10 Tips for Working with a Graphic Artist
I had been wanting to write this for a while, stemming from frequently asked questions, to overheard conversations. I wanted to lift the veil of myth and stereotype and hopefully do some good and offer some helpful advice to both ends. If you are a small business owner, a growing start-up, an entrepreneur or someone with a passion for something who’d like to turn it into something more, chances are you have or will likely need the help and expertise of a graphic artist. Be it for designing a logo, or a website or maybe you need some custom illustrations or an infographic, this is all design, and graphic design is at its most basic form “communication art”.
Now, I can pull a thousand fancy quotes about design being not just about how it looks but how it functions etc. But at the very core of it, graphic design of any kind adds value to your business.
Remember that word, “value” as you read on.
So why is finding, hiring and working with a graphic artist so scary and shrouded in mystery? Why does the very thought of finding one give us such a headache?
Ok, maybe you don’t all feel that way, but for some, this may have a ring of truth. And in this day and age, of instant gratification and being able to Google anything, shouldn’t something like finding someone to create something for my business or project be easy, beautiful, fast and affordable?
The answer is yes… and no… or pick three out of those four. Stick with me, I’ll explain.
The answer is YES, absolutely, it should be easy. YES, ideally, it should be beautiful and everything you hope and need it to be. Fast? Maybe, depending on who you work with and each individual timeline and whether or not you are willing to pay a little more for speed. Speed is not always the best, especially when you want something done right, but I digress, speed is often valued highly. Affordable? In reality, it depends. There is a designer out there to fit every budget, and pricing can come in different ways, from flat fees, to hourly, to package deals or working on a retainer (pay a monthly fee and get guaranteed work from a graphic artist, often with fewer limitations). But what was that word I asked you to remember? Say it with me now *value, value is key and value is what will often be a great determiner of price. In other words, you get what you pay for and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The part where it starts going sour, is unfair pay for someone who is creating this artwork for you and devaluing the entire business in the process.
I’ll save my opinions about certain outsourcing websites that claim “paying $100 for a logo is a ripoff” and where you can buy one for $5 instead. Not all outsourcing websites are terrible, in fact I do have a couple I really like, use, recommend and sell through. But I abhor spec work, and some of these outsourcing sites are basically a really pretty website featuring glorified spec work, (spec work if you don’t know what that means is defined as producing (in this case) artwork for a potential client without any guarantee that your work will be chosen or paid for) and the worst of it in my eyes is, that artists with a lot of great talent sell through these sites to get in front of clients, for exposure and experience, but end up putting out a ton of work and hours, without any or little pay. If that is still not clear, PLEASE watch this hilarious video. If you’ve ever been asked to do any work for free, or if you have ever thought of asking that of someone, watch this first.
Now, here’s what I do like about outsourcing websites, especially ones like Creative Market: It is quality work, with a wide range of pricing, easy to find and use and on target with the needs of busy professionals today. Plus, they take good care of their designers. If you find someone on some of these websites whose work you really like, consider contacting them directly and offering them the job. Everybody wins in that case, you, the designer, and the industry doesn’t get devalued. All I am fervently stating is: I believe every artist should be paid fairly for their talent, time and dedication, regardless of their experience level or what country they live in. Period.
Now, before I ruffle my own feathers even more, let’s get to the meat of it. Below I will share 5 tips for finding and working with a graphic artist. They will answer the most frequently asked questions we get here at The Labs & Co. And I’ll in turn provide 5 tips for the care and feeding of your own Design Lab. I wrote them as commandments because… well it was more fun.
So! without further delay, here they are:
5 Commandments and Tips for Finding/Working with your Graphic Artist
- Thou Shalt Do Your Research
So you have this great project or business and you need a graphic artist. It’s great to ask friends for recommendations or look for artists on social media or Google. But before you make contact with a graphic artist, the first thing you have to do is check their portfolio. Do you like the style of work they do? Have the previous projects they have worked on speak to your aesthetic. Is there a specific thing they have created in the past that you really like? Point it out to them. Please don’t assume that a graphic artist is a jack of all trades that can easily adopt any style. Think of designers as doctors, we all study general medicine, but we choose a specialty. Which is why you would not go see a proctologist about your deviated septum, am I right? At least, I hope you wouldn’t! In other words, if you love clever logos that make use of negative space, find someone in that niche of skills. If you love handmade, watercolor illustration, find someone who specializes in that. Do your research.
