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Ask HN: Can someone refer me to a designer that doesn't suck?
89 points by Zarathu on Nov 22, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments
I used to be a freelance web developer. (Before you ask: vim, Rails, MacBook Pro, and BSD servers - OpenBSD to store private data, and FreeBSD to scale; everything else is for failures)

The biggest pain about this, clients aside, is having to deal with the designers. I understand that they use a different part of the brain than I do, but some things are simply ridiculous.

From my experience in dealing with them, designers can either produce incredible work but be extremely difficult to work with, or produce eye pollution and be great to work with.

Does anyone know of a designer that produces good work without making you want to kill yourself? If you're a designer looking for work, send your portfolio to nick[at]whitepaperclip[dot]com

[edit] Web work; I don't want HTML/CSS coded.

My email is nick[at]whitepaperclip[dot]com




You sound like a programmer that is "difficult."

It also sounds like you're the type of programmer that doesn't treat designers with any respect, so they likely reciprocate -- the type that doesn't like to collaborate, but just boss people around (it's more than apparent from your post that you sneeringly look down upon the design profession). In short, you come across like a huge jerk and I can't imagine what it must be like to work with you.

Let me see, according to you, designers that are "great to work with" (the ones that just shut-up and do whatever you tell them) produce "eye pollution". The ones that are "difficult" (have opinions and give input whether you want to hear it or not) end up producing "incredible work", but you just hate working with them.

Ever consider that the problem might be you?


No! I realize that I sounded like a bit of a dick in my post, but that's just how I write. Let me elaborate.

I've contracted a designer before (an HNer, mind you) that literally told me that he was working on the design for about 3 weeks, without showing me any form of progress whatsoever. On the last day we were working together, he said, "I've been busy, and I haven't had time to work on it. Find another designer." He had been jerking me around the entire time without doing an hour of the work, and later admit it.

This has happened on more than one occasion. He had a brilliant portfolio.

The ones that are difficult aren't difficult because they give me opinions; in fact, that's what helps to make a great designer. I like creative people that come up with their own ideas.


Draw a triangle.

On each corner, write:

> Quality Work > Timely Delivery > Economical Price

You're ONLY ever allowed to choose TWO.

> If you want quality work produced in a timely fashion, then expect to pay top-dollar.

> If you want work turned around fast and don't have any money to spend, expect the quality to be crap.

> If you want quality work and don't have a big budget, expect it to be attended to whenever the the service provider has some free time.

It is a maxim of business that you will never escape.

This is true of any profession, and is especially true of both programmers and designers alike.

If you are paying proper compensation, you should never have a problem getting quality work, by a designer that makes delivery of your goods a priority. Perhaps you found a bad apple, and that is unfortunate. If so, then the market should weed them out in time. But you say the designer did great work, and it sounds like they had plenty of good-paying projects elsewhere and you simply got back-burnered (and they were not candid with you, as they should have been). I've seen it happen a dozen times is every line of work.

----------

I forgive you for how you came across in your initial post. I'm also told that I'm a friendly fellow who sometimes comes across as... blunt, in writing.


I had the same kind of experiences as the OP. Part of what I found frustrating is that they don't respect the "2 out of 3" rule (which is mostly for engineers btw). What the designer in OP's case showed was an astounding lack of respect and common sense. I doubt compensation was a factor.

Some time ago I tried to find a copywriter to help me with a marketing campain. I talked with two people, and both were very interested, actually enthusiastic when I told them the concept. Both said (which made me protest and feel rather unconfortable) that they don't want to discuss compensation in the beginning, part because they want to give the project a shot anyways just to see what it looks like, and part because they don't know the amount of work beforehand.

After a week one of them didn't answer my phone calls, and the other sent a couple of texts completely off-topic, and obviously not very worked. I ended up writing the texts myself.

The moral of the story is that it's not a money problem. But that a percentage of "artistic types", in both mine and OP's experience, tend to show less professionalism then desired.


Your copywriters gave you a strong signal as to their professionalism when they did not want to discuss compensation up front. In the future, you should now know that anyone who does not discuss the business contract before rendering any services is either: 1) very inexperienced but may still work out or 2) not someone you'd ever want to work with.


