How do I look for a designer?
June 20, 2004 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Logo/web design needed: my small software startup will go out of stealth soon, and I'd like some nice professional-looking logos, letterhead, possibly a web-site design. How do I go about finding someone to do it, and what should I be looking for? (more, of course, inside)

Please MeFi, clue me in: What should I be looking for? How much is it going to end up costing me? Also, are there sites out there that I can post this and get proposals/mockups from different designers?

I am leaving out my budget on purpose, so that a) I can get an idea of what kind of budget I *should* have for good work, b) it's flexible anyway. Really, any pointers or advice on the process is welcome, I am complete newb at this...
posted by costas to Work & Money (23 answers total)
I should also mention that this is an enterprise software startup: there will eventually be a need for pamphlets, booklets and all that, not just Web design.
posted by costas at 12:13 PM on June 20, 2004

It seems like if you're planning to start a software company that this is all stuff you should know already.
posted by bshort at 12:28 PM on June 20, 2004

There are lots of websites out there for this sort of thing -- Rent-a-Coder, for example. Or you could go the old-fashioned route and try looking in your local yellow pages.

Or you could ask me (or another of the many designers on mefi) to do it.
posted by reklaw at 12:57 PM on June 20, 2004

Maybe I wasn't clear in the FPP: I am not looking for coders: I am looking for art designers: logos, letterheads, etc.
posted by costas at 1:01 PM on June 20, 2004

the way i read the question, and what interests me too, is that you are wondering what the process is - what happens when? how? how much?

i would guess it progresses in steps. initially someone chooses a colour scheme, logo, typeface, etc. then later, when you need glossies, or a website, those initial elements are part of the spec (so you can use a different designer for each step). similarly, these things could be integrated into the product. and i'd assume there's an initial consulatation where the designer tries to tease out what the feel of the company is, before presenting possible initial elements.

but that's just guesswork. and i have no idea what bshort is suggesting - that you should have found this out before you wanted to know?!
posted by andrew cooke at 1:27 PM on June 20, 2004

Thanks andrew, that's exactly what I am looking for... on e-mail I was pointed to; not a bad selection, but I'd still want to find out more about the process...
posted by costas at 1:29 PM on June 20, 2004

My company recently got rid of the in-house marketing (too expensive) and tried to outsource it. For whatever reason they deemed outsourcing too expensive. I believe it was $1000 per custom presentation booklet. This did not include the logo as that was already done years and years ago.

I wasn't impressed with the booklet and I think they went for price over quality. There were several photos they manipulated (got rid of trees in the way, etc.) that looked photoshopped.

Anyway if you have to ask it's going to probably be too expensive. I'm guessing for everything it'd easily cost you $20,000+ unless you can get maybe a student artist to do it for you.

Just remember you get what you pay for, and there's a lot of bad marketing firms out there.
posted by geoff. at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2004

Geoff: I think you're off base there. Most designers present pricing based on how much longevity they believe their designs will have. If I was doing an identity rework for UPS, I would expect several million dollars as I know the logo will be seen billions and billions of times. The owner of the auto shop down the street requires an identity that will be visible to a much smaller audience. While there are flat fees for labor, I always tailor my pricing to the client.
posted by sharksandwich at 2:00 PM on June 20, 2004

Never underestimate your power to screw over kids fresh out of designs school who are desperate for portfolio work.
posted by Stan Chin at 2:13 PM on June 20, 2004

Here's the AIGA site, get in touch with them, they'll have lists of accredited professional designers. How much you're willing to spend is up to you. For a logo and GSM (Graphic Standards Manual, basically the guidelines for all use of corporate colours and type) it can be quite expensive, as you're laying down the groundwork for all future use.

You'll have to give the designer information such as who your target market is and also information on what your competitors are doing and what they're advertising looks like. The designer could research this, but designers work on billable time for things like that, it's cheaper to do it yourself.

Ask to look at portfolios and talk about timelines. You'll need to know that they supplier can work to your schedule.

