Ten things to expect from a designer

Clients have told me that choosing a designer can be daunting. That’s understandable, given the time and money they’re going to invest, and the importance of the results. If you’re a client searching for a design partner, here are a few attributes to expect.

1. An informative website

Expect to learn something from the designer before paying anything. The designer’s online presence should do the job even before you’ve made contact.

Trust can be built through the chat in blog comments. Attention to detail can be seen in project case studies. And positive testimonials will reinforce the buying decision.

2. Excellent communication skills

Your reputation is in the hands of the designer, but just as you make a hiring choice, design studios also judge potential clients on their communication skills, and can readily say no to a large budget.

3. Attention to detail

Changing the smallest detail can greatly alter the impact of a brand identity. Look at these logo refinements for an appreciation of the finer details.

4. Great customer service

How fast do you expect a response to your questions? Unless prior notice has been given, email replies should be received within 24 hours during a project’s standard working week. The telephone should be picked up throughout normal working hours, too (or a call-back made within a few hours).

What about after the design handover? A good designer remains on hand to help with any printing questions or file issues or questions about the application of the design.

5. Trustworthiness

How much is known about the designer? Does she have a successful track record? Is he the new kid on the block?

“Young designers don’t lack experience, they just lack opportunity.”

Blogs play a key role in overcoming sales objections. The regular publishing of design posts shows a passion for the subject, and communication skills are evident in the way we talk.

Here are five easy steps to building trust online, with a few extra resources.

6. Good time management

Deadlines are a vital part of the design process. You could be waiting on the designer to finalise the identity before an ad campaign is rolled-out, or before office signage is installed, so the last thing you need is to have the agreed time frame pushed back.

7. Positive references

Testimonials offer a good insight into previous customer satisfaction. Comments should be accompanied with a web address, but if not, don’t be afraid to ask for contact details from the designer.

8. Flexibility

No matter how detailed the initial design brief, there must always be room for flexibility. Things can change during each stage of the project, needing a different outlook from what was first anticipated.

9. A strong portfolio

Previous projects speak volumes about what to expect. Rather than focus on my own portfolio, here are a few others with solid identity work.









When browsing portfolios, look for diversity, both in client industry and project outcome.

10. Common courtesy

Nice shouldn’t cost extra.

“…there’s a huge gap between what people are willing to pay for nice (a lot) and what it would cost businesses to deliver it (almost nothing).”

Is there anything else you’d expect?
If you’re a designer, do you have other pointers on what clients can expect?

44 responses

  1. We are in the process of a logo re design, I am employing my nephew to do the job (I would be interested in views on employing family!) and having read your articles and some by Mr Cass on client designer relationships it has become very clear that in order for both of us to get the best outcome, we need to formalise the process, this will be my nephews first pro logo design, and the first time we as a company have commissioned a logo design. I cannot think of anything to add to this list, but there is plenty here I had not yet considered, thanks for this excellent resource.

  2. The Picture on number 5 is FUNNY…. I like the irony…


    Logos really is a big part of a COmpany’s/website;s Identity, it may be small but it actually speaks for the organization as a whole… nice guide Sir David.

  3. I haven’t read all of the text yet (printing for the road) however the 10 headings you suggested are spot on however were you suggesting that these were in order by ranking them 1 to 10?

    And I look forward to seeing your nephews logo design Steve… you should get him to document his process.

    Anyway by the looks of things this is good post :P Look forward to reading it.

  4. David, another good article – particularly regarding a strong portfolio, although a lot of the work we do we don’t put in our portfolio, which can leave clients thinking there’s only a limited range of styles we undertake . Leterme/Dowling’s work is impressive – hadn’t seen it before.

  5. Good article David.

    The thing with good time management, is that in essence you will never know how well a designer is at meeting strict deadlines etc, and as for point 7, you will be surprised how many designers invent testimonials!

  6. Great article!

    Just as an aside – there’s always one person who’ll do this, I’m sorry – but “… no excuse for glaring typos … so it’s good practice to re-read important messages ” under #2 is followed by “…proper grammer” in #9. The irony always brings a smile to my face. :D

    One item that really hit home with me is #3 – Attention to Detail. It’s that critical eye that knows it’s a nice logo, but not a great logo, and a subtle nuance or tweaking can change that feeling. Nice work, great links. Thanks and keep ’em coming!

  7. Some great tips there. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the sites that allow multiple designers create mock-ups of a logo from the clients specs. This is a win-win for clients as they get to see what they are paying for upfront and don’t have to deal with the many obstacles you mention in this post.

  8. Very informative article, david.

    Time management plays a very vital role. For which, the designer needs to identify all the possible risks which may lag the schedule beyond the deadlines.

