How to choose a professional designer for your next logo or book cover project

Posted on Posted in Branding

If you’re a speaker, consultant or something similar, it’s inevitable that you’re going to need something designed like a book cover, logo or other project. And you need it to be awesome! The thing is, too many people assume that anyone that calls themself a designer is a professional.

Not true.

In this article, we’re going to explore the factors you need to look at when finding someone to handle your next project. Let’s do this!

Pick a Professional

Like I said, not every designer is a professional. The problem is the barrier for entry into the design world is incredibly low which makes your second-cousin, twice-removed, completely capable of doing you up that logo in his free design program.

This, is a problem.

Professional designers have something that amateurs simply do not. They have experience, knowledge of design principles, often color theory and various other areas of expertise. Design professionals are artists in that they care about their work and want it to communicate something that isn’t completely visual.

When looking for a professional, you’ll need to do the following things (at least) to make sure they will work for your project. Just because your friend used a guy, doesn’t mean he’s the best for you.

I trust that these will aid you in your next project and hopefully give you a new perspective on a few areas.

1) Check their portfolio

It’s amazing to see how many designers get going without a portfolio and the people that will trust someone who says they are a designer and yet has nothing to show. I’ve had clients come to me that got totally ripped off because they didn’t research the person they hired. They just got a name from a friend and paid him on the spot never to see him again. I hope that hasn’t been you.

If it has, not all hope is lost. there are plenty of us out there that are truly wanting to help your project succeed. Professional designers take projects to heart. They care if a project doesn’t perform well because it’s their baby by the time it’s released into the world. For a pro, much care and thought goes into every project.

Which is why one of the first things you should do is check their portfolio. If they’re a web designer with no website, don’t hire them. Or if you need a logo and their logo communicates nothing or has no meaning behind the creation of it, they don’t need to be designing yours.

Professional designers will help you with the visual side of your branding but they will learn your brand as deeply as they can before doing so. They will research you to understand what your brand communicates and what you stand for. They’ll ask about your clients so they can develop an accurate visual of your brand through logos, web design, book covers and various other projects. Make sure you thoroughly inspect multiple projects on their portfolio before even considering a hire.

2) Contact their past clients

This is really easy. Professional designers should have their work online in this day and age. If they don’t, don’t hire them. Simple as that.

Checking their past clients should be simple. Just go the person’s portfolio and either use a link (if provided) to view the project or ask them for references you can email or call. I would suggest a minimum of 5 references to check before considering hiring them. Find out:

  • Were they on time with delivering?
  • Were they easy to work with?
  • Did they ask questions pertaining to various company practices?
  • Did they talk about existing marketing or branding materials?
  • Was communication clear and timely?

This should give you a pretty good idea of what the designer did for that person during their project. You’ll be able to tell if someone wasn’t completely stoked with their services. You might even ask a little about the reference’s company or brand to see if they have similar philosophies to you. This will help you judge better what type of personality the designer has.

3) Compare their personality with yours

This is incredibly important. You are going to be working with someone for at least this project and hopefully many more in the future. So it’s imperative that your personality fits with the designers.

Take a look at the designer’s social media accounts and see what you can gather from them. Do some searching in Google and see if you can find where they’re written articles on design blogs or if they have a blog themselves. You will be able to tell pretty quickly if their personality or other character qualities mesh with yours.

For instance, if you’re writing a book about Christian living, you’re probably going to want someone that shares similar values to you. That doesn’t mean no one else can do the work, but it would help them to get more involved if it’s something they care about on a personal level.

I have a friend that is a big time foodie. So when he gets logo projects or websites that pertain to that, he gives it that little extra “umph” because it’s something he cares about deeply. Make sense?

The core here is to make sure that your personality fits with theirs. You’re going to working together a long time, like I said, and hopefully this will be the last designer you have to seek out and find. It’s a win for you both because they get a long term, repeat client and you have someone you can trust to do great work. Make this someone you can build a relationship with.

4) Expect to pay them!

I’m amazed at the people that don’t expect to pay a professional designer something worth-while. Here is a person that is putting in 5-10-20-50 hours on your project and you think they should be paid minimum wage at best!?!

Ridiculous.

Think of it this way. If a designer puts in 10 hours on your book cover (which is very easy to do) and you want to pay him $100, they are working for $10 an hour. Then they have to pay taxes on that, so they are making $7.50 an hour, roughly. It would be better for them to get a job a McDonalds where they would at least make minimum wage of $7.85 and be able to grab a few free fries on the job!