I realize that I sounded like a bit of a dick in my post, but that's just how I write.

Then stop communicating like that. Do you also say that to those you work with, when called out on something: "I realize that I sounded like a bit of a dick in the meeting, but that's just how I communicate."? Nine out of ten times, you won't be called out and people will just think you are a dick. If you are already aware you sound like a dick, why on earth should others not think that you are in fact a dick? It's easy to give people bad impression, it's easy to lose respect and it's hard to gain it and fix that impression. Just don't give them a reason to think you're a dick in the first place.


This experience has nothing to do with the designer's design skills or work-style at all. This is an experience based on someone who didn't treat you well as a customer.

Find someone with good recommendations, contact the businesses they include in their portfolio and ask how the project went. Find someone who's clients would actually recommend and you're more likely to have a good experience because you've established that the designer has a track record for delivering a good product and providing a good customer experience.


Set smaller goals. If you're using a designer for the first time, have a 15 minute progress chat every few days. Use it as a time to cover any questions that have come up, look at his progress so far, take about any scope changes, etc.

Also, how much were you paying? A lot of designers (well, a lot of people) don't want to say no. You can oftentimes talk people into working for less than they think they are worth... Which leads to them de-prioritizing your work. If you're the least lucrative bit of work that they have, it's not good.

And, when it comes to hiring (contractor or otherwise), you've GOT TO DO THE WORK. Ask them for references, call them, and ask them hard questions.


"I realize that I sounded like a bit of a dick in my post, but that's just how I write"

You know that when you emulate a dick so thoroughly, it's very hard for people outside your brain to differentiate your simulation from a real one.


"From my experience in dealing with them, designers can either produce incredible work but be extremely difficult to work with, or produce eye pollution and be great to work with." -- The above designer you mentioned is neither.

can you elaborate on "but be extremely difficult to work with" -- ??. How a designer who produced excellent stuff was very difficult to work with?.


If it means anything, I've worked with the OP and he is a very kind, cooperative and fun person to work alongside. You come off just as judgmental as you're making him out to be.


In fairness the opening line does scream "set in ways" to a degree that would put me off a little.

Not to be judgemental but I wonder if people that do work for Zarathu for the first time might have trouble communicating if this is his usual style. And as a result dont get chance to build a working relationship. It happens a lot.

I personally like direct people but plenty don't :D


My opening line was satirical. I hate text editor arguments, and the Rails v. Django thing is really old, too. I've used both Ruby and Python, vim and TextMate, and they're all great. You just need to use the right tool for the job.


Heh, I apologise :) I read the whole thing as one rant.

checked

EDIT: I do sympathise, finding really good people to contract work to is an absolute pain.


Ah.. That may be true, but all we have to go on are little letters in cyberspace.

It's good to know he's different in real life, though.


Ah.. That may be true, but all we have to go on are little letters in cyberspace.

We may as well make sure that we're on shaky footing, then, so long as we're rushing to judgements about people we've never met. Seems like a constructive way to start a conversation.

Edit: Really, the sensible thing to do would be to answer the question, rather than rant about how our internal Internet-psychologist has provided us with shining insight into someone who is potentially on another continent.

Edit edit: Not that any of this is really directed toward you; I'm just ranting myself. :P


For now we may only have little letters. But soon as it is adopted, HumanMarkup will revolutionize online communication: http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/tc_home.php?wg_abbrev=h...


There's something vaguely saddening about the fact that the "you suck" post has twice as many upvotes as the highest-rated post actually answering the question.


Might it be pointed out, I never said he "sucked."

He titled his post by stating that Designers "suck."

Then he had a rant about why he thought Designers "suck."

Then made a request for Designers to contact him if they want to work with him.

All I did was quote from his own post, and point out how it came across. Apparently a lot of other people agreed.


Might it be pointed out, I never said he "sucked."