    I personally prefer dedicating at least 10% of my project time (mostly for web-design works) for estimation and risk analysis. What do you say?

  9. Really good article. Some of the points mentioned are just common sense, these should be expected from anyone in business, not just logo designers.

    BUT! My gosh how many people I’ve come across already in my limited experience in industry who fail to tick many of these boxes. In fact I’ve dealt with, and have worked for, and lost money to people who portray no more than 2 or 3 of these characteristics, yet who have actually had the audacity to dictate MY business ethics!

    Anyways, no-one’s perfect. But I know a few people who could certainly benefit from reading this article.

    Cheers David!

  10. If you’re a designer, do you have additional pointers on what clients can expect from us? If so, I’d love to know about it.

    Hi David, what about a logo style guide? This can cover all aspects of the logo design, including logo-application, logo options, proportion and positioning, clear space, alignment and colour configurations, etc.

    Do your clients ever request one?

  11. This is really an important blueprint!

    I think all logo designers should check it if they care to stay in competition, as well as customers who are looking for a quality design.

    Thanks david for this useful post!

  12. Steve, all the best with the logo process. I’d like to know how you get on. Working with family members shouldn’t be much different from non-family. It’s just as important to understand what to expect (on both sides).

    Jacob, they’re not listed in order of importance.

    Richard, that’s a relevant point about not all work being included in the portfolio, though it’s still possible to vary the content, even with omitting a number of projects.

    Mel, inventing testimonials is an all-too-frequent occurence, I agree.

    Black Eye, the old “don’t show typos followed by a glaring typo” routine. Thanks for pointing that out.

    FeedZa, you can read my thoughts on spec work here:

    Spec work in the internet age

    Chaitanya, it’s understandable that you allocate a large chunk of time towards cost-estimation. There’s a difference between the scope of an identity design project compared to that of web design.

    Nathan, thanks very much. You’re right, a lot is common sense.

    Andrew, yes, a style guide is something you could expect.

    Sherif, no problem whatsoever. I hope Design Interval is growing nicely for you.

  13. This applies to anyone in business and not just designers.

    A blog is a great way to show off your portfolio and tends to build trust AND remove doubt as to whether the “testimonials” you feature are “real”. It’s easy to create a static website and fill it with phony testimonials and work you haven’t done.

    Unfortunately, I hired a graphic designer who did just that years ago! What a disaster!

    On the other hand, it’s hard to fake expertise over a hundred or more blog posts! Designers have an added “advantage” as they can display their latest work via their blog!

    Thanks for yet another great post!

  14. I am thinking about a logo redesign and this helped me get some of the kinks out. My last designer gave me 3 different choices and I picked one and they then further worked on that one. Being able to see the range of logos was what made the sale with me. Cheers

  15. Here’s a question that partially relates to point 5 on your list. Perhaps you can answer it for me. Forgive me for this being a bit long, simply for a comment, but you do give good advice and perhaps it will help others too.

    I did some work over the Summer redesigning a large European company’s website. Although I was paid and the final mockups were presented, they ultimately decided against going with the new site. Instead, they chose to simply rejig their existing one.

    Because at the time I thought the job was a done deal, I put the new design up on my portfolio website, along with a screenshot of their old design to compare. It’s been there since May. However, today, I recieved an email stating that the mockup must be removed because “it is confidential and copyrighted”. Additionally, they’re asking me to remove the *screenshot* of their *live and existing* website. Again, because according to them, it’s “Confidental and copyrighted”.

    You may know of BOLTgraphics’ redesign of the Akzo-Nobel logo and how he provided an excellent write up of his development process. I went there today hoping to find it as an example of a similar situation, only to find that he too has been forced by the client to remove the images.

    I’m wondering if you have any advice for such situations and if you’ve had any situations like this yourself and how you dealt with them. Thanks!

  16. Hi David,

    I’m starting a job on monday as a web developer for a small company and while I freely admit that I’m a newbie I just wanted to let you know your blog has been a great source of inspiration.


  17. Fantastic post David, I think you have summed it up extremely well. I really enjoy reading your articles, and as a designer myself, gives great inspiration.

  18. Kathy, common courtesy is definitely one of the most important traits.

    Gareth, out of interest, what forum did you post to?

    Neil, don’t apologise. I’m glad you contribute. With all new clients I make them aware from the beginning that all design work may be presented in my portfolio. There have been a few cases were I’ve kept designs confidential, mainly when I’m used as a sub-contractor for a design agency, and as long as I’m aware from the beginning, that’s fine. So my advice is to ensure clients know from the outset that you reserve the right to showcase design work in your portfolio. I hope that helps.

    Jackmo, best wishes for the new job.

  19. This is a really good list, and I agree with the other commentators that many other businesses, not just designers, could do with reading it.

    The areas that most businesses tend to fall down on is trust; failing to meeting promises and deadlines, and also customer service; failing to be sufficiently responsive to enquires and again … not meeting promised timescales.

    I feel that poor time management is the culprit for a lot of businesses offering an unnacceptable level of customer service, and that the two are strongly linked.

    Personally I highly rate good customer service in any provider I select and will pay a lot more for a provider that can deliver high standards of customer care compared to other providers of a similar standard.

    As designers our customers are exactly the same – if your service standards are much higher than others, there are a large percentage of customers that are willing to pay more for that.

    Of course there are always the penny pinchers who just want a cheap provider, but you don’t need to cater to them and personally I feel it’s plain rude to offer bad service and constantly break service promises. My upbringing alone wouldn’t allow me to do it!

  20. Great article, David. It would be interesting to read 10 things to expect from a web designer, just to see the differences between the two in expectations.

    Just curious – did you start in logo design, or were you once a full fledged web designer as well? Do you do any web design/css/xhtml etc?

  21. I agree with all of these points that you make although I think flexibility is right up towards the top. When egos get in the way creativity and business suffer. Flexibility and egotism do not go along.

  22. Amanda, I completely agree — if a service provider doesn’t have the time to deal with everything when they should, they either need to cut down the amount of work they take on, or outsource.

    Jordan, there’d be quite a lot of overlap, and those you should expect from a web designer. In fact, having just looked over the 10 titles, I’d say they’re pretty much the same. As for my design beginnings, I started out in print, before moving to identity design. I’ve done some web work — a few clients and my own website(s) — but find it more enjoyable working with brand identity.

    Bruce, like you, I place a lot of emphasis on flexibility. You never know what might change half-way through a project, so it’s important not to have everything set in stone.

  23. Just like to touch on one of your ten items … communication. Designers who do not ask the right questions and expect the clients to furnish all relevant information might inconvenient or even jeopardize the creative process and alienating the client in the end. I have many designer-friends who lamented about the idiosyncrasies of their clients. Probing deeper, I realized that it is as simple as misalignment in communication. The most common being the designer didn’t think to ask while the client didn’t think and answer. Communication is never 1 way, it will forever be 2-way.

  24. David, another good post, the strong portfolio thing is quite important . A good portfolio saves a lot of time that we’ve to spend explaining our design to the people .. that thinkdust portfolio rocks too !

  25. Man, these posts are great. I sometimes find it hard attempting to persuade clients – especially when they are aware of shops out there (online chop shops and at your local printer = LAME). I wish I could just point them to this article!

  26. Your article… WOW!

    I love to read this type of articles! I’m a designer on the rise .oO I’m 21 and i’m starting my own design company. I’m looking for information to make a better company! XD Thanx!

  27. I did not see anything about target market. I think a great logo designer must have the big 10 listed above but must also show a strong understanding of the clients target market. A super cool logo that is not connecting the client to their market is just design for designs sake.

  28. Very true, Scott. Researching and understanding who the company is communicating with is key, and could be placed under the ‘attention to detail’ heading.

  29. i loved ur work , i’m a graphic design myself :D a new graduate student. And i’m searching for new ideas and how to begin with my portfolio. Nice work and keep up the good work :D. take care

  30. As a new graphic designer and entrepreneur, I am glad to have stumbled upon this post! The information is very relevant to anyone starting their own design studio or customers looking for a good designer. I am currently building my own portfolio and would love to get some feedback from you!

    Thanks for the brilliant post!

  31. Hi Miguel,

    Quick note, when I first saw your logo I read “Puma”, not “Pluma”. Your own logo is the first to appear in your portfolio. It’d be more appropriate if you show a strong client project.

    Good luck, and thanks for the comment.

  32. Thanks alot for the feedback! I agree that my logo needs alot if work. I will probably do away with the reflection and add the rest of the studio name. being a business major myself I know more about marketing than design. I want to focus on running the business and hire professional designers to deliver the service. my current portfolio is just a stand in while I build the business model. This list will definately help me find good team members for my agency!

  33. Hi,

    I am a Graphic Design student about to graduate in a year. A couple of years ago, as a class assignment, we had to look at the competition. In doing a search on a web browser, I came across your site and was so very impressed with it, and all the information and advice you had to share. I am currently doing my website to do freelance work and wondered if you would be willing to allow me to use this article on my site (giving you credit, of course) . I agree with everything you’ve said. It’s so well-written and I would be hard-pressed to improve upon it myself. Thank you for your consideration!

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