And a note for when it gets going: please please please please have as much of the groundwork down before the designer starts. I've produced so many campaigns where overages run into thousands and tens of thousands because the client couldn't get their act together on what kind of logo they wanted.

Assume you'll get a couple of rounds of revisions in the initial estimate, and that's it. If you keep making changes, you'll find yourself with a massive bill at the end.

But if I were you, I'd just hire Stan Chin. Rumour has it he'll work for pizza and beer. If you're a difficult client, the charge goes up to pizza, beer and strippers.
posted by Salmonberry at 2:27 PM on June 20, 2004

Or currently unemployed Bezier curve wrasslers, Stan Chin.

Hey, I hear 7-11 has a design degree program now. Free Slurpees!

This thread has some stuff that might be useful to you in it.

And Salmonberry knows what he's talking about, even if his username makes me think like a hungry, hungry Kodiak Grizzley.
posted by loquacious at 2:31 PM on June 20, 2004

Grizzly. Bear. Grizzle fo'shizzle mah nizzle bizzle. Phwoar!!
posted by loquacious at 2:33 PM on June 20, 2004

We used an awesome designer for our logo and collateral. My business cards are beyond cool. You can see his work on our site, the URL is in my profile. He wasn't cheap, but he was extremely professional, went out of his way to try and save us money on printing costs, and his designs are kick ass. He also designed the graphic for our "Keep your hands out of the crazy" merchandise (I wrote the tag line, self link). Send me an email if you'd like me to introduce you.
posted by astruc at 2:40 PM on June 20, 2004

A word of caution: a lot of design firms offer web design, but don't really understand the medium. Ask them if they make their pages with web standards, how much they use css and provide support accessibility. Find out how much freedom the web team has.

The web is a mix of a hypertext system and software interface, which brings complications and opportunites that image slicing firms miss.
posted by will at 3:29 PM on June 20, 2004

A close friend just had this guy do some beautiful design work. fwiw
posted by anathema at 4:08 PM on June 20, 2004

Try giving W1k a shot at it as a contest. Offer a small cash prize and outline your needs. There are many talented folk over there that will give you lots of different takes on it.
posted by tonebarge at 5:57 PM on June 20, 2004

The Graphic Artist's Guild publishes an annual handbook on pricing and ethical guidelines - excellent reading for both designers and potential clients...
posted by judith at 6:14 PM on June 20, 2004

I do professional web design work at a reasonable price, specializing in flash animation. Logo and brand identity can be established based on what you need also. You can e-mail me at and I can have you take a look at my portfolio. Let me know.
posted by banished at 6:16 PM on June 20, 2004

And for the record: Salmonberry does know what he's talking about.

Just a few additional thoughts on the subject:

Bids: you can get folks on hourly, per-project, or on retainer... most of the professionals you'll encounter will bid using one of the two latter, but may include an hourly contingency for overages. If you honestly expect a relationship to result from this first project, you should let your designer know, and ask that they take that into consideration when bidding. If you believe that projects will be immediately forthcoming, consider a retainer agreement (there are different types out there, of course) that will give you more bang for your buck. The benefit to the designer is bankable income for a specified period of time, for which many designers will gladly give you a break on price.

Kinds of designers: hourly rates are roughly analogous to experience and locale... depending on where you live, and whether you're willing to work with a designer remotely, will affect bids as much as their experience level. Currently, I've seen hourly rates from $30/hour to $85/hour.

Finding designers: AIGA is a good place to start, but remember: accreditation is not a magic elixir. Plenty of nobs belong to AIGA... also, plenty of high-caliber designers don't belong (One good thing about AIGA members, is that many use AIGA rate sheets — which are published annually, if I recall correctly — so there may be less guesswork on the cost front). If you belong to a business community, query them for referrals. There are also online communities hosted by market-makers (elance, logoworks fall under this category) that specialize in introducing clients to designers and often broker the relationship. If you go this route, it is best to be certain of what you want, as you're likely to get little useful (read: professional) feedback from your designers — it's just a part of the game.