I was paraphrasing. I believe it was a fair enough summary of your point. To make sure we're on the same page, I'm mostly looking at this part:

Let me see, according to you, designers that are "great to work with" (the ones that just shut-up and do whatever you tell them) produce "eye pollution". The ones that are "difficult" (have opinions and give input whether you want to hear it or not) end up producing "incredible work", but you just hate working with them.

Deliberately or otherwise, that is needlessly condescending and aggressive. What's more, you pulled your parenthetical statements out of the air - the OP never explained what made certain designers difficult to work with. You simple assumed that the worst plausible interpretation was the correct one.

All I did was quote from his own post, and point out how it came across. Apparently a lot of other people agreed.

I can't speak for anyone else, of course, but from my perspective the argument I was just pointing out how he comes across; I didn't actually say he was like that is entirely unsatisfying. (Whether other people agree with either of us or not is, I feel, immaterial to my point here).

For instance, I could suggest that your original post gives me the impression that you are a not-entirely-pleasant person who is looking for opportunities to be miserable - it would be rather unfair of me to then immediately backtrack by saying "I didn't say you were like that, I just said it gave me the impression you were like that."

The possibility that the OP was legitimately frustrated by working repeatedly with designers who actually did suck was apparently not entertained by you - instead, you leapt from his expressed frustration to the hypothesis[1] that he is, more-or-less, an asshole. Behaviour of that sort reduces the value of the discussions that go on here, imho.

[1] If I were in a less charitable mood, I would say "conclusion".


I think pointing out where to fix the problem the OP is venting about is about the most valuable discussion that can happen.

it doesnt need to be a verifiable fact, it never is, the original post came off to at least me and chris (and possibly 41 others) as condescending and part of a common problem developers have while communicating with designers.

it may be wrong, but it certainly doesnt detract from the discussion, this branch however, does.


[dead]


Obvious troll is obvious.


I can name a couple. Both from Norway, both a joy to work with.

Ole Martin Kristiansen: http://piraja.no

Does outstanding work, plain and simple. I'm a Django developer, and I've worked with him on a couple of projects. Without prior knowledge to the way Django templates work, he was able to pick up very fast. Has good knowledge of Wordpress. (Full disclosure: I developed the system behind that site)

Simon Bognø: http://simonsays.no

As you can see on his site, I've already made a public recommendation. :-) Fantastic fellow, also does tremendous work. Has good knowledge of Wordpress, and was able to get an understanding of Django's templates quickly.

I don't really do a lot in the Rails space, so I can't tell you if they're a great fit there… But all in all I'd say they're great designers, and more important, great people to work with.

Edit:

Oh, and Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain of http://31three.com markets himself as a person who provides "Creative services for the design-challenged developer". Never talked to the guy, though.


HIRED!

(Well, that was easy. I wish I could up-vote this 100 times.)


If you don't mind sharing, which of the three designers mentioned did you hire and why?


(I realise I'm not Zarathu!)

I preferred the third one because their website was more usable -- all work was on one page and all I had to do was scroll down. Unlike the others where I had to click specific projects then view pictures 1, 2, 3, 4... real turn-off when I'm trying to easily compare all three together.

The third also looks like there has been a real effort and focus on usable websites without a disregard for looks which is essentially what I would be looking for.


how much do these guys usually charge? with design you can end up paying $100-$100K for the same thing, and it's hard to know how much each charges


Definitely, I understand what you mean.

These two are not the kind of guys you'll find on crowdSPRING, but they're not the most expensive either. I can't provide you with any absolute "project total" numbers, but the first one I mentioned (Ole Martin Kristiansen, piraja.no) usually goes for about €75/hour on larger projects. In my experience, he's always worked quickly and to the point.

The second one is probably in that range as well, although I can't make any guarantees (and he's not currently on GTalk).


I'll mention some names in a moment. First, I want to offer an anecdote about the extent to which brains can be wired differently.

For awhile I was in a business partnership where I wrote code and I worked with a designer. One day a friend told us that she had started a new yoga studio and she wanted to show us her new business card, which was done in the shape of a bookmark - long and narrow. At the top was a photo, at the bottom was a quote from Hinduism. The quote was about acceptance and suffering.

The next day myself and my partner were at restaurant. The service was terrible. I jokingly repeated the quote about acceptance and suffering. My partner gave me a blank look.

"I'm quoting from that business card that we saw yesterday," I said.

"What quote?" she asked.

"The text at the bottom."

"I don't remember it."

"It was under the photo."

She then began describing the photo. She remembered in astonishing detail - camera angle, lighting, pose, shadows. I hardly remembered it at all.

It struck me that I had a good memory for text, whereas my partner had a good visual memory. And I've noticed that is fairly common division among programmers and designers.

The point of this story is that programmers and designers have brains that are wired in very different ways. I assume some of that difference in wiring is essential for any of us to be good at what we do.

Having said all that, I'd say the best designer I've worked with, and who is currently open to accepting free-lance work, is Darren Hoyt: http://www.darrenhoyt.com/


Darren has a great last name, too.


I do freelance graphic design while not working on my startup. I don't have an online portfolio because I don't really need one. I worked for FreshBooks (http://www.freshbooks.com) up until a month ago. You can also take a look at my startup Guestlist (http://www.guestlistapp.com)

I specialize in interface design for web applications.

My standard rate is $75/hour.


A humble question form design-challenged developer: at $75/hr how long would it take to design a prototype of a site similar to the Guestlist of yours (i.e. what's the total price usually)?


It would cost around $8-12k for a decent sized website. Our website is pretty small and had the benefit of carrying over a lot of assets from the application itself so 3-4k? I am actually working on evolving the site because I am not happy with where it is right now.

Of course design needs time to bake in the oven. You can't grind out a website every two weeks. I normally design a page and then forget about it for at least a day so I can get a fresh look at it. Sometimes you stumble upon the right design the first time, sometimes you need to go through dozens of ideas. It's all very unpredictable.

For the application itself that is a different story. It is a tremendous amount of work designing a app from the ground up so we are talking 80-100k at least. (I did all the HTML + CSS as well) Took me about a year worth of weekends to get it where it is right now. Being a co-founder I also got to make a lot of decisions without any input so it makes things move a lot faster.


Wow, I like your app a lot. Its beautiful and the idea is very good.

I am co-founding a startup and much of the design work will be done by me. Would you be willing to share any tips? What I would really like to know is how are those 160 hours spent? (160hours*$75=$12000)

The software life cycle is well documented in a number of methodologies: XP, iterative, water fall etc. But when it comes to the design phase of a web app I feel left in the dark.

What I am wondering is what techniques are you using during those 160 hours, in what order and what percentage is spent on each?

----------------------------------

For example: (a quick guess) it would be something like this:

- gather requirements - 10 hours

- draw mock ups on paper - 20 hours

- draw prototypes in illustrator - 20 hours

- make designs in illustrator - 50 hours

- review with customer (self)- 10 hours

- iterate on designs in illustrator - 50 hours

-----------------------------------

Do you have any tricks of the trade (http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/how_to/tricks_of_the_...)?


At Guestlist we believe in short iteration and customer feedback. The best advice I can give you is to ignore the waterfall method of design that would have you believe you need to "gather requirements, sketch, create wireframe, etc." in order to be successful. There is value to such a method (if only to create a paper trail that you can use to sell your design) when you are working for clients, but when you are a co-founder the absolute best way to go about is to simple do it.

Start with a specific section of your app and create a mockup in Photoshop. Work on it until you are happy and then implement it. Don't do 10 different variations. Don't worry if you don't know how everything is going to fit together. Just get it working so you can move onto a different page.

The first designs we implemented at Guestlist were pretty terrible in retrospect. It had a lot of fatal logic flaws. We had no idea what our initial feature set would be. We knew we needed a public event pages so we started there. However, as we added more and more pages we realized our first couple of pages where shit so went back and iterated over them. Given enough time and iterations things will start taking shape. Just take a look at the very first mockup I did: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/410315/event.jpg It looks nothing like what we currently have. For reference here is the current public page: http://guestlistapp.com/events/7311

Now, it may seem like you could follow the 37Signals route and simply skip the Photoshop step altogether and get to using it faster. _Don't do this._ You cannot be creative with CSS. The Photoshop stage gives you a chance to do crazy things and not think with boxes.

