone’s opinions now is the best way to streamline edits and allows your designer to hit the mark more quickly. There’s nothing more annoying than some manager or higher-up rushing in at the final rounds of edits with some brilliant idea that needs to be implemented or some additional goal that needs to be added. This is why I recommend that you ask these people’s opinions now.

There are literally a million different kinds of designers: branding designers, print designers, web designer, UX/UI designers, packaging designers, etc. Look back at your creative brief and figure out what kind of designer would help you get what you want. Need an app? UX/UI designer. Need a print campaign? Print designer. Need a website? Web designer. Need a brand/logo? That can involve all of the above, sometimes called branding or logo designers. Need something drawn or depicted? You need an illustrator.

Now that you have your creative brief in hand (or, in the 21st century, on file), let’s find you a suitable designer.


Just kidding! I’m not the guy for everyone’s design needs.

Let’s start local. Do you have a friend (even just on Facebook or LinkedIn) who runs a business? They may know a designer or two that they would recommend. From a client’s perspective, this route is generally preferred, because it gives you pre-vetted candidates who have at least a few common contacts. Search your Facebook and LinkedIn contacts as well as anybody you’ve done business with. If you see a local small business come out with a new logo that you like, perhaps you can contact them and ask about who did it (In these cases, it’s likely a small agency, but it’s worth asking).

Now, if you can pull this off, you can skip the next step. But I suspect that the reason you’re reading an article about how to hire a designer isn’t because you know a bunch of people who know designers. I’m also sure the idea of asking your friends and contacts for help finding a designer has crossed your mind before, probably early in the process. If your network fails to net you a designer, its time to ask for help from our good friend Google.

“Freelance + [discipline] + design + [your city]” should yield a few results. These are mostly, in my experience, web designers with a knack for search engine marketing and optimization. Perhaps this is what you’re looking for, but for most of us, this is kind of like searching for your lost keys only under streetlights. Or however that one goes. Of course you’d find web designers who are good at SEO at the top of your Google search. But don’t worry, I have a few more tricks up my sleeve.

Let’s visit, Adobe’s design and illustration portfolio platform. Go up top to the “Discover” heading and select “Search and Explore.” Use the drop-down menus to select your kind of designer and geographic location. Check out a few portfolios. Definitely go to the designer’s websites if it’s listed as well. Look around and take note of the designers who already work in the style you’re looking for.

Is Behance not doing it for you? Want to look a little deeper? Check your r/forhire or r/designjobs on and search. Check your local Craigslist as well, but let the buyer beware over there, ifyouknowwhatimean….

You can also call your local Robert Half, Vitamin T, or Creative Circle. They’ll handle everything, but you’ll pay a premium.

Despite what you may think from the outside, this is the last resort. If you think you’re lost now, it’s just going to get worse from here. I would attempt to explain the onslaught of designers offering to do your project for dirt cheap, but I feel that this GIF sums it up better than I ever could:

There are two parts to putting up a good ad: writing the ad and picking your platforms. Your platform will influence how you write your ad, and posting on multiple websites may require editing and re-wording for optimum results. Find your favorite classified sites (Craigslist, Reddit’s /r/forhire and /r/designjobs, local newspaper classifieds, even Behance has a section where you can post jobs), and post away.

A Few Tips on Writing Ads…

  • Use an active voice. There’s nothing worse than reading “Graphic Designer Required,” as if the Gods above commanded that you find a designer and you’re just obliging.
  • Show that you’re engaged. Give examples, draw from your creative brief for information. Give lots of information. In fact, post your creative brief on Google docs and link to it.
  • Post your budget, or at least a range. Otherwise, you’ll just get a bunch of messages asking about your budget. If you’re looking for bids, at least have a range in mind. DO NOT go with the lowest bidder, there’s a reason why they bid the lowest. This is an estimate of what you think you’re going to pay. It will likely need to be adjusted later.
  • List any relevant experience that might get a candidate noticed.

Post your ad and be ready for a TON of responses. Most of them are crap, but you have to sort through them to find the gold. What is the “gold” in this situation? A genuine, thought-out response to your ad, with at least a hint of a solution peeking out. Just a thought, but if I were hiring a designer, I would look for a good mix of portfolio quality and communication ability. By this, I mean hiring foreign designers with broken English isn’t necessarily bad, but a language barrier is just another obstacle on an already difficult journey, especially if you’re communicating over the internet by email.

Once you post an ad, you’re going to get a million responses. As I said before, most of them are thoughtless. But there will likely be a few good replies from competent designers who really want to help you. These are your top candidates. In the spirit of fairness, you should check out every portfolio and offer and judge objectively. However, life is hardly ever fair and I’m sure you’ll at least subconsciously start filtering by the initial message, and that’s certainly not unheard of. But this part of the process involves looking at a LOT of portfolio sites and it’s pretty unavoidable. It’s needs to happen, you need to visit these sites, just try and make the most of it.

From here, take note of your favorite work. Email these designers back and start up a conversation. Ask questions about how they plan to solve your design problem, as well as their previous experience. On behalf of all designers, I ask you to keep this part short. Nobody likes talking to a potential client for a week just for them to drop off the face of the earth when they go with someone else. Freelance design isn’t a particularly stable form of income, so please don’t make it worse.

When you’re talking to a handful of designers, you’re trying to get some idea of how you’ll work together and their ideas about how to solve your design problem. Ask how long they see the project taking, ask about their process, and finally, ask for a proposal.

At this point, you may need to adjust your budget to reflect the price range of the candidates you’ve chosen. It’s not a big deal, most clients’ initial budgets are too low to demand great work. The smart clients adjust accordingly, in order to get the best work out of the best designer that they can afford. The range of prices should be much closer together than the replies you got from the ad, and give you a decent idea of how much your project should cost. But again, DO NOT go for the lowest bidder because they’re the cheapest. Design is an investment in your business, not a choice among products at your local Wal-Mart.

As a side note, are you a designer reading this and wondering how to make a killer portfolio of work? I’ve got you covered.

You have a handful of designers you’ve been talking to for a few days and you’re ready to pick one. Who you chose is really a personal decision, but I recommend that you factor in portfolio quality, how well your conversation has been going, and the designer’s proposed price. At this point, there’s probably one or two that really catch your eye and you can see yourself working with them. That’s your designer. Email him or her and ask for a final contract. Contact the other candidates and let them know that you appreciate their time, but you’re going with someone else. It’s only polite. Keep their emails and websites, though. Next time someone you know needs a designer, perhaps you can be the one to hook them up.

You may have your own contract for the project, and I recommend it, but your designer will have one for sure. Read it carefully and sign or edit/negotiate as necessary. This is a binding agreement that basically says that you will give the designer money and they will give you work in exchange. It is a legally enforceable document, intended to protect both parties. Make sure final payment and handover procedures are clearly outlined.

There’s something you need to know as a client, because I feel that it can change client-designer relationships for the better: your designer has no interest in withholding your deliverables, they just suspend them to make sure the client pays. Once you pay the final installment, the work has no value to the designer and they’re looking to get it off their screen as soon as possible and move on to something else.

Now that you’ve signed your contract, set your expectations with your designer, negotiated your timeline, and paid half the fee upfront, you’re on your way to a successful design experience. If you’re looking for further tips about how to work with a graphic designer, see my post about how to keep your designer happy.

If you have any questions, or would like to skip steps 2 – 6, you can contact me here.