Okay, so you've seen the light and decided that your business could benefit from a design retainer, or maybe you need a one time project taken care of. It's time to choose a designer. Here are some things to look for.
Different designers have different skills, and it's important to ensure that you're hiring the best person for the job. Don't be afraid to ask questions to ensure that they are familiar with the requirements of your project. For example, if you're considering hiring a designer for print work, be sure to ask them about other print work they have done, what print processes they would recommend for your project and why.
Finding a designer who fits your budget is important, but because pricing varies so much between firms and individual designers, it can be hard to know what to expect. Don't be afraid to request a proposal. Any reputable firm should be happy to draft a proposal for you with a clear outline of the project deliverables and fees. Always be wary of designers who promise too-good-to-be-true rates. I've personally worked with clients who have paid extraordinarily little for a web-site, only to find that their site was built with common templates, completely inaccessible to search engines and hard for their visitors to navigate. With the ease of access to technology today, anyone can design anything. That doesn't mean they should, and it especially doesn't mean that you should pay them for it.
Discuss turnaround times and your project schedule with a potential designer. Make sure that they will be able to deliver your project on time, with room to spare.
A competent designer should be able to accommodate the needs of any business, regardless of their style. Look for a diverse portfolio that shows that they are capable of diversity in their work. At the same time, look for a designer who will be able to work within your brand guidelines and create something fresh and new, in their own way. A true professional will be able to move your brand forward, not just replicate what's already there.
Fresh out of school, with their heads full of design-theory, new designers often don't have the same understanding of how to execute their ideas as a designer who's been in the game for a while. Experience lends designers a solid technical understanding of the real world applications of their trade, enabling them to effectively execute projects for print and web, avoiding many of the time consuming (and potentially costly) issues that come up with less experienced designers.
Becoming a member of a professional organisation shows a commitment to the trade and to your clients. Designers who (literally) pay their dues put their money where their mouth is and commit both their time and their capital towards bettering their industry. In the USA, the AIGA has a system of ethics that all members must follow that includes rules against stealing artwork, working for client competitors simultaneously, receiving kickbacks from suppliers, and hiding fees from clients.
So, if you are on the hunt for a competent graphic designer, follow these tips to save yourself some time and money.