- Thou Shalt Not Be Afraid to Ask Questions
I can’t stress this enough. Questions are a good basis to start a communication from. I won’t assume you know everything about how I work and my process, so why should you assume the same? There are no stupid questions to be asked, and if you don’t ask them because you are embarrassed, it may come back later to bite you in the a$$. Ask all the questions you can think of before signing a contract or handing over your deposit. Ask about copyright and usage. Ask about file formats or the weather, anything you may need or want to know, ask it. Similarly, say you have a crush on a designer’s work and you’d love to work with them, but you are afraid they may not be in your budget arena or you assume they would probably not be interested or too busy for your project, so you never contact them and instead look for someone with a similar style. Let me ask you this, what on earth would you lose by asking about their pricing? Nothing. If it’s not a right fit, it’s fine and you move on, maybe even with a recommendation from them! Many times, we have gotten emails that start with “I don’t know if you’d have any interest in a project like this…” or “I’m sure I can’t afford to pay you, but…” Only to have me reply to them that in fact I am interested and I would be glad to work within there budget. Ask! You lose nothing but opportunity and clarity if you stay quiet.
- Thou Shalt Do Thy Homework
As much as I wish this weren’t the case, the truth is… alas, graphic artists are completely unable to read a client’s mind. I know, right? Shocking. Still, it is a common gripe between client and designer. The trick to avoiding such scenarios is to do the homework we assign you. What homework you ask? It depends on your project. Take branding and logo design for example, and every designer or agency is slightly different, but in order to create a decent logo for someone, we have the responsibility to do research: who is your target market, what is your message, what services do you offer, for who? Who is your competition, etc. etc. We can find some of that on our own, but you have to provide the bulk of that information, why? because nobody knows your brand or project better than you. You get to tell us whether we got it right or when we missed something. Your designer may give you a questionnaire, or a design brief request. We may ask you for samples of work you like and samples of what you’d like to avoid. This part is crucial for the designer to get it right for you. This is where this relationship, working partnership begins, and this is where spec work and outsourced $5 logos fall woefully short. (What was that word again? Value.) As much as I wish we could, we can’t whip up something brilliant and effective out of thin air, we already kind of do that by putting pencil to paper, but before that comes research and information and anything YOU can help provide that will inform us of what you need, so that we can get the job done right for you. Skip on your homework, and your design relationship is doomed from the start.
- Thou Shalt Read, Sign and Honor the Contract
Every creative artist of any kind that offers a service or exchange of goods should have a contract. A contract is there to protect both parties, the designer and the client. A contract should clearly state the agreed upon price and payment plan, the copyright, the number of edit rounds involved, the usage rights for said artwork, and any other legal notes that may be applicable. Designers and creatives: by not having a contract, you are sticking your neck way out there and playing with fire. Clients: if you creative artist does not show you a contract, ask them to write one up and make sure you state what you want form it. Do you want full ownership in perpetuity until the sun explodes of the illustrations we’ll create for you? Do you want an infinite number of edit rounds or do you want to make sure we don’t go past 4? Ask for all those things. Contracts should be drafted, negotiated and ultimately agreed upon by both parties. No surprises for anyone. A signed contract is a document enforced by law and so may sound scary and intimidating. Look at it this way, it is just a piece of paper, signed by both parties saying “you be cool, I’ll be cool and here’s what you’ll get.”
- Thou Shalt Stick to Timelines and Deadlines
Just like the contract, this one is really there to protect and benefit both parties. Say you have a launch date in mind, and you need to have t-shirts, business cards, banners and website all ready to go, your designer should know this. Or if your designer gives you a calendar of dates where she’ll deliver a round of designs for you, and assigns you a due date for feedback, you both must do your best to stick to it. Calendars and deadlines are there for a reason, to keep the project on track and moving. Time and money are at risk here of being wasted, and neither party can afford that. Of course, life can happen, especially when you are busy making plans, right? And both parties are human, so allow for some wiggle room there for both of you. We typically assign the calendar and due dates before we even start sketching and our clients have every opportunity to request edits to that calendar. What we don’t like to see is clients (or creatives) disappearing into thin air and then sending a lame email with “oh, sorry, we had a kitchen remodel disaster and I could not get to my email…” yeah, no go. As a client, you are only hurting yourself and your wallet, and your designer will likely have to push upcoming clients further out on their calendars or take attention and hours away from your projects because their projects have begun to overlap.
