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Red Flags When Hiring a Graphic Designer

Selecting a designer is a process that can be as anxiety-laden as choosing a real estate agent, a general contractor, or hairdresser. What are some issues or red flags to look for to help you make a wise decision?
Written Mar 01, 2012, read 2382 times since then.


Congratulations on deciding to improve your business’s public image! Selecting a designer is a process that can be as anxiety-laden as choosing a real estate agent, a general contractor, or even a hairdresser. Everyone knows one—or five—and it’s often daunting deciding who to move forward with. There are some obvious tactics to narrow down your list of potential designers. Perhaps the style of the particular designer doesn’t match your aesthetic, or maybe their rates aren’t in your price range, but what are some other issues or red flags to look for?

1. Very few design examples
Graphic design is a visual medium. Not having examples of past work is akin to hiring a caterer when you’ve never tasted anything they’ve cooked. If a person you’re considering doesn’t have a plethora of visual goodies to show you, then perhaps you should reconsider.

2. Lack of follow-through
There is a generalization that artsy types are flaky. All small business owners should be cognizant of their schedules, timelines, and respect their client’s time. This is true of freelance designers as well. Your time is valuable and you shouldn’t be babysitting deadlines, rescheduling phone meetings, or waiting at a coffee shop for latecomers. During the “courting period,” the designer should be especially punctual, set clear expectations, and follow through with objectives. If the designer says you’ll have an estimate by the end of the day on Tuesday and Friday rolls around without a peep, perhaps it’s time to move on to other candidates.

3. Not using a contract
Contracts are a sign you’re dealing with a seasoned professional. They protect everyone involved and give clear options. What happens if you decide to halt the project for any reason? How will you be billed? What happens if the scope of the project increases? A solid contract will spell out what happens in these circumstances before the project has even begun so that everyone knows what to expect if things take a slight turn—for better or worse.

4. Not providing a detailed estimate
You want to know what you’re paying for. How many rounds of revisions does the estimate include? How many design concepts will be presented? What are the final deliverables? If these things aren’t spelled out in the estimate, you may find yourself disappointed when you’re shown only 2 logos for the first round. Also, having a detailed estimate will circumvent “sticker shock” if you unwittingly add on extra revisions or deliverables that weren’t included in the initial estimate or contract (see #3 above).

5. Extremely low estimates
This seems counterintuitive. Everyone wants a great deal, right? If you’ve gotten 3 estimates from 3 different designers and one is a third the price of his or her peers, you should hesitate before signing on the dotted line. All too common, are horror stories of people working with creatives with stellar pricing only to realize X,Y, and Z weren’t included in the estimate. Offering low pricing for the bare minimum in order to entice people in the door is a tactic that is sometimes used and always frustrating! Make sure that when you are reviewing estimates that you are comparing apples to apples. If the estimate isn’t detailed enough, ask for more details, and get it in writing (see #4 above).

Choosing a designer is a big step. Don’t be shy about asking questions. Also, check Yelp, LinkedIn, and the designer’s website for honest testimonials about their work. If you don’t see any, request references and follow up with those past clients. A little footwork in the beginning stages will help ensure a lovely working relationship.

Does anyone have other red flags they’ve encountered?

Learn more about the author, Char Davidson.

Comment on this article

  • Fundraising, Marketing & Training for Nonprofit Organizations 
Bellevue, Washington 
Joy Stephens
    Posted by Joy Stephens, Bellevue, Washington | Mar 02, 2012

    Thanks Char! I am working with a graphic designer right now and we can't seem to get on the same page.

  • Creative Director 
Seattle, Washington 
Char Davidson
    Posted by Char Davidson, Seattle, Washington | Mar 02, 2012

    Thank you for the comment! Hopefully you and your designer can work it out. Let me know if there are any other topics you'd be interested in knowing more about. I'm on a writing roll. :)

  • QuickBooks And Xero Outsourced Contractors Bookkeeping Services 
Lynnwood, Washington 
Randal DeHart, PMP, QPA
    Posted by Randal DeHart, PMP, QPA, Lynnwood, Washington | Mar 03, 2012


    Your article applies to a lot of industries.

    Keep up the good writing because your communication is crisp, clear and to the point.

    Warm Regards,


  • Creative Director 
Seattle, Washington 
Char Davidson
    Posted by Char Davidson, Seattle, Washington | Mar 03, 2012

    Thanks for the feedback, Randal. I hope to write more articles in the future.

  • Freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator 
St Louis, Missouri 
Lynn Alpert
    Posted by Lynn Alpert, St Louis, Missouri | Mar 08, 2012

    Great article, Char!

  • High Tech Copywriter 
Los Gatos, California 
Lara Fabans
    Posted by Lara Fabans, Los Gatos, California | Mar 11, 2012

    One time, I hired a graphic designer who was cheap & I didn't see his portfolio (yeah, 2 of the red flags) and he bought a cheap MonsterTemplate for my site and was surprised when I wasn't happy with it.

  • Creative Director 
Seattle, Washington 
Char Davidson
    Posted by Char Davidson, Seattle, Washington | Mar 12, 2012

    Oh no, Lara! I hope you were able to work something out. Hopefully this article will help keep others out of the same predicament. Thanks for your comment.