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How to Hire a Freelance Graphic Designer

Do you need to hire a freelance graphic designer on a budget? Fret not, here's everything you need to know to get the job done.
September 13, 2011

Until recently, I made my living as a freelance designer—now, I'm responsible for hiring graphic designers myself. From my experience, I know that a graphical presence is how you're judged before anyone knows anything about you. A high level visual presence allows you to charge more money and engender more respect.

When you need to find a graphic artist or hire a graphic designer, you can make a successful match. Thanks to differences in approach, a mismatch of communication styles and an unwillingness to negotiate, trying to hire a graphic designer can seem like an impossible task. That said, successful matches between designers, projects and rates are everywhere. I've pulled together five hard-won tips to help you hire a freelance graphic designer from both sides of the monitor.

If you want to hire a graphic designer, your chances for success are increased if you follow the following four tips:

  • Respect the craft.
  • Do your homework.
  • Write a creative brief.
  • Look for extensions.

Unfortunately, most designers are hired in a rush as part of an emergency project you needed yesterday. But I know you're smarter than that. Especially today, your visual presence is incredibly important.

A good designer will both be able to defend their design as well as adapt to ideas that aren't expressly theirs. A good client respects that craft and pays the designer for their effort.

Choosing to hire a freelance designer over a design agency is usually a matter of budget and flexibility. Although agencies have the dual benefits of reliability and project management, they are certainly pricier. If your budget has just enough space to hire a freelance graphic designer, I have put together a few tips for you before you get started.

1. Respect the craft.

More important than any other point is this one: The majority of designers aren't trying to take advantage of you. Graphic designers for hire have the skills and passion to translate your goals into a representative visual design and deserve to be compensated for that skill. Most business professionals who may rely on a cousin or niece to do the project for free will tell you that it wasn't worth the time or injured feelings. Part of respecting the craft is making sure you have a well-researched contract that will protect both your and your designer's time.

Central to your professional relationship is the understanding that this effort will be a collaboration between you and the designer. First, you need to determine your point of view, then you (and your designer) need to be able to express that point of view.

Then, you need to be able to discuss the point of view. A good designer will both be able to defend their design as well as adapt to ideas that aren't expressly theirs. A good client respects that craft and pays the designer for their effort. Key to that collaboration is knowing what you are trying to accomplish. Why are you hiring a designer?

Not all design projects are the same and not all designers are skilled at all types of media. Does your project involve business cards, brochures, websites or general branding or logo creation? Do you need ongoing social media graphic development or do you need a full branding package? As simple as it seems, knowing why you are hiring a designer will save you time by finding a designer who can execute per your direction.

2. Do your homework.

Key to doing your homework is learning your style. There are unlimited digital resources to mine to discover what you're going for and what appeals to you. As well, look at the competition in your space and take a critical look at what works and what doesn't work for them.

It's vital to learn your style before you attempt to hire a creative professional. Before you start to put together that creative brief (below), it's important to know the answers to the following questions:

  • What do you like?
  • What do you hate?
  • Why?

Flickr is not only for image sharing, you can also use it to discover your design sense. Several people on Flickr post screenshots and examples of great design—follow a few and you can quickly find what exactly you are going for. Search strings like “graphic design inspiration" can bring you closer to a representative graphic identity.

3. Write a creative brief.

A creative brief is one of the most effective tools to hire a freelance graphic designer. With a creative brief, you'll determine the background of your project so you can find the best match. The must-have sections of my creative briefs include the following:

Portfolio Sites

There are many portfolio sites that represent professional graphic designers. Some come with a fee and some are free. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. I love to work with the following sites:

LinkedIn Profinder

If you're already spending time on LinkedIn, you'll find their Profinder tool incredibly helpful. You are plugged into recommendations, local talent and portfolios in a highly networked environment.

Creative Hotlist

My favorite resource to find a graphic designer for hire is Creative Hotlist. Besides the portfolio aspect, you can also use it as a resource to discover what kind of work you're looking for. Do you like more modern or traditional design? Is there a time period of design that appeals to you? What brands have looks that you like? What matches with your business goals? What industry are you in?

4. Look for extensions.

When you find a graphic artist, you want to make sure you're in it for the long term. Consider how you and the designer can work together to craft messaging and visuals that will work in one year, five years and 10 years. Despite the fact that platforms are constantly evolving, requiring graphical size changes and updates, you'll find a strong relationship can help weather these changes. A solid graphical base can help save you money and time. These savings can come from many places, whether potential customers take you more seriously or by making sure your clients know exactly what your business is about before they reach out.

Hiring a freelance graphic designer is worth putting in the time to develop your own visual stamp on the world.

A version of this article was originally published on September 13, 2011.