5 Commandments and Tips for Care and Feeding of your Graphic Artist
- Thou Shalt Provide Constructive and Honest Feedback
Feedback is another key to a good working relationship and the success of the project and your satisfaction with the whole process and service is dependent on feedback. Again, graphic artists cannot read your mind. Feedback is what will take the project to where it needs to be. Now, there is feedback and there is constructive, honest feedback. “I’ll know it when I see it”, “Can we make it POP more?”, “I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this”, “I’m sorry, I’m just not feelin’ it LOL”, these are all real things clients say to designers all the time but offer no clear feedback or direction, or solution to the problem at hand. Be specific, if you like something, make note of what it is you like about it and what you don’t. Is it the color? Does it remind you of something you want to stay away from? Is it too big, too small? By asking you for clear feedback that is constructive, we are not asking that you hold our hands, call us “sweetie” and praise our work even if you hate it, it won’t help either of us. By asking for feedback, we are not asking you to solve the problem, but to be a part of the solution, because again, nobody knows your project or goals for it better than you. This brings me to number 2.
- Thou Shalt Remember that Thy Artist is a Fellow Sentient Being
Personality compatibility is huge, because design is a working relationship with a fellow human being, and if it is a creative artist of any kind, chances are we are a bit more sensitive. Sensitivity is not a bad thing and it does not mean mushy. Sensitivity gives way to art and to better put ourselves in the shoes of another person. Sensitivity makes us better at our creative jobs. Creative artists are not robots, we are one half of the working relationship and any relationship is based on trust and respect above all else. Knowing you jive with someone is crucial to working well together. If you have a dry, sarcastic sense of humor, make sure you choose to work with someone who can appreciate that and not be thrown off by it, especially nowadays where we can work with clients around the world just by communicating virtually by email, text, chat or Skype. Some folks may care less about this, but tone in an email or text is huge for me. Huge. Why? Because I am awful and read between the lines and I am on the more sensitive side of the spectrum. I have ceased working with a client or chose not to work with them again because of the tone of her communication with me. We are at your service, but we are not your servants. Kindness above all else people, even when it is not going as you hoped. Kindness. And know that you have every right to fire a designer (make sure you read your contract about any “kill fees”), but also know that a designer has just as much of a right to fire you as a client. When in doubt, be kind. Be clear, be honest and don’t be afraid to communicate, but do so kindly. If you go to our website contact form, you will see we have a little questionnaire there. It asks important things such as your name, best way to reach you and what you’d like to enquire about. But it also asks some silly questions like your favorite book or what your go-to drink is. Different creatives have different ways to get a sense of “who” they’ll be working with, and this is ours, it is kind of a buffer. If you took the time to answer all the silly questions, I can get a sense of who you are, your personality and what it might be like to work together, if you didn’t or only put something random as an answer, it raises a red flag for me that we may not be the best match for you, because we like to work with folks who have a sense of humor and who don’t mind sharing a bit about themselves. Consider it from your end, how could you create a buffer for knowing a creative artist is right for you? If you have say, a small business inspired by your heart dog and you specialize in homeopathy for people and pets, and you say this to a potential designer and all they have to say is: “uh, ok so when do you want me to start?” Red flag if you ask me. A designer should care about your project or at least care enough to ask you to tell them more (because going back to #3, research and information is key to getting it right!).
- Thou Shalt Respect Thy Artist’s Space and Time
This is a big one, especially for freelance designers or illustrators, and possibly enhanced by the cool ability to work with anyone all over the world, virtually. That is an awesome part about our day and age. But if I haven’t driven it home enough, design is a service, a working relationship that will add value to your business, and you are working with a human being who probably has a family, or a dog to walk, or a meal to cook. They may be in a different time zone. They may work better at night or on weekends; but that does not mean you get to text them at 8:00 on a Friday because you want to make a change to your set of deliverables. The same way, a designer would not call you on Thanksgiving day asking you why you have not sent them the fonts they needed. Tact, and kindness. Another thing; sometimes we can’t quite articulate or express ourselves on a particular edit we’d like our designers to apply, sometimes it really is better to “show” what you mean. In such cases, don’t be afraid to sketch it out, no we won’t judge your drawing skills, it is more important to really see and understand what you mean. HOWEVER, beware of the urge to take your designer’s file and “play with it in Photoshop”. Don’t. Unless you want to end up on the naughty list. IF Photoshop is your only way to clearly communicate, be kind enough to say “could I show you want I mean in Photoshop? I think it may be easier to see than to explain and I don’t feel comfortable drawing it for you.” See what I did there? Tone, tact. Put your working relationship first, always holding the best for your project in mind and you will both be better for it. Remember, just because you know how to use Photoshop, it doesn’t mean you should use it. The same applies for bringing in “extra help” from your uncle or friend who also “dabbles in design”. I’ll let you in on a secret, nobody likes to feel ambushed, and that just disheartens us. If you absolutely need to bring someone else’s opinion in, run it by your designer first. Plus, you hired a graphic artist for a reason, right? At some point you need to put your faith in us and our skills and let us do our job 😉
