Notes from the Studio

How to interview a graphic design contractor

When you’re looking to hire a graphic design contractor, you will be expected to conduct a series of interviews to find the right designer based on your project’s needs. Regardless of the specialty you require (digital marketing, print design, web design, etc), interviewing a graphic designer means discussing a highly technical set of skills as well as analyzing the artistic sensibilities of the contractor. 

Most executives hire only one or two graphic design contractors over the course of their entire career; so how can you determine if you’re focusing on the right aspects of the interview?

First, review the portfolio

Before you sit down with a graphic design contractor, you will want to review their portfolio. Usually, a graphic designer will provide a PDF packet containing their resume and a few select samples of their work tailored to your specific industry or project needs. Each work sample should have an explanation of what the project consisted of, what their role was within the project and, sometimes, the software or techniques used to create the project.

I would suggest going past the provided review samples and going back to their website as well. These days, many graphic designers will include case studies or more general portfolio samples on their website. Review those. Take notes if you have any questions that you can bring to your interview. Some ideas include: Who did you collaborate with on this project? Did you have any sources of inspiration? What was the approval process like? Are you happy with the finished piece? What were the results of the campaign?

Then, look past the portfolio

After you have reviewed all the projects in the portfolio, I would look at the overall presentation of the designer’s brand. Does their collateral, website and written communications reflect the overall values you’re looking for in a contractor? Remember, unless the projects in the portfolio are all imaginary, they are all influenced in one way or another by the client’s brief, their brand positioning and requirements as well as the personality of the project owner and the feedback that was incorporated through the process. The designer will be at its most pure when they are presenting themselves to you.

Are you connecting to their tone, their vocabulary and their overall feel?

Some questions to ask: did you develop your own branding? What are your most important values as a designer? Do you have a vision or a mission statement as a contractor that you can share?

Ask about their process

You will want to determine whether this designer’s work style matches yours while at the same time toeing the line between distinguishing a contractor from an employee. Generally, you’ll want to know if they perform all of the work you will be assigning, or if they engage any subcontractors; where they are based out of; if they are available for calls and/or meetings during your regular business hours and when they are most productive.

Then you will want to ask about a general overview of how they will manage the project from beginning to end. If you’re looking at engaging a designer for a variety of projects or a retainer, you’ll want to know if they work on stages, if they require a meeting to kickoff the project, how they deliver their proofs and how they deal with approvals.

In my particular practice, my agreement usually deals with all copyright licensing by providing the client with an unlimited license to the work that was created while I hold the copyright of the piece so I can use it for self-promotion. You will want to ask about copyright provisions, as well as licensing agreements and what happens with final project deliverables: do you get source files? Or do you have to pay for them?

Will they work on single projects or on a retainer basis?

There are designers who will work on both categories; but others only work on one or the other. The difference is in a single project you get charged for the full amount of a predetermined list of deliverables while a retainer usually entails a certain amount of time that can be used freely within a series of smaller projects.

You might be considering engaging a graphic design contractor for a single project – like a website redesign – but you might discover that hiring as a retainer might cover more of your creative needs than just the website redesign and offer your internal team access to more assets for a similar price. Ask the designer if they can quote the project both ways and allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised by options you might not have considered.

Determine how they deal with feedback

Working with a graphic design contractor is different from working with an employee in that there is a scope of work you have to commit to in advance as well as certain boundaries you need to take into consideration when working together.

If you’re working on a project basis, you should ask how many rounds of changes are included in the project. If you’re working on a retainer basis, you might want to ask how long a round of changes will take off the time allotment for the month and plan accordingly.

A little secret tip: Most experienced graphic designers are great at managing their projects and their time. If you struggle with project management or seeing the big picture, most designers will be happy to map out the timeline for a project using the goal delivery date as a starting point and give you deadlines for every phase of the project. If you are using your designer as the project manager for your relationship, consider adding a percentage or a fee for this extra service to the budget.

Managing everyday communication

You’re running your business and your designer is running theirs. Combining both of your sets of priorities can mean you go too long without talking and you might lose sight of where you are in the timeline of the project. Ask your designer how they manage client communication during a project. Will they email weekly? Will they offer periodical reports? How do you get in touch with them with a request? How will you hear back?

Offer your preferences, but also listen to their needs. Some designers, like me, for example, run busy studios where nobody can answer the phone during the day. So I ask all communication to come in via email. Other designers might be okay with joining your company Slack so they can be available for questions in an asynchronous manner.

Approval and offboarding

Almost as important as the onboarding process, the process of collecting final approvals and offboarding will allow you to dot your i’s and cross your t’s making sure all the items in the project scope were completed and all the terms of the agreement have been satisfied. 

Ask your prospective contractor how they manage final approvals – will they require a signed form, an email or a verbal notification?

Happy hiring!

If you have followed this outline, you will be able to quickly identify when a prospective contractor is a good fit for your organization and your management style. Remember to always ask for a contract and pay for a deposit to start work. Happy tidings!

Astrid M. Storey

Astrid M. Storey

Astrid Storey is originally from Panama and arrived in Denver in 2003. During the next decade-and-a-half, she’s juggled a career in a variety of creative and marketing roles while building her own studio, Storey Creative, with clients in real estate, health care, publishing, and tech.

Astrid M. Storey

Astrid M. Storey

Astrid Storey is originally from Panama and arrived in Denver in 2003. During the next two decades, she’s juggled a career in a variety of creative and marketing roles while building her own studio, Storey Creative, with clients in real estate, health care, publishing, and tech.

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