Image of people with questions

How to find the right partner for your design project

Erin Strode, August 26, 2013

The prospect of hiring a design firm may appear to be just as difficult as the design process itself. Will you like what you get? Will you be able to use the design effectively? Will you get what you are paying for?
You can make the process easier if you come to the table with the right information. Enter the creative brief…

  • What is the goal and scope of the project?
  • Who is your audience?
  • Is it too vague to be actionable or too specific to be effective?
  • What are the measurements of success?

Once you’ve determined the goals of the project, identify up to three firms – by visiting websites, calling peers for their recommendations or keeping a file of work you like along with the firm responsible for producing it. (hint: expand your file to include examples outside of your category. You’re the industry expert looking to hire a design expert.)

Bring each of the firms in for a brief discussion. They will bring in samples of their work. (If they don’t, cross them off the list and find another.) Ask the questions you want answered and have them do the same. Talk about budgets, expectations and timelines. Then do a gut check ­– could I have a good working relationship with this firm? Do they seem flexible, collaborative, and easy to work with? Let the information percolate for a few days and call finalists back should you have additional questions.

By doing the pre-planning and pre-selection up front will net you a creative and productive design partner.

P.S. – what not to do

If possible, avoid the Request for Proposal (RFP), the form sent to design firms, ad agencies and freelancers asking for mountains of information. RFP’s or lengthy questionnaires don’t lead to good work or client relationships—conversations do by answering questions and revealing the right chemistry.

Resist the urge to ask for speculative work. Free work is just that, worthless. Little time, energy or thought can go into spec work, which precludes the most important elements of design—input, research, thoughtful consideration, collaboration and feedback. When that combination is removed from the design process, the result will rarely produce the superior work you wanted or can fully represent the potential of the firm being considered.

And remember, successful design results from the collaborative process between the client and the designer.