This can also be applied to websites. The current Guestlist website is very weak in my opinion. It was created over a weekend. There is a much improved version in the pipeline. Not a radically different site, but an evolution that iterates over the weak areas.

The key is to never stop iterating. Never lock down the design. Never let somebody tell you you can't do something because it's inconsistent with the rest of the site. Just change the rest of the site too! Design must evolve constantly.


Your app looks beautiful. Send me an email; it's in the OP.


guestlistapp looks like a really great app. Both design and usability. Well done.


Interesting that this was not mentioned yet: http://haystack.com/


It crossed my mind, but it really doesn't answer the OP's specific need for a recommendation of someone he can happily work with.

I've heard it said that Haystack really just shows you the middle quartiles of designers. The top quartile don't need to list themselves; the bottom quartile don't have an exciting enough portfolio to do so. I dunno, maybe there are some great designers on there, but having some form of testimonials is sorely lacking.


Shouldn't there be four quartiles?

And I don't agree with your view, Haystack has some outstanding designers and agency. Only problem is it costs $99 a month to have a big listing, which is too expensive for most freelancers.

I would also suggest asking designers at http://themeforest.net/ if they do freelance work. Template designers must deal with design and code as well as customer support. So they're typically easy to work with and not overly concerned about "art".


Yes, Haystack encompasses quartiles 2 and 3, quartile 1 being unable to afford and quartile 4 not needing to list. Anyway, I was just summarising a view I've heard more than once of late; not being in the market for a designer, it's not actually my personal view. YMMV.


OpenBSD to store private data, and FreeBSD to scale; everything else is for failures

Considering that attitude of closeminded zealotism, you are probably the problem.

The title of this post screams 'most designers suck'. You seem like the kind of guy that gives others the feeling that he expect them to be mindreaders and that scorns those that don't grasp what he means fast enough. That doesn't work with most of the lesser gods, who are nonetheless still way above average. It makes them feel bad about themselves and about you.

I get the exact same impression as Chris_G: there is a communication problem that you can solve. According to kyro, you are wonderful to work with. Let me say this: I've got a colleague that I love to work with. I'll be indebted forever to him, for making me a much better software engineer than I would ever have been without someone like him to teach me. Nevertheless, he has a corrosive personality. It is only because I acknowledge his superiority and have come to understand that he doesn't mean it in a bad way, that I can get along with him. However, most people will not get to that conclusion, either because they have less much interaction with him or because he simply isn't superior to them in their field. With them, he doesn't communicate in a constructive fashion. If you criticise something, it doesn't matter whether you are right: it matters whether you can convince the other party; whether you can explain that you are right, without making them feel wrong.


In other words, if you come on HN spouting bullshit about what OS you host on while asking for help finding a designer, you're probably doing it wrong.


I would not narrow it down to HN... This is not a localized problem.


Hi Nick, a programmer I work with fwd'd your post to me, so I guess I'm not a jerk to work with. I do know what you mean. Some people just suck. I tend to love programmers I work with. I think they're magicians, but I think I am sometimes, too. I really enjoy the collaboration with programmers.

There are designers who focus on _design_ and don't realize that communication skills are the most vital design skill one can possess. It's important because if someone is agitated it is usually a result of misunderstanding, because it's work not personal, and true understanding is the only way to produce effective work. I find it very frustrating communicating with project managers and I'd like to get inside their heads so I could grasp why they won't allow things that will produce effective work. I'm sure it's something about my communication. This is something I hope to improve on. What are they thinking?!

I will drop you an email, even though you've found someone. You never know... :) Jen


I'd highly, highly, highly recommend: Kim Knight of http://www.kimknightstudios.com/. She does regular work for heavies like IBM, Chase, etc., but is affordable and incredibly professional.


I can't recommend Domo highly enough: http://www.okdomo.com/. Great to work with, incredible design, fairly priced, and they can work with Rails/Django templates easy enough.


There is a cool site, "CollabFinder" just for this purpose. http://collabfinder.com. Like all social sites, it will get better the more of us that use it :D


Zarathu I just want to let you know I agree with your post 100%. I am the owner of a web development and internet marketing company, and I have had the exact same experiences.

I believe it is because the great designers don't approach their work as a job, but as art. Once that is their mindset, it is nearly impossible to offer any criticism. By labelling themselves an 'artist', they make themselves immune to any commentary, and in fact any criticism you offer just feeds their deluded view of themselves as a persecuted genius.


Posted 14 minutes ago, replied to 6 minutes ago and hired 4 minutes ago. No time for contemplation?


It was said in jest. Price is obviously a factor.


I might as well plug my own site: http://www.sachagreif.com/

I've done my share of back-end and front-end developement (php, coldfusion, and of course html, css, jquery, etc.) before focusing on design, so I generally work well with programmers.

I consider myself fairly easy to work with, although to be fair I'm a bit of a perfectionist and I hate being "remote-controled" by a client (like all designers).

I've done a lot of UI work lately but I can do regular websites too.


The best way to judge whether a designer is suited to your project is to have a look through their portfolio. Design work can be very much in the eye of the beholder, so you need to find someone who has a style you like.

Unfortunately, this won't tell you what they're like to work with so maybe ask for a reference. Setting a series of project deadlines / goals upfront should also help.

It can also be tricky to work on a brief over email if you've not met the client in person. I find it's always a good idea to speak to any remote clients on the telephone as that gives them the opportunity to talk you through their ideas and brief. A proper conversation can bring up questions and ideas that wouldn't necessarily come up in an email exchange.

In the past, I've found it hard to find good developers. If you're not a developer, it's difficult to tell whether someone is good just by looking at the sites they've worked on. I've come across several developers who talked a good game but couldn't deliver before now. The agency I used to work at for example, hired a few developers who weren't up to the job. At least with design work, you can judge the visual aspects.

Links to my portfolio and company sites are in my profile if you're interested in working with me.


I work with two designers currently, both are great guys and do quality work. The first is Brandon Silverstein, who is also a developer and owner of Impulse Development (the company I work for). Most of the designs at http://impulsedevelopment.com are his work. The other is Armando Alvarez with Viva Creative Group (http://vivacreativegroup.com). Mando did the designs that are not Brandon's work that appear on the Impulse site. Impulse shares an office with Viva Creative Group, so I've gotten to know Mando fairly well.

I'm not sure what Brandon charges for just designs, but basic websites generally start at $3k. I believe Mando is typically more expensive, but he also has more experience with branding and advertising, if that's what you need.


She's very good and very easy to work with: http://negarina.com/


I'm a fan of http://www.monfx.com/ -- Monjurul did the design for http://www.feedbackarmy.com and later http://www.afterthedeadline.com


http://www.artificestudios.com/

I've been friends with Antonio for years, and can attest to the quality and professionalism he puts into his work.


http://www.taliacohen.com

She is a member of our tribe and used to working with 2 uber open source computer scientist geeks that we are at (rmdstudio.com). She is actually dating a young oxford post doctorate mathematician.

But she doesn't work for people, she only works with them. So instead of asking her to send in a portfolio, perhaps you could contact her and let her know that you need some design help.


Jason Santa Maria did a great job for the inital design of Kongregate, and Happy Cog did very nice HTML/CSS. Jason was with Happy Cog then, is solo now. I'd recommend both of them.

http://jasonsantamaria.com/

http://www.happycog.com/design/kongregate/


Big fan of his work: http://radnauseam.com/

He put together the redesign of ErrorHelp for us (and the new Disqus and Etherpad, too, I believe).

Also, we've been having decent luck at 99designs, where we're trying a contest right now for TinyArrows: http://ta.gd/99


be careful of spec work (in the end nobody wins).


I want to recommend Mike Rohde. You might have seen his work with the various "sketchnotes" posts around here. He's a great guy: http://www.rohdesign.com/weblog/index.html



This guys an awesome designer and does far better than just not sucking :) http://nateuridesigns.com

Good hunting.


more-than-us.com is great, primarily because of their devotion to detail and satisfying the demands of the development process.



