I’ve been working as a freelance designer for more than two years now, and every time I gain a new client I encounter a new set of problems. Sometimes they don’t have any content ready for the site, sometimes they have no idea what they want, and sometimes they are just difficult to get in touch with. Though I’ve worked with many people over the years, it has never really crossed my mind that people don’t know what they should have ready when they hire a designer. I guess it’s true – when you are too involved with something, it’s almost impossible to see it objectively.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when a reader suggested that I write a post about what clients need to know before hiring a designer that I realized it – clients know just as much about the design process as they do about doing the design themselves. So, letting them know what they need to have ready before starting a redesign is vital. Most designers will give you a list of what they need before they start, but here are 10 things that you should have know before you even consider hiring a designer.
Designers are all Different
The first thing you need to know before starting a redesign is that all designers are different. Every designer you encounter will have a different set of expectations for what they want from you before they start working. Some will be more flexible, and some will be more rigid. When you first start working together you should know what they expect of you and when they need it. Just as you want them to finish your design by a certain deadline, they will need certain things from you by a deadline. Know who you’re dealing with and what you need to provide, right off the bat.
If you’re looking to start a design project you need to have inspiration before you even consider hiring a designer. You should take some time to browse around and look at projects similar to yours to see what others are doing. You should note what you like in other’s work, and what you don’t. Then when your designer asks you what kind of site you want to build, you can provide them with some references. These can be websites that you liked the look of, images that you found interesting, and colour combinations which inspire you. It’s okay if you like something and don’t know why you like it – your designer will probably be able to draw the elements you like out. Having somewhere to build from is always a great place to start, rather than just saying something like ‘I want a clean looking site with a white background’. Even if your designer doesn’t ask you for inspiration (because remember, all designers are different) it’s good to browse around so that you know what you want out of your design.
There’s a reason you’re hiring a designer, and not just a developer. You’re hiring a designer because of their skills in design. They have education, experience, and expertise in design – and that’s what you’re paying them for. If you know exactly what you want your site to look like, down to the width of a border and the colour of a button, maybe you should hire a developer. They can make your site look like you want it to, without providing any design input. But remember, if they make the site like you ask, and it doesn’t look good – that’s your problem, not theirs. You hire a designer because they make decisions for you, and produce an attractive product. I’ve worked with both kinds of people – those who have a vague idea of what they want and those who know what they want (down to the last pixel) and the former is much better. Of course, you are always allowed to make suggestions and point out things you are unhappy with, but micromanaging down to the pixel will likely create an unhappy relationship between you and your designer.
Have your static content ready
Okay – a little rant here – it’s unbelievable to me that people would hire a designer to create something, before they have the content for that project ready. I’ve worked with a number of different people who have given me text to insert into their project, whether that is a website or a pamphlet – and then once I send them a draft of the design – they point out spelling errors in the text that needs to be corrected. I AM A DESIGNER. Not an editor, not a writer (well I am but if you hire me as a designer I am not those things). So do not give me content that is not ready to publish. There is nothing more frustrating than inserting content into a template you believe to be done, and then having to edit grammar and words that shift the entire look of a page. – Rant over.
If you’re hiring a designer you should have your static content ready. This is stuff that won’t be changing like your About page, your Contact information, and your category descriptions. If you’re starting a blog, it’s good to have your static pages, as well as a couple blog posts so that your designer can visualize what your content will look like in it’s place. It’s alright to ask a designer to go ahead with the design and you will deliver the content by a certain date, but do everything you can to avoid giving them unfinished content.
Target Market and Goals
When you’re staring a blog or website, it’s important to know who your target audience is. It might be tough to accept at first – but you aren’t writing for everyone. You should be writing for a specific group of people, and you should know who those people are. You should also know what it is you want to provide for these people, and what your goals are. Believe it or not, this will effect your design, so your designer needs this information. I write this blog for creative professionals – bloggers and entrepreneurs – to help them perfect their digital presence. I don’t write it for scientists working on finding the cure for cancer and I don’t write it for people who want to learn how to sew. Those are groups of people that I will never be able to access, and that’s okay. Know your target audience and know what you want to provide for them.