- Thou Shalt Remember that Design is a Partnership
Do I sound like a broken record yet? Design is a partnership, a working relationship, a one-on-one service and it can vary greatly on your involvement. Some of you are crazy busy and just want someone you can trust to hand off work to and know they’ll deliver. Some of you really want to be a part of that process and involved every step of the way. Neither of these scenarios is wrong, but in either case, there are expectations and needs on each end. Communication up front will determine the success of your working relationship. And I know most folks who read this are maybe involved in the pet industry, well guess what; positive reinforcement works on humans too! When your designer does something right, or nails it or is really close to nailing it, or even if they didn’t nail it but you still appreciate the hours of work put in, SAY IT. It goes such a long way for us as creatives. Believe me, if you let me know when I did something you appreciate, I’ll be 10 times more likely to want to do even better for you next time. And designers, praise your clients for a job well done and make them feel at ease and understood by you. It is after all, a HUGE leap off faith to hand over a project and spend some hard-earned cash on it. Long after your project is complete, your graphic artist should always be there for you, or if they quit design, at least refer you to someone new. Again, this returns to some of that value I was talking about. You are less likely to get your lifelong guarantee and service from a $5 design.
- Thou Shalt Honor Thy Business Partnership and Pay Your Designer According to Contract
Believe it or not, non-payment is a very real problem, in particular for independent designers, illustrators and other creative types. A few years ago, we went a year without payment from a project. And on a second occasion, nearly four months. It is a real problem. Nobody has time or money to bring in lawyers and small claims courts, so do the right thing. Establish a payment plan upfront with your creative and add it to your contract. Graphic artists don’t sit around a doodle all day, no more than a photographer takes pictures all day. We all have real bills to pay and mouths to feed. Freelance isn’t free. Never go into a project without establishing payment agreements. Every graphic artist can work differently, some require payment up front, others a deposit and the rest upon delivery of goods. Some offer payment plans and some don’t. Don’t assume any of it and talk to them. Nobody likes to talk about money, but it is important, especially when there is an exchange of goods and services.
This topic is as wide as it can be confusing unfortunately, I myself consider it a bit of a dark art and what I can offer you is the fact that there is a designer out there to fit every budget. There are no hard set rules for how much something costs, only estimates based on time, value and demand. Pricing can be addressed in a number of ways: hourly, flat rate, and retainer fee to name a few. There is no right or wrong answer here, and my approach and advice is to always ask and not assume anything.
If your designer is billing hourly, make sure and ask for an estimate number of hours to complete the project, and make sure you put a cap on the number of hours according to your budget.
If your designer is billing a flat fee, make sure you understand what is covered under that fee, how many rounds of revisions and any assistance after your project is completed. Don’t assume, just ask.
Having a designer on retainer is a great way to get a lot of work done for a set fee you can plan on. They in turn have a steady client and can dedicate their time and attention to your projects in a far less limited way.
Design will add value to your business and as such, it is an investment. Not ready to dive into a full investment yet? Consider purchasing easy-to-use/delgate templates! Well made, elegant templates can add that value to your business and you can forget about stressing out about little design projects such as social media, emails, etc. I am working on expanding our line of templates available on the shop, and if there is something specific you’d like to see in the future, I am all years, let me know here. In the meantime, Here’s a taste:
Customizable 2017 Desktop Calendar: Happy New Year, this is our gift to you!
FREEBIE ALERT! Subscribe and download our customizable digital desktop calendar for 2017. You can apply your own image and branding and use it to keep track of your big goals for the month, not to mention be reminded of some of the most notable observed dates in the pet industry. Please note, you will need basic Photoshop skills to use this file. Make sure and keep an eye on the shop for other design templates to come soon.
Hope you found this helpful or at least insightful. We are an open book on this stuff, so if there is anything you are curious about, I invite you to come chat with us via Facebook or email. We can make this an ongoing series if you like and keep answering your frequently asked questions or providing advice for working with a graphic artist. Whether you work with us or finally decide to call that one designer you have been following on Instagram forever, I hope you remember that there is a human at the other end of the line and more than likely one that is ready to work with you and add value to your business.
Wishing you all the success in the new year!
Nat & Co.
Want to know where I like to shop for creative talent? These are my favorite sites: