Before working at Able, I spent many years as a design consultant helping entrepreneurs and businesses develop their brands. This was rewarding work, but also very challenging. Every time a new client came through the door, it was a blind date. The client was sizing up the team to see what we’d be like to work with and we of course were seeing if this would be the type of person/company/startup that we would want to partner with for the next 4–6 months.
In these new blind date relationships, the first thing I would try to understand is how experienced the client was with engaging designers and creative agencies. My clients ranged from seasoned purchasers of design who spoke a common language with our team to small business owners who were purchasing design for the very first time. While we were happy to work with clients of varying experience levels, the clients that understood the fundamentals of our work made the upstart friction very minimal. Time could be spent focusing on the work - not educating the other party on common nomenclature and terminology. And, because time is money… we were able to charge less by getting started more quickly.
A few weeks ago, I consulted a small business owner who was ready to take the next step in her business by hiring design talent to improve her brand. What was evident was that she knew she needed this, but she had no idea where to begin. The assumption was that better design would attract new customers and create loyalty for existing customers. These are definitely achievable goals. But, like any other investment you’ll make in your business, it can be daunting to head down this road for the first time. It’s no different than building out your location, hiring an accountant or your first employee. Until you’ve done it, you can’t know everything you need to.
The best thing you can do is set yourself up for success by investing a small amount of time in learning about designers, how they work and what to expect.
1. Learn about design
The first thing to learn about design is that it is equal parts visual and analytical. One of the easiest missteps to make as a first time purchaser of design is to have a designer make something you like, not something you need. By its nature, design solves a problem while art is meant to be an expression. Designers and artists have a similar set of skills, but they choose to use them in distinctly different ways. A good designer will learn as much as they can about you, your business and the challenge your up against. Ryan Weaver, the lead designer of my old agency used to say “Research is the hard part, doing the design and execution is the easy part.” The best thing you can do as a buyer of design is to search for the person who will help best solve the problem. You’d hate to hire someone that just makes something visually pleasing without giving a thought to its function and implication.
Because design is also visual, you should research current design motifs and trends. Some of the best places to look to give you a sense of what types of design are most current are:
Again, the purpose isn’t to choose something you like out of a catalog, but rather to have an insight into current trends. This will help your designer more rapidly select directions for your project.