Trust me

Derek Green Friday, February 21, 2014

An image has been circulating around social media networks recently that many of my business contacts have approved of. The photo simply says "If you think it's expensive to hire a professional. Wait until you hire an amateur."

The question that this statement poses for me, in relation to my own profession of graphic design, is "How can you tell if a designer is a pro or an amateur?" Big doesn't necessarily mean best. Neither does possessing a recognised qualification in the subject. I know a number of excellent graphic designers who have never set foot in an art school, but who are still very skilled in our chosen craft. 

When hiring a graphic designer there are some simple and obvious ways to ensure you're selecting a reputable one: ask business contacts for recommendations; view recent projects on a designer's website; arrange an informal meeting to look at their portfolio of work.

Three years ago I faced an immediate dilemma when I set-up [gawr-juhs]. I needed to attract clients and win new business but I didn't have any projects that I could show anyone. Fortunately it wasn't long before another start-up put their trust in me and commissioned [gawr-juhs] to develop their branding. With a proven track-record it was then easier to approach other businesses who had need of my design services. The net result is that I now have an ever increasing collection of amazing clients from a diverse range of industry-sectors.

The link that binds all these businesses together is their trust in my design acumen. This, of course, is very flattering. To date the majority of clients have been completely satisfied with the concepts and resolutions that I've created for them. Often they remark how the initial ideas - presented to them - captures the essence of their product, service or business perfectly.

My response is to explain that this isn't some clever trick that I've pulled off. Design thinking starts the moment I meet a potential new client. I'm genuinely interested in the reasons why people decide to set-up in business. Usually there is a fascinating story to be told which involves chance encounters, happy accidents or a change in circumstance. As a tale unfolds I start to form images in my mind - in the same way that we all do when devouring the latest page-turning best seller.

It's the job of a graphic designer to sketch these thoughts on paper - or whatever medium we currently use to mark-make - then refine, adjust and modify until we're satisfied that we have a proposal worthy of showing our customers. My opinion is that if you've listened attentively to your client's story plus observed them and their surroundings carefully enough, you should have all the clues and sufficient information to find a new design angle for them.

It's become fashionable for design agencies to hand-out documents to new customers which contain their philosophy, work methodologies, and team biographies. I was told recently that these mini-manifestos were an obligatory requirement by some organisations in order for an agency to be even considered for a job. However I do question whether they're necessary. As I don't provide my clients with such a document does that suddenly make [gawr-juhs] less-professional or even amateur?

It has always been an aim of mine to provide people with creative, original design solutions at affordable and realistic prices. However "affordable and realistic" does not mean cheap. I've developed a simple, easy-to-understand hourly-fee structure that is fair and all my customers are comfortable with. I'm not interested in giving people good value – I want to give them great value! But at the same time I need to generate sales in order for my business to exist. Therefore clients should be prepared to invest in design, not expect it to be free.

My advice to new customers is to be honest with themselves when allocating a design budget. If they only have a fiver to spend on a new logo then there is a website they can already use and leave things to chance. Personally I'd recommend we meet. Have a cup a tea, a biscuit or two, and a nice chat. Then you can tell me your story about why you're in business, what you want to achieve and how you believe my design thinking can help. 

Trust me, the design process is really all about you.

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