7 Ways to Know If You’ve Hired a Great Designer

Simon Lightstone
  • Dec 9, 2015
  • Comments Off on 7 Ways to Know If You’ve Hired a Great Designer
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Looking to Hire a Great Designer?

You’ll know you hit the money when you find they have these traits:

1. They have excellent use of color
After hiring designers online, I kept getting designs that felt 7 out of 10. I couldn’t put my finger on why the designs seemed awkward. Eventually, I realized: The problem was the use of color.

Many self-taught designers skipped studying basic color theory. They didn’t understand the importance of using an accepted color scheme structure (like tetradic or triadic) and sticking to it. Once a color scheme is chosen, all colors on your website- with almost no exception- should be inside that color scheme, or be a color derived from it, called a “swatch”.

Before a designer starts working on a new project, I now always ask for the color scheme and explain that I’m looking for a good use of color. This is to ensure that the designer spends time thinking about color, and because related work (such as blog sites or marketing materials) needs to use the same color scheme.

2. They are likely not programmers.
It’s nearly impossible for one person to be a master of both programming and design. There are exceptions, but it’s extremely rare. Often, a good designer will have another person in their firm (or an external company) which converts their design to responsive HTML. It’s important that they’ve worked with this person in the past so that they can vouch for their quality. I’ve found it’s better and cheaper to use that combination, rather than have 1 person who does both. The reason: In this case, both parties specialize in a small area, and do it very quickly and professionally. A “jack of all trades” has not spent all day in PhotoShop, nor spent all day implementing the latest coding frameworks. He or she will be slower and lack quality in both areas; in my experience, project failure is higher in this case.

3. They openly admit when they are too busy.
When I pitch a project to a designer and they respond, “Sorry, I have too much work from other clients to make this proposed deadline,” then I am 100% okay with that. It demonstrates that they are realistic and committed to quality. The worst is when a designer takes on too much work, and then returns garbage or is unresponsive to my emails.

4. They can work with a short deadline, but are brutally honest about what that means.
The best designer I know is someone I’d only hire under special circumstances. His work is incredible, but I can’t use him for any of my projects, because he cannot work within deadlines.
I rarely have that advantage. When a project comes up, it needs to be out the door yesterday.
The best designers are ones who will be honest, and say, “Here’s what I can do between now and then”.

5. They are religious when it comes to choosing fonts.
The right fonts make a huge difference. I’m not sure how they do this, but the best designers have a knack for finding the perfect fonts to fit the feel of the page. It’s also critical to ensure your front-end developer properly implements the fonts, using Google Fonts or possibly Cufon.

6. They add subtle details, and it makes the site better, not worse.
For example, if your business is selling nuts, then a great designer might add little squirrel characters in a subtle way. It’s pretty hard to do this without ruining the site.
It’s easy to make something plain with a simple “web 2.0” look. However, once you have a design that feels clean, but on close inspection, is quite detailed, you know you’ve found a great designer.

7. They admit when something is outside their specialty.
I once needed an icon done, and I asked my best designer to take on the task. He refused: “Icons are really hard, and not my specialty.” That really impressed me. Sure, he could have accepted our money and tried to learn on the fly (as way too many contractors do). But that would have put our project at risk. I really appreciated that. In the end, we got a great icon done by someone who specializes in icons.

Extra tip: Conversion to HTML is just as important
There’s nothing worse than getting a great design, and then having a front-end developer ruin it. This is extremely common. As I stated above, use someone recommended by your designer. Make sure that you see their work and test it in a tablet and mobile format, to ensure it’s responsive.

What do you find to be great traits in designers you know? Please share in the comments section below!

About the Author, Simon Lightstone

Simon Lightstone

I’m on IBM’s DB2 on Cloud team, busy adding features to the world’s most awesome database. I’m a former consultant and startup guy.

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