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The industry as seen by top designers.

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Finding the Best Designer for Your Business

Some practical suggestions.

by Lynda Musante and Tracia Williams (August 15, 2005

(Note: This was originally published in August, 2003, but given the upcoming Educational Seminar by the Society of Creative Designers, it seemed appropriate to reprint it.)

One question we hear over and over is, "I've met so many designers here, how do I know which one will be right for my business?"

There are a few things you can count on. To be successful in this marketplace for the long-term, you need experienced designers who have been in this industry for several years and have a knowledge of product successes and failures. Also, they have worked hard to create a network of relationships they can call on, such as editors and publishers, while working to build your business. Experienced designers insure that your needs are met on time, complete with projects ready for photography with impeccable instructions.

However, as with so many questions, there's no simple or single answer. Like other consultants, craft designers vary in specialties and expertise. Before you search for the right designer, you must decide what your needs are. That way you'll increase the likelihood of a successful, long-term business relationship.

We'll say it again: Every designer is different. There is no single standard of measurement for craft design. Some designers only design with products that are ready for market, while others will work closely with your staff to develop a product or product line from concept to launch. There are designers who only work within a specific technique category such as scrapbooking, while others have a wide range of skills and work in many different product categories. Some simply create projects as needed, and others assist in marketing and/or sales support.

The larger the opportunity you have, the more you will need to prepare in order to narrow the field of candidates. Here are some suggestions for starting the process:

Planning: Outline the tasks you wish the designer to execute. You should have an idea of the time frame required, as well as the budget you can apply to the efforts. It'll be most time efficient for both parties for you to present this information to your candidate prior to any meeting. Then the designer has sufficient time to assess your project needs and gather examples of past work for your review. Also, request background information and samples of completed work.

Background: Ask the designer about her specialties and experiences working on a project similar to yours. An experienced designer will have a portfolio of published work, a brochure with capabilities outlined, business cards, and business references.

Skill/Knowledge Levels: If you are concerned about the designer's skill level or experience, ask for preliminary sketches or low resolution jpegs of a project in progress. Also, ask for samples of project instructions.

Relationship: Know the type of relationship you want. Will the designer become an employee? Remain a freelancer to potentially work with other vendors? Be under contract and not work with other vendors? Do you want/need exclusivity?

Finances: Know what you're willing to pay and how you wish to be billed. Openly discuss payment. There are many options, and the designer may want to know how she would be paid -- hourly, per project, royalty, or a monthly retainer fee. In most instances, the least expensive designer is not the best candidate. Experienced designers may cost more, but they will have a history in the industry and will be able to apply that knowledge to your business.

Additional Expenses: Who will cover the cost of additional supplies and shipping expenses? How would you prefer these expenses be submitted? Will they need to be approved in advance?

Once you believe you've found the right candidate, consider these next steps:

Project Needs: Be clear about your goals for the project. Be precise about WHICH products you want to feature and HOW you want them featured. For example, if you have a definitive marketing plan for a product and do not want the product showcased any other way, you must let the designer know.

Some designers specialize in taking a new product and using it a completely different way; this may or may not be what you are looking for. For example, "I do not want our new glass paint used on any surface other than glass, as we do not want our consumer confused."

On the other hand, experimentation might be exactly what you DO want: "I want you to take this glass paint that we have manufactured for several years and see if you can come up with new uses for it; I am specifically interested to see if it could fit into paper crafting."

Once they are developed, how will you use the designs? Designs for different uses require forethought and planning. A knowledgeable designer will know how best to create a project to suit the specific business needs, such as:

1. Story boards for use in sales calls. These designs should showcase the product's versatility and how the product will integrate with the other products in the buyer's category.

2. Project sheets. Will the design combine an existing product in your line with a new product release? Or highlight a line extension?

3. Packaging models: Designs need to be eye-catching, colorful, beginner-level projects showcasing the products properties.

Format: Be sure to provide the designer with the correct templates, word counts, or guidelines required for any instructional materials they will create for your business.

Deadlines: Set deadlines for projects; this ensures that projects will not get pushed aside and stagnate.

As in most business scenarios, clear and constant communication can mean the success in a design relationship, resulting in a win for the business and a win for the designer. Great design will inspire consumers to try your product vs. another.

A Final Note.

The Society of Creative Designers is the only association for craft designers. Each year SCD sponsors an educational seminar. The 2005 event takes place in Atlanta Oct. 5-7. This is a venue for manufacturers, publishers, editors and designers to network and conduct business. For more information, including on-line registration and sponsorship opportunities for manufacturers and editors, visit www.creativedesigners.org/annual_conference.htm.

(Note: Any comments or questions? Any suggestions for topics for future columns? Email Lynda Musante at lsmusante@niftydev.com and Tracia Williams, Tracia & Co., at traciaw@earthlink.net. To read previous Designing Perspectives columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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