Your Budget and Time frame
This is a big one. Know what your budget is and know when you need your project complete by. If your timeline is flexible – that’s okay, but if you have a set deadline, you need to tell your designer this upfront. There is no point discussing the details of your project with them if they won’t be able to meet your deadline. They will have other clients and jobs in place already, and you both need to agree on a reasonable deadline before starting. If your timeline is flexible, you can let them know that, but still set a timeframe so that you can know when to expect results from them – because you don’t want to be sitting around forever waiting for them to email when they haven’t even started working on it yet.
In terms of budget – you need to be realistic. If you have a small budget, and you know you have a small budget, be upfront about it. Tell them the first time you talk – I have a budget of $400 (or whatever your budget is). They will either say, sorry I can’t work with that – or okay we can make that work. Either way, you’ll have an answer. If you have a large budget and want to get the best price possible, ask them for a quote. Either they will quote high, and you can bargain down, or they will quote low and you’ve found a great deal. Don’t be shy about money – it’s something that you both want to talk about and get out of the way as soon as possible, so discuss and decide upfront.
If you’re redesigning an existing site then you probably already have your domain and hosting set up. But if you’re starting from scratch, this is something that you need to deal with. Find out whether your designer will set up your domain and hosting or whether you are expected to do this. Most designers are willing to do this for you if you don’t know how, but sometimes it will be included in their package and sometimes it will cost extra. If it costs extra consider doing it yourself (because it is fairly simple and most hosting companies offer support) but don’t do anything that you’re not comfortable with. If you won’t be able to do it yourself, admit it and let the designer take care of it. It’s better to pay the cost to have it done correctly than to get in over your head trying to do it yourself.
Content Management System
Today, most of the websites on the internet are run by a content management system like WordPress. This makes it so users who don’t have any design or web knowledge can edit simple content themselves without getting into dangerous areas like editing design or function. Before you start a redesign you need to know what content management system you want to use. Do your research, ask people you know, weigh your options, and make a choice. I recommend WordPress because I have been working with it for years and I love it – but you need to choose one that is right for you. If you don’t know what to choose, or maybe you don’t care – ask your designer. They will probably have a preference, and might even have one CMS that they design for exclusively. Whatever one you end up using will be simple enough to learn once your content is live, and your designer might even offer you a little bit of training so that you can make simple changes once your site is done.
Though designing a website is a big job – there are some other things you need to think about at the same time. Maybe you need other branding materials as well like business cards or pamphlets. Though you don’t necessarily need all these things done at the same time, it is good to discuss all of them at the beginning of your project. Your designer will want to know about everything that you need at the beginning and you will probably get a better rate for doing it all at once. Using the same designer will also mean that all of your branding materials are consistent and look great together. Though it’s a lot to think about, getting it all done at once is the best way to go.
Social Media integration
Last, but certainly not least, is social media integration. This might be something you can do on your own if you have the skills, but a designer might also be willing to do it for you if you need assistance. At the very least you can get them to design you a social media header as part of your project package. Most social media networks require a small profile picture and a larger header image – though many of them are different sizes – but having at least one designed specially for social media is a good idea, especially if you don’t know how to do these things yourself. Know what social networks you want to use and set them up before you start your redesign, so your designer can integrate these networks and sharing into your site, and so they can design images if you need them.
Working with a designer can be a lot of fun, but it can also be stressful if you don’t know what you’re doing. But, don’t worry, just remember that most designers are just as excited to be doing the work as you are to be getting the work done. Don’t be scared or nervous about contacting a designer – I am overjoyed every time a new client contacts me about a job, even if it’s just to ask a question. Despite my little rant above, I was polite and did the job rather than telling them how annoying their grammar fixes really were. Designers will be polite, accommodating, and do beautiful work 99% of the time. So do your homework, get the materials you need, find the designer you want and then get ready for a beautiful product!