The industry as seen by top designers.
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
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
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
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
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
3. Packaging models: Designs need to be eye-catching,
colorful, beginner-level projects showcasing the products
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
and Tracia Williams, Tracia & Co., at email@example.com.
To read previous Designing Perspectives columns, click on the titles
in the right-hand column.)