Process: Every designer is different, but perhaps this may be instructive (NB: if you choose to go through a market-maker, most of what I'm about to describe should be completed ahead of time)... when I begin working with a client — regardless of what kind of work I'll be doing for them — I need to understand what their company is all about. I want to know how they see themselves, how their clients/customers see them, where they'd like to take their brand, and how they see the company 5, 10, 20 years down the road; and I want know who their competitors are, who their partners are, and what other brands inhabit their market. All of this helps me, as a designer, to do my best work. Your designer should want to know this sort of information, too... if you'd like, I could send you the worksheet I use with brand new clients — just e-mail me.

Once I understand where the client is coming from, I may want to do some primary research to verify their assumptions... but as most of my clients don't have a budget for primary research, I tend to move directly into the design phase from here. I always start with designing the logo, and for me (and this is where designers will probably differ the most), my first step is finding a typeface ... based on the information I already have, I will often share a dozen or so examples of the company name in different typefaces. If I haven't missed the mark entirely (it's rare... but it does happen), the client and I will whittle the selection down to six or so. Many logos have a graphical element to them (Microsoft's logo is a famous exception), which is helpful — though not necessary — in making the logo distinctive. As such, most of the logos I've created have had some graphical element... and it's here where I begin working on that. With the typefaces narrowed down to a few, I'll work with a client as I develop a handful of graphical treatments. We'll then cycle down to one or two options, at which point I'll take the best one to final. Up until this point, the work has all been done in black and white. Once the logo has been finalized, I'll present the client with a few different palettes, and we'll finish up. You might think this is odd, but color is mighty powerful, and I've just seen too many really good logos get nixed because the client didn't see their value because they couldn't get past the color. So now I work in black and white until everything but color is set in stone.

With a final logo in hand, a number of variations are helpful (for different media, different sizes, and the like). If the process ends here, you should have at the very least a vector-based version of your logo(s) — which will allow printers and others to use the logo — and you should know what typeface was used, and what colors (ask that your designer specify the colors using PANTONE numbers) are used and where. If this isn't the end of the road, you should still know/have all of this.

Now that the logo is done, work on business cards, stationary, signage, powerpoint templates and the like can start.

Working with a designer: The best I can say here is to clearly define the goals of the project and the deliverables... then allow the designer to do what they do best.

Anyway, that's a boat load.

If you have any questions — or if you'd like me to e-mail you that worksheet — just e-mail me.
posted by silusGROK at 6:34 PM on June 20, 2004

pssst. salmonberry is a she. shhh.
posted by fishfucker at 1:25 AM on June 21, 2004

There are also online communities hosted by market-makers (elance, logoworks fall under this category) that specialize in introducing clients to designers and often broker the relationship. If you go this route, it is best to be certain of what you want, as you're likely to get little useful (read: professional) feedback from your designers — it's just a part of the game.

Just want to add: I work for Logoworks, and silusGrok (who has actually done a project or two for us!) is correct that the process used is very, ah, "client-driven." You don't get any voice-to-voice, much less face-to-face contact/feedback with the designers, and there are too many projects that we work on that we let customers art-direct into the ground.

That said, there's also a good amount of amazing work I see pass through our office, stuff that makes me shake my head at what the customer got for a few hundred bucks.

If you're good at written communication (perhaps even to the point where you actually enjoy it as a medium) and already have a strong idea of what you want to communicate visually, then I think there's a stronger chance of getting something great through a service like Logoworks. If you fall into that category, sign up for a project, see if any of the initial concepts you're shown really tickle your fancy. If they don't, ask for a refund (you'll get everything back except $50). If they do, make sure that in the feedback/revision process you phrase not only specific directions and articulations of your vision to the designers, but *questions* as well. Treat it like a doctor visit, a session where you're asking advice of a professional. One of the flaws of online systems is that they don't seem to encourage this -- but if you can get past that, there's a lot of good things that can happen.
posted by weston at 9:18 AM on June 21, 2004

Just wanted to say thank you to everybody, this has been very instructive.
posted by costas at 10:56 AM on June 21, 2004

Good luck, Costas!
posted by silusGROK at 4:51 PM on June 21, 2004

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