Visit a CSS showcase site such as cssremix.com and get in contact with some of the designers from there.


http://anthonydimitre.com/ is my current fav.



It sounds like the problem you are having is a pretty classic one. There are a lot of great designers out there, ones that we may respect and admire, but they don't know the first thing about the business of doing design work.

When looking for a designer, pay close attention to not just their blog design, but to the names on their portfolio. Who have they worked for and how they solved design problems for them matters just as much as the quality of their work.

A "good designer" should know how to work with you, to reflect your vision and walk you through (hopefully) an iterative process of design. They should communicate their approach pretty early on, telling you how they plan to solve your design/user interaction problems and let you know exactly what to expect.

And for the record:

Any design project should start with Information Architecture (IA), usually meaning sitemaps and wireframes and hopefully a prototype of some kind. You may not think you need it, but this is a crucial first step to "design." It allows the designer to reflect your features in a lightweight deliverable, making sure you are both on the same page. One they can quickly iterate on to flesh out the user interactions.

(Any client that comes to me with wireframes already done, usually costs more not less, as we still need to go through the process in order for me to get up to speed. If they are already done it means a lot of design decisions have already been made without me and they will be very hard to undo for the sake of the users best interests. A seasoned designer comes with a lot of experience and best practices, which can help considerably on any project.)

IA should be the bulk of a design engagement and will entail a lot of back and forth with you, and should start right after a brief getting to know the project period, typically called "Discovery." If that doesn't happen consider it a red flag. Scheduling can be a problem at times, but the schedule should be understood on both ends at the beginning.

After IA comes Design, which is typically done in Photoshop, which is great for creating designs, but major changes can eat up a lot of time (and money). It is crucial that the layout, navigation and interactions are all agreed to (and don't change) before design begins.

If you are skinning a web app and doing design in parallel, then you need a good CSS designer, and Photoshop can be skipped, but that is an entirely different type of design project. You can use a junior level resource here, but it could take more time and iterations than a traditional design process. For this type of project I might recommend a designer that has a good rep for creating skins and themes.

A good designer will limit the number of "comps" or unique designs you do as well as the "rounds of revision" per each design in the estimate and contract. I never recommend that you ask a designer to do more than one comp, it only multiplies that cost and the client gets little extra in the end because of it. (It's like telling the designer that you know more about design then they do and they often produce one good design and two shitty ones because of it. Any client asking for multiple comps is a red flag to me that approval is going to be a pain in the ass, and they often get charged accordingly.) Instead look for lots of rounds of revision so you can work iteratively to get that just right design.

That all being said, understand that design is very subjective. A good designer knows this and has an approach to figuring out how to create the right design for you and more importantly your users. You should get a sense of this right away, if not, then ask them how they plan to create it. Be honest with them about your tastes, your internal stakeholders and most importantly listen to your designer and their experiences. And for god's sake treat them as an equal partner and not as a slacker art school student.

The design of your product will be one of the most important decisions you make. It will establish the first and often only impression of your product that your end users will make. I've seen it a hundred times over a bad initial design can be a very costly mistake, costing a lot more to undo. It establishes trust and understanding of how your product will work. And remember that design isn't a perfect process, but a good designer should get you a hell of lot closer to your goal.

You'll notice that I haven't really answered your question. It sounds like you need to think a bit more about what type of designer you need and what they need to do for you before moving forward. Once you figure that out, getting a designer to suit your needs becomes a lot easier.

I have a few related articles I wrote about the business of web design ages ago, but should still be relevant, that should hopefully help understand the business of designers a bit more:

http://flingmedia.com/articles/pricing-a-project/ http://flingmedia.com/articles/the-agency-model-is-dead/

Good luck.

-Brian


Since nobody has mention it yet, one could always submit a project as a design competition at 99designs.com. Though, at design school, we were advised never to enter competitions as it undermines the design process and devalues the designer ... a view I tend to agree with.




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