“I don’t know the first thing about professional design!”
You say your MBA program didn’t include training to work
with creative professionals? Perhaps your degree is from
the Seat-of-the-Pants School, and didn’t include experience
in outsourcing creative work. Don’t know what a designer
actually does? Don’t even know where to find one?
Relax. You’re not alone. Few executives are trained to make
these kinds of decisions or to work effectively with creative
professionals. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage
when hiring creative consultants.
We’ve run into this situation with many of our clients. That’s
why we’re offering this white paper to fill in this critical
information gap. What you learn from this paper will give you
the power to approach marketing projects with confidence. It
will help you understand:
o The benefits of hiring a professional designer
o Where to look for the pro you need
o How to choose the right one for each particular project
o How to work effectively by taking a sensible approach to
— Establishing clear project parameters and expectations
— Maximizing the talents of your chosen designer
— Setting an optimal amount of your own involvement in the
— Designating appropriate liaisons to your designer and
other creative talent
When do I need a designer?
Unfortunately, many business owners know little to nothing
about what a designer actually does. This results in them
making the mistake of not knowing when they need one.
Design professionals are still sometimes referred to as
“graphic designers,” based on the old definition of their duty:
to attract attention to the message. However, with the advent
of digital technology, they have become so much more than
creators of a pretty layout.
Today’s successful graphic designers are actually
information managers, using visual techniques to corral
similar ideas together, then lead the reader’s eye through
the material in the most efficient and effective way. After all,
they not only need to make sometimes dry information
interesting enough to read, but also fight the time deficit that
every busy, modern person deals with. If your designer
doesn’t know how to hold the interest of the reader and
move the eye along at a reasonable pace, the reader may
just give up and your entire investment becomes just
another expense…and a wasted one, at that.
Those professionals able to not just attract a reader’s eye,
but also to hold it until the end of the message, are true
communications designers. Their skills make sure the
communication — that elusive connection between words
and visuals and the reader’s mind — actually happens.
So, the answer is: You need to hire a professional
communications designer when you want to produce some
kind of material, whether traditional print or new media, that
must communicate to today’s preoccupied, harried
What should I look for?
Communications designers bring all the talents, knowledge
and understanding of the graphic designer to the table:
o effective information layout
o readability through sound typography
o color theory and psychology
o effective use of illustration and photography
But then they add the expertise of someone who
understands the purpose, potential and the limitations of
o the Internet, intranets and extranets
o CD-ROMs & DVDs
o Touchscreen technology & kiosk displays
Communications designers are familiar with the many
different programming languages and “applets” that allow
such media to work. You may be familiar with some of their
o Cold Fusion
This knowledge doesn’t necessarily equate to the ability to
perform such coding themselves, but some really advanced
communications designers are also proficient
programmers in these languages. When you hire these
well-rounded individuals, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
But do I really NEED to hire a professional?
Some business owners and managers, even when they
need top-flight communications materials, opt not to hire a
professional designer. They mistakenly believe they are
“saving money” by using a staffer who may have some
creative ability, or by trying to do the work themselves.
Usually, the results make them regret such a decision.
The fact is, really good communications design is an
alchemy of art, science, training, experience and creativity.
Simply having access to the tools of the designer’s trade–a
computer and some page layout software–doesn’t make
someone a designer, any more than owning a toolbox
makes one a mechanic, or having a piano makes one the
next Beethoven. We’ve all seen the sorry results of “garage
design,” and the proliferation of low-end desktop publishing
software has only exacerbated the problem.
The argument that professionals cost too much money is
one that doesn’t hold much water. The fact is, you get what
you pay for. So if you’re tempted to go “on the cheap,” ask
yourself if it’s worth saving a few bucks to negate the impact
of the rest of the budget. Remember: No matter how much
time, effort and money is spent crafting the message, if no
one reads it everything is wasted.
When a real designer is brought in at this point, much time
has frequently been lost, tempers are frayed, and everyone
is beginning to feel under the gun. Now-looming deadlines
frequently require lots of budget-busting overtime on
everyone’s part. The designer must be brought up to speed,
and then come up with the creative concepts that should
have happened at the beginning. And face it: no one
produces their best work under unrealistic pressure.