This just really rubs me wrong. It make no sense to want to pay someone next to nothing when they have put in countless hours learning design, color theory, what communicates best with target audiences and various other things. On top of that, they are doing very technical work that requires much more than just a college education or a few hours of courses online. For designers, it’s often their life. They live and breathe good design and pour their hearts into their projects.

At the same time, I understand not everyone has $2500 to shell out for a decent logo. Just realize that you get what you pay for. If you’re going to hire a professional for your project, expect to pay them.

A good example to run with is a book cover, since many of us will need that soon or already have. If I were hiring a designer, I would look for someone around the $500 mark. The reason being is that it’s likely the first thing people will see of you on Amazon if it gets recommended to a shopper. That is your biggest moment and you’ll either grab attention of your target audience, or not. If I could pay more, I certainly would. That would be a minimum for me if I didn’t have the ability to do it myself.

All that said, keep in mind that we are hiring professionals here. We need to be discerning about what is being offered to us for that high price point and what the designer can actually deliver. If you check out all the other points and have a great feeling about them, you shouldn’t mind dropping some cash on the one thing that will help your book to sell more than most anything else.

5) Make sure they ask questions

You need to interview your designer, don’t just take their word at face value. I wish we could always just trust that people know what they’re talking about, but we simply can’t. That’s where the research and other points come into play.

When interviewing them, make sure they are asking questions about your brand or product. And make sure they are legitimate questions that pertain to you, your brand, your project or something along those lines. Also make sure they are asking probing questions about your audience and your history. A professional designer should want to know every detail of your business before they even accept the job (if you offer it.)

On the flipside, this is them interviewing you too. Pros know this and will take the time to make sure they know everything they possibly can about you before they even begin to think the job might be a good fit.

6) Let THEM do the design

So, you’d decided to hire them after all this researching and talking and paying. Now’s the time for you to shut up and answer their questions.

That’s right. They get to drive the design.

This may sting a little and not be what you want to hear. But, honestly, you hired them because you dubbed that THEY are the professional and can deliver to you something incredible. So let them do their magic.

Things you should remember during the process:

  • You are not a designer
  • You are paying them
  • They are the professional that YOU hired
  • This logo/book cover/other project is not for you to look at…
  • It’s for your target audience
  • Your personal taste matters next to none

Like I said, it’s going to sting a little and you may disagree with me but that’s okay. The professional designs I’ve seen done out there are rarely something the client is in love with. In fact, the most effective ones often seem too simple or bland to the client and the designer. BUT, they hammer home and resonate incredibly well with the target audience. And, really, that’s all that matters.

Bottom line, you hired them to design, let them do it. If you’ve hired the right person, they will be able to inject your brand personality into the project in very strategic way.

BONUS: Never crowd-source

I can sense it now. You’re thinking, WHAT!?!

It’s going to be okay as long as you understand that crowd-sourcing is the death of design. That’s right, I said it. And I stand by it.

In case you don’t know what crowd-sourcing is, it’s a way for you to submit your project to multiple people (often a hundred or so) and each of them spend their time creating something for you. You then get to choose a few that you like and work with them until one of them stands out and you pay them for their services.

From a designer standpoint, it’s a terrible, stupid thing to do.

From a client standpoint, it’s terrible, stupid thing to do.

Here’s why.

All of the points we just went through are completely thrown out the window when you go this route. It would be like a speaker asking for multiple topic submissions and then choosing to speak on the one he liked best. Or a writer to ask for several manuscripts and choosing to be the author of his favorite. That wouldn’t make sense at all.

You will never find a true professional designer participating in crowd-sourcing.

I could go on but I hope you feel my burning desire to not crowd-source. You will never be able to achieve the same level of quality from crowd-sourcing that you will get from a true professional designer. There can be no replacement for working one-on-one with someone who wants to learn your brand and contribute to your success for more than minimum wage.

Conclusion

To wrap it up, I want you understand my desire to help you choose a great designer. There are many of them out there and can be found fairly easily through design blogs. You will have to do some research to find them, but it’s well worth it.

Lastly, in case you didn’t know, I myself am a web designer. However, this article was not to promote my services but rather to help you choose a true professional that fits for your project and personality. I hope it has done just that and can be a resource for you to come back to when you have that next project come up.

QUESTION: Have you ever had a bad experience with a designer? How about a great one? Let me know in the comments.

