Shipshape Studio
Creative Studio - Los Angeles, CA

4 Ways to Avoid Hiring the Wrong Designer


4 Ways to Avoid Hiring the Wrong Designer


Understanding what type of designer (or design studio) is best for your business is difficult, especially if you don't have a degree in design yourself. Looking for your next creative partner? We've put together this handy guide to help you evaluate your options thoughtfully.



1. Evaluate Their Work

The first thing you should look for a designer whose style fits your company's brand. If you're an ultra-premium technology company, it probably doesn't make sense to a hire a studio known for playful logos. However, one thing to consider is that the designer or studio shouldn't exclusively do one style, where every project feels related.

If you see a portfolio filled with a particular type of design, this probably means that they're not really creating solutions specifically for their clients, but rather shoehorning all clients into the same templated style. A studio or freelancer that shows a versatile range of work can likely walk you through every choice they made, and why that choice was the right one for that particular client. And it's more likely they'll do the same for you.

Now, say you're scanning a designer's portfolio and most of the projects look amazing. You're nearly sold — you must work with this genius. Then, you stumble across a project that seems kind of sloppy and thrown together. This is a huge red flag. A good designer knows how important it is to edit and curate. If they fail to properly edit their portfolio so it shows only their best work, how will they manage editing their own ideas during your project, and show you only the best options?


2. Consider Your Timing and Budget

Then there are some practical things you should consider when you're ready to hire a design partner. One of them is your budget. If you're the marketing or brand manager at a large corporation, and you've got a budget with six digits, the world is your oyster. There are fantastic megalith ad agencies and design powerhouses in every city. (In fact, the team that did Apple's "Think Different" campaign is down the street, and we'd be happy to make an intro.)


If you're a mom-and-pop shop, a startup in bootstrapping mode, or any small- to medium-sized business, your budget might not be as generous. That leaves you with options like a freelance designer that an acquaintance recommends, or a smaller agency or studio you've heard good things about. This is better than OK, because the world is filled with talented freelance designers and boutique studios that would love to have you as a client.

Don't forget that if your budget allows for a small studio or a freelance designer, they can only work so fast and keep up the quality of the work that caught your eye in their portfolio. So, if you need something "yesterday," you should be prepared to hire multiple people and pay rush fees. Also, a good rule of thumb is to avoid saying you need something "yesterday." We hear it all the time and, honestly, we have no idea how to create project timelines in the past.

Before you go shopping around, get clear on your budget and timing. Transparency in the beginning of any relationship is key, and it'll help help save you and anyone you're considering hiring a lot of time. As does being realistic about your budget and your timeline.

There are business goals attached to your project. So it’s best to invest and reach those goals rather than save a few bucks and not reach them.

3. Ask Questions

Once you've seen some portfolios you're excited about, and you've got a realistic budget and deadline in mind, it's a good time to start asking questions. Getting a studio or freelancer on the phone for at least 15 minutes helps you evaluate whether you'll work well together, and also helps you understand some important things about how their process works. Here are some samples questions you may want to ask a potential design partner:

  • What does their process look like for the type of project you're interested in doing? What are the steps? 
  • What experience have they had with this particular type of project? Often, they'll be able to show you more projects that, even if they didn't make the cut for their general portfolio, are more relevant to the type of work you need.
  • What kind of availability do they have? Can they handle a project of your size on your deadline? If you're looking for a long-term partner, will they have ongoing availability?
  • What are the terms of their contract? How many rounds of refinement or revisions are included? What happens if the project is cancelled after its been initiated?



4. Avoid Common Pitfalls

People and companies tend to make the same mistakes over and over in hiring creative partners. Here's how to avoid the three most common ones.

  • If you don't have any senior designers on your team, don't hire a junior designer. Startups and small businesses are especially notorious for making this mistake. They figure that, with a small budget, the obvious solution is to hire a cheap amateur (Mike from accounting's cousin is taking Photoshop classes, right?). This will cost you in the long run, whether it's going over estimated budgets, missing delivery dates, or — most importantly — the quality of work. Design is a means to an end. There are business goals attached to your project. So it's best to invest and reach those goals rather than save a few bucks and not reach them. We recently had a client come back to us after trying out two junior designers to save money. Her words were: "I don't want to be a teaching hospital. I need someone to do this right." And that's the thing. Paying more for experience pays off. 
  • First impressions are everything. If you get the sense that a very talented designer or creative director might have a little too much ego, then pass. Or if you notice that they're sloppy or careless in their communication, save yourself the trouble. This industry is filled with extremely talented people who are very difficult to work with. Unless you've got a design director on your team to help wrangle a creative superstar, keep looking.
  • Design is not for design's sake. Anyone you work with should have an understanding and an interest in helping you reach your business goals. Too often we see beautiful design that is confusing to a new customer or just plain illegible. If the person leading the charge on your project doesn't seem like they have an understanding of how to take your budget and give you a return on your investment, then find someone else.

We hope you've found this handy guide helpful. Have questions or suggestions? Send us a note.

Shipshape Studio is a creative shop in Los Angeles, CA. Curious about our process? Or want to see our work? We'd love to hear from you about your next project.