Okay, we want a pro. But how do we find one?
There are many places you could start your search. There
are trade associations whose members include
professional designers, and membership in such
organizations usually signals a certain seriousness about
the members’ careers. Many of these associations have
websites, several of which even feature search criteria for
One such organization is the American Institute of Graphic
Arts (AIGA). You’ll find an interesting treatise on information
design, and other useful topics on their Clients page at
Other organizations that will help you locate professional
o International Association of Business Communicators
(IABC) at http://www.iabc.com
o Graphic Artists Guild (GAG) at http://www.gag.org
o Creative Business at http://www.creativebusiness.com.
There are many websites that help you locate freelance
designers that allow you to key in your project specifications
and let the designers contact you. Two of the most reputable
of these are
o VendorSeek at http://www.vendorseek.com
o Elance at http://www.elance.com
The very best way to find professional design talent,
however, is the same way you find other critical service
providers: leverage your professional network. In other
words, ask your colleagues whom they recommend.
But you mentioned all the different things designers might
know. How do we find the RIGHT one for our project?
Hiring the designer that fits any given project is equally as
important as making sure the candidates are professionals.
Just as there are different kinds of designers for certain
kinds of clothing (fashion designers), automobiles and
other products (industrial designers), and buildings
(architects), there are different types of designers for certain
kinds of communications materials.
Step #1: Project Parameters
Project Planning & Management Structure
The first step in hiring the right designer is to determine your
project’s parameters. Once you decide on the end result you
want, it’s fairly easy to use logical processes of elimination
to decide who is most likely to help you reach it. The most
logical way to establish parameters is by using the “five
W’s” system: Who, What, Why, Where, When (and How).
o Ask who comprises your target audience. Establish a
primary and secondary focus; all other audiences are
extraneous to this project. The rule for your most effective
piece is “one piece, one audience,” whether you’re talking
about a brochure, an ad, or a website.
o Ask who in your organization will be responsible for
gathering all the data, information and images that will be
used in the piece. This is your content point person, and is
critical to getting things moving.
o Determine who in your organization will be responsible for
final approval of the piece. Try to assign this responsibility to
no more than three people: “Design by committee” is the
kiss of death to fresh, creative ideas.
o Who in your organization will be responsible for acting as
liaison between the person providing data, the designer,
and the approval panel? This project manager or
coordinator should be highly organized, a good listener,
personable, and capable of impartiality.
o Decide what is the most important overall message your
piece must communicate. All other messages should be
subordinate to this message, and should be few, if any.
o What is the end result you hope to achieve with the
production and distribution of this piece? State your goal in
a measurable way, so you’ll be clear about whether or not
the piece was successful.
o What is your budget and timeline for producing the piece?
Include everything from preparatory staff meetings through
delivery of the finished piece to the end user.
o What is the critical buying path (CBP) of your primary target
audience? Knowing where to find your targets when they are
in an information-gathering (shopping) or decision-making
(buying) frame of mind, and intercepting them with your
piece at those points, will give your campaign a much
greater chance of success.
o What is the format for this piece? Print advertising, direct
mail, brochure, catalog, website, opt-in email blast,
CD-ROM, stationary on-site kiosk? This determines much of
the form the content will take.
o Why have you chosen the proposed format for the piece?
Does it really make sense, or would it perhaps be more
effective in another form? Weigh all characteristics against
the result you are trying to achieve.
o Ask yourself why you have chosen the people designated
for the approval board and liaison positions. Make sure it’s
because their skill sets and availability match the needs of
the project, and not just because someone’s ego needs
o Where will the different facets of the project’s development
take place? Consider where you’ll hold meetings for
in-house project prep, designer interviews, concept
brainstorming, incremental project review, and final
approvals. Logistics are important to efficient administration
of a project, especially one that may run over an extended
period of time.
o Where will you want the actual creative work to take place?
