How to pick the right designer for your branding project

You’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge. Time to create a new brand identity for your business. And whether you’re starting from scratch or rebranding a business packed with legacy, picking the right designer for your project is key.

Pick the right person, someone whose work you admire and you have a great connection with, and you’ll find the process that follows is rewarding and productive. Choose someone simply because they are in your business breakfast group and you feel obliged to; because they seem like nice people; or because they are prepared to barter with you and you’ll find that the process is akin to wading through treacle.

Branding your business should be a fun, rewarding and inspirational experience and it all starts with picking the right partner to work with. Here are my top tips to help you get the very best out of your next investment.

How to choose the right designer for your unique project

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1. Understand what you need.  Get focused before you begin. Establish what makes you different, why your clients use you and the message you want your brand to communicate. Create a mood board that reflects how you’d like your brand to look and feel, this will help you get focused and understand what you are looking for, visually. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to an expert if they can see a better way of communicating what you want, but gaining clarity upfront is essential if you’re to make the right decision. I created this very stripped back mood board, below, for one of my clients, Roger Lewis, who are currently working through a rebrand. Update: Roger Lewis have now launched their fabulous new identity! You can see it here.

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This mood board for a company that makes iconic private label sofas reflects the sorts of colours that would work well to communicate their brand message. I’ve pulled together several more for different elements of the projects. You don’t need to be this detailed unless you want to, but an overall idea of the sort of design that will work for you is invaluable. Images: Rich, Brilliant, Willing by Projects Projects; BPO Sixty Seven by GPlan Vintage; The Creative Residency by Justina Blakeney

2. Approach designers whose work reflect the style you’re looking for. I know that sounds obvious, but sadly I speak to more people who are unhappy with their website/ brand than people who proud of their brand identity. Often, the root cause of this discontent is picking the wrong designer. No one sets out to do a bad job, but as business owners we have a responsibility to pick people whose portfolio reflects the style we are looking for. In the case of Roger Lewis, I’m looking for designers whose portfolio reflects this streamlined, modern, crisp and contemporary feel. Contrast that with the look for an artisan ice cream company I’m working with and it’s a totally different designer we need.

3. Identify what’s important to you about doing business. You’re going to be working with this designer or agency for a long time: branding projects always take longer than you think. Are you a laid back sort of a person who gets stressed out if people are constantly hounding you for information? Or are you more structured? Do you need to work with someone who’ll stick to their deadlines come hell or high water? You’ll get a good insight into how potential partners will be to work with from the speed at which they respond to your initial enquiry as well as the tone of their proposal. How does each feel? Could you work with this company?

4. Look for chemistry. Do you get a sense that the designer/ agency is as excited about this project as you are? Can you see them really getting behind you and throwing their all in? Or are you simply another pay check? And most importantly, is the style you want reflected in their portfolio (see point 3).

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This mood board for my artisan ice cream client has a totally different look and feel to Roger Lewis, who design iconic private label sofas for companies like Heals and John Lewis. The right designer/ agency is going to be very different for this project to the one above. I’m looking for someone with a much softer, more whimsical approach. Image credits: ice cream: Bon Appetit; Bamsrudlaven Gardvis on Behance; Ruban Papier; LA Creamery via Lost at E Minor;  Cornishware via BigFish; Organic Avenue via Ash Bryant; Honey & Mackies; I am Pure via The Dieline

5. Look at value as well as price. Price comes into it, of course it does, but understand what each company is proposing to give you for your investment. What are the deliverables? What process do they work through? And which feels right for the stage your business is at?

6. Are you a good match? It’s very easy to be impressed by big brand names on a potential agency’s website; but if you’re a small business looking for a rebrand, are you big enough for the company to take seriously? Are they set up to service you well? Do they specialise in branding or are they more focused on art-working and design? They are very different (but related) skills. Similarly, if you are a larger business with more complex needs, is a freelancer really the right match for you? Can you afford to wait whilst they work on other projects/ take a holiday or do you need a business with more capacity?

7. Look for a branding specialist. It’s so tempting to prioritise the (understandable) need to keep things simple by picking a company that can provide the whole shebang: website design, branding and SEO in house, rather than working with individual experts, and if you have the budget, this can be great. But especially if you’re on a tight budget, pick two or three specialists whose work blows you away to work with rather than one company who perhaps is good across the board but is not outstanding in any one area.

8. Go with your gut. Do you get the feeling that working with this person will be fun? Do you think they will deliver what you need? Do you get the sense they really ‘get’ you and your business?

Over to you

There’s a real art to choosing a designer who will deliver above and beyond your expectations; one that’ll be a joy to work with and who will create a truly compelling face for your business. What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear from you!

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5 Comments

Sara

Hi Fiona

I’m a designer and work for an agency and I am very surprised that you feel that you would need to have a different designer to work on each of these mood boards. A good designer should be able to translate both of these into perfection. The work of the designer is all about the translation so looking at their portfolio is not really the best way to judge. It’s about availabilities not personal style.

Same for your comments re the jack of all trades company – surely if they have hired talented experts in their field then that’s better than trying to hire a designer and developer separately

Sara

Reply
FionaHumberstone

Hi Sara, thanks so much for your comment.

You’ve used a gmail address so it’s difficult for me to see this within the context of the agency you work for, but I absolutely believe that different agencies or designers will be the right people to bring each of these brands to life. I want my clients to have something exceptional, and I believe I’m best helping them choose someone whose portfolio already reflects the style of design we are aiming at. In my experience, yes, a good designer will translate these well. But to have someone use this as a jumping off point, and take this above and beyond the mood board, it’s always *easiest* when they are already designing in that style.

I think this is pretty true across the board. And I know it makes a lot of business sense. The more you niche as a designer, the more you’ll stand out. The more you create and celebrate your distinctive style rather than turning your hand to everything, the more you’ll find people cross continents to work with you. I know this because I walked that very path with my own branding agency. I know it seems counter intuitive but it really makes a difference! I see photographers, florists and other creative industries also taking the same approach and it’s something I’m really passionate about because I’ve seen the difference it makes.

I’m sorry if the post has come across in any way as knocking agencies. That’s certainly not my aim. In an ideal world, it’s great to have one agency manage the whole process. And in an ideal world they will have hired talented experts in website development and the creative side of things. However, in my experience, many of the agencies within the reach of small businesses tend to have a bias towards either, say, branding over website development; artworking over branding or perhaps SEO and website development over branding. Understanding what the agency, company or designer specialises in makes things a whole heap easier: especially for small business owners who will often only create one or two websites in their business lifetime.

Warmest

Fiona

Reply
FionaHumberstone

PS. The mood boards I’ve posted are just a small element of the project: perhaps it’s because you can’t see them all in context but they have very different approaches. Looking at these again I do see that although the colours are very different the typography in that mood board is also quite clean. That board is simply for the colours rather than the design style so perhaps that’s where some of the confusion is coming from 😉

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My top tips for reviewing creative work – The Brand Stylist

[…] Choosing the right designer in the first place can be enough of a challenge, but once you’ve got the initial concepts back, how should you review the creative work that’s produced? What should you be looking for? And how do you make sure you get something that’s right for your business whilst maintaining a positive working relationship with your designer? […]

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