  • DS

    Great application from your years of experience. The point about the portfolio is important. Writers, speakers, and bloggers all create a portfolio of best speeches, great articles, and places they’ve been featured – why not ask the same from designers? Thanks for pulling back the curtain.

    • Thanks David. Glad you enjoyed and found it useful. Always hoping to be able to help out where I can!

  • Kent Sanders

    Jared, great article and very helpful thoughts from a designer’s point of view. I agree with your thoughts wholeheartedly, but want to adds caveat: What if you simply can’t afford a professional designer? For people who haven’t yet made money from their book or blog, it’s not a small or minor expense like web hosting, etc. Several hundred dollars or more for a book cover or logo may not be a viable option for a lot of people.

    So … what are the alternatives for someone who cannot afford a pro designer? I see it kind of like personal coaching. We would all like to hire a personal coach, but there are less expensive or free options available that are also effective (like peer coaching, MasterMind groups, mentoring, etc.) What are the options for someone who can’t yet hire a pro? Are there some resources for someone who wants to learn about design and do it themselves?

    • Great point Kent and I knew I would get that question 😀

      My answer would be to surround yourself with some people that can help you out in the various areas you struggle with. I know that I’ve personally given design advice to friends several times and even helped them tweak it a bit. And it cost them nothing but some time.

      Also, be sure to take note that if you don’t have the money to put into it, you probably don’t have the audience for it make much of a difference anyway. When I did my first cover design for my manifesto, I paid a friend a decent amount to do it because I wanted it awesome. I then figured out that it didn’t matter all that much because my audience was very small and only a handful of people ever saw it anyway. In a sense, it was a waste of money for me.

      One important thing to note is that your projects need to grow with you. Start small by finding a designer that can answer all these things we talked about above but maybe doesn’t have the pro level experience. That’s okay to do if that’s all your budget can handle.

      I’m a big believer in not overextending yourself or finances so make sure that is in line before dumping money in a project. Ultimately, if you can only afford to hire a designer for $100 for the cover, then do it. Just make sure you’re working with them one on one instead of crowd-sourcing it. You will always get better results pending they are at least on the track to be a pro.

      Hope that helps.

      • kentsanders

        Very good thoughts, Jared – thanks! Loved the point about your projects needing to grow along with your audience. It can be hard not to be discouraged when you see all the great websites and products by well-known authors, bloggers, etc.– but they had to start somewhere as well.

  • Susan

    I have worked with Jared in another company and I was so impressed with his detail oriented creative that I hired him later to work with my clients. He was communicative, process driven to excellence, and “lifted the hood” to make sure the project made sense to the end users. After being in the Internet space since 1996…he is my first call because he delivers work that I am proud of….always. He walks his talk! 🙂

    • Thanks Susan! 😀 Always glad to be of service and help out where I can. Thanks for the kind words, you’re so awesome!

  • Bernard Haynes

    Excellent post. I am working with a designer who has done two covers for me that flows with my themes. I agree with you it is great working with someone that personality works well with yours. It has been a pleasure working with her.

    • Awesome deal! I look forward to seeing that comes from it!

  • sespring

    Excellent post. I can see your point of view as a designer, but I am in the same camp as Kent. Although I would love to have a professionally designed logo, website, and social media backgrounds, I don’t have the ability to pay someone to design them. In my case it is a choice between LogoNerds, 99 Designs, and Fivver or nothing.

    • I think you will find that you get much better results if you work with someone on on one. That’s what I mean. Some of those sites allow you to find some talent and then work with them in the future. That’s fine. You’re just looking for someone that is headed down the path of professional if you can’t afford one.

      From experience, people took chances on me a few years ago when I was building my portfolio. My prices were much cheaper then but I still had the drive and character to be a true professional. My experience wasn’t there, but the delivery was the best I could do for the price they could pay. Hope that makes sense.

      The key is to find one person and work with them. I really urge you to stay away from crowd-sourcing as your results may look good on the surface but those “designers” are often just taking direction.

      Thanks for reading and commenting as always, hope it serves you well in the future!

      • sespring

        Jared, I appreciate your advice and I do agree with you. Actually, years ago I took a chance on an art student and was very satisfied with the results. She did a great job now has a thriving design business. But, what does a guy do when he doesn’t have any graphic elements and doesn’t have any cash? The choice really has to be cheap or nothing…

        • Cheap is okay. The tips above will help you choose someone that is at least headed down the path to professionalism. And working one on one with someone will always get you better results.

          • sespring

            Thanks Jared!