If you feel you need a great deal of control and so require
on-site work, be aware that you are setting up a
work-for-hire situation according to federal government
definitions. This will likely limit the range of professionals
who will be willing to work with you.
o Where will your piece be distributed? This, along with
target audience and format, determines much of the form
the content will take. For instance, catalogs that mail to
a list of upscale office buyers will be designed very
differently than those mailed to a list of hair salon
o Determine when your project will need to start and end.
Establishing and adhering to a schedule will make
everyone’s job easier along the way, by establishing
measurable production performance expectations.
o When will you need to meet with the designer to interview
and issue a work order, then for status reviews as the
project progresses? Use common sense to establish these
benchmarks: Make initial meetings coincide with in-house
prep meetings, and progressives coincide with such things
as receiving final copy from your copywriter; delivery of first,
second and possibly third-round proofs; and perhaps a
press check, if your designer is to be involved in that phase.
o When will the finished product be needed at its final
destination? This date will most likely act as the control for
the final project schedule, as you back all other activities off
o How will your project team, including your designer and
any other creative professionals you hire, work together?
Avoid having meetings be the only time your project team
communicates. Such a scenario will rapidly deteriorate into
one of missed deadlines and finger-pointing. Keep the lines
of communication open and active by encouraging regular
updates via phone, fax or email.
o How will you decide whether unscheduled extra meetings
are necessary in the process? Most obviously, the liaison or
project manager should be empowered to make this call,
but you may find that other project team members also need
Now that you’ve established your project parameters, it’s
time to consider hiring your designer.
Step #2: Hire a Designer
Choosing Your Communications Designer
Much of what you’ve established about your project
parameters will have shaped the decision about the kind of
designer you need. This section will discuss details of other
considerations you’ll need to make regarding which
designer to choose.
Once again, the Five W’s really help you ask the right
questions about design candidates for your project. A
traditional mainstay of journalists everywhere, the Five W’s
method is actually a great approach to defining any task. If
you don’t want to follow it all the way through, it’s at least a
great starting prompt for discussion of another strategy.
o Ask yourself: Who is this person? What are her/his
professional credentials and experience? What kind of
personality traits does s/he exhibit that will work for or
against the success of your project? You need someone
who is comfortable with a lot of give-and-take.
o What kind of designer is s/he? Does s/he specialize, and if
so, in what area: graphic; logo/corporate identity; illustration;
information-intensive (catalog or interactive database);
website; intranet? Each of these areas requires a different
(though often overlapping) skill set, personality and way of
thinking. Whatever the specialty, look for a person who
enjoys a challenge, and sees the work as more than just
functioning as a pair of hand, but as a problem solver.
o What kind of samples does the candidate offer? Give
his/her portfolio a thoughtful review, and look for work
similar to that which you need for your project. Be aware
that many professionals now keep their portfolio in digital
format. They may hand you a CD-ROM or ask you to view
their portfolio on their website.
o What specific services will you be buying from this
designer? Print only? Print that carries over to an online
presence? Interactive forms backed by a database? Will the
designer also be acting as a pre-press production person
for print and/or coding a website? Does s/he know HTML
and related applet programming? Does s/he understand
the limitations of the medium you need her/him to work
within? Does s/he have the ability to work with other creative
content professionals if needed, such as copywriters,
printers and web programmers?
o Why will you hire this particular designer? Keep your
decision-making based in logic and good business
practices. Will s/he be working solely on this project, or do
you want to establish a long-term relationship for an
ongoing campaign? The latter is attractive because a single
designer working on many marketing pieces can most
easily establish and reinforce a consistent visual corporate
image for your company.
o Where did this person receive her/his education and
experience? If the person has little or no real-world
experience, s/he is going to be learning on your dime. That
means extra headaches and hand-holding for you, and
perhaps a longer project timeline because efficiency is
nearly always tied directly to experience.
o Where is this person located? If you require someone who
can make it to a lot of meetings, you need someone nearby.
However, if you really think it through, your best value in
hiring a designer is NOT to tie that person up in meetings.
Make as many decisions as you can (without pre-empting
necessary creative input) before pulling the designer into
the process, and then keep the meetings to a minimum.
Generally, today’s communication technologies allow
someone far away to do just as thorough and effective a job
without being located in the immediate vicinity. However, for
some projects, location is an important consideration. If you
do choose someone with whom you will work from a
distance, make sure that person not only has access to the
kinds of technology you’ll need — conference calling, email,
FTP sites, Acrobat/PDF software for proofing, overnight
delivery — but also knows how to use it.
o When will you need this person to be available? What are
your project meeting schedules and delivery deadlines?
What kind of turnaround times do you expect, and can this
person meet them? Consider that a successful design pro
will have other clients besides yourself, and will need to
juggle your project among others.
o How will you work with this person? Will you be working
directly or through a liaison? Whatever the logistics, be clear
about your expectations.
o How will delivery of the finished design be made? Do you
expect the designer to act as project coordinator with the
printer? For web-based projects, will the designer also code
the pages, or simply turn over templates to a programmer
for posting? Again, establishing a very clear workflow and
structure for responsibility is your best insurance against
misunderstandings and unpleasant situations down the
Step #3: Fee Structures
Discuss Fee Structures and Terms
Though most people rarely enjoy negotiating terms of
business compensation, it’s necessary to make sure that
everyone’s on the same page from the beginning. Clearly
delineating how and when your designer will be paid for his
or her services, what rights are being transferred, and what
constitutes a satisfactory finished product will help eliminate
misunderstandings, unhappy participants and potential
legal liability further along in the process.
Of course, there is always the fee structure to consider. Most
freelance designers bill for their time on an hourly basis,
which can vary widely. However, for some projects that have
a significant duration, retainer structures or flat project fee
arrangements are not out of the ordinary. Spell out clearly
the duties and responsibilities expected of the designer,
and establish a structure for reporting on the work’s
progress that everyone understands and embraces.
Congressional legislation regarding copyright to intellectual
property was significantly updated in 1992 and again in
1996 to reflect the changing nature of technology. The issue
continues to be in a state of flux, but right now it remains
fairly stable. In essence, the law states that intellectual
property such as writing, illustration and design belongs
inherently to its creator from the instant of creation. It states
clearly that such rights are only legally transferred with an
explicit written notice, such as a contract, usually in
exchange for some kind of material consideration.
If the designer will be working for you as a freelancer or
consultant, you need to specify who will own distinctive
rights to the materials being created at the end of the
project. Most designers realize the client’s desire to own all
rights, especially to proprietary material, and are willing to
transfer such rights upon payment in full of their invoices.
However, many designers will wish to retain the right of self
promotion for their creations, meaning they are allowed to
reproduce such works in their printed and digital
promotional materials. As long as such activities don’t
infringe on or reveal trade secrets, this is common practice
and should not be considered dangerous or over-reaching.
You need to protect yourself and the designer from potential
trouble with the IRS by determining at the project’s
beginning whether s/he will be working with you as a
consultant (freelancer) or as a temporary employee
(work-for-hire). The IRS has fairly clear-cut standards that
determine the nature of the relationship.
Essentially, if the person works on your premises, using
your equipment and is under direct and close supervision,
that person is considered an employee by the IRS. This
means that person is entitled to the same benefits as your
permanent, full-time employees. If the person works
primarily off-site at their own place of business, using their
own equipment and more or less unsupervised, they may
be considered a freelancer.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to play it both ways: If you
get audited by the IRS, you will lose this game and be liable
for fines and penalties which can be significant. It’s not
worth the hassle, and most design professionals won’t
willingly participate in such an arrangement anyway.
Time to Get to Work
Having moved this far through the process, you should feel
confident in the needs of your project, and about the
communications design professional you’ve chosen to help
make it a success. It’s time to get started on the project you
hope will generate lots of new business!
Good luck, and remember: Cavanaugh Interactive is your
one-stop shop for results-driven,
professional communications design. Visit our Website at
www.cavanaughinteractive.biz or call toll-free at 877-771-8906 to put our
quarter century of experience to work for you.