I recently posted a response to someone's question about approaching designers for self-published books, and I actually thought it might be a good discussion in general. It's a difficult thing finding a good and helpful designer. I count myself among them, as I'm more than happy to take on low-budget work as well as high budget work. But I've seen a lot of "designers" in these kinds of forums, people with little expertise and pedalling really low-quality stuff; people without the expertise or skills necessary to actually design a book. I think this is wrong. So in that vein, I wanted to try and give a little help, if anyone is curious, as to what to look for in designers.
I don't know whether anyone is interested, but it's the help I can offer. If anyone has questions or would like to follow-up you can contact me on here or through my site (the link is in the text below).
Finding a Designer
Firstly, any designer worth their salt will understand that the self-publishing community is, most likely, going to offer low-budget work. The effect this has on a designer is variable, most of us understand the concept of money constraints and are happy to work with people's budgets, some think they are above this. In some cases this may be true - for instance, a large design company will likely not see much point in taking on a book design job for $100 - but for most of us, especially sole traders, we'll be happy to help.
One issue to look out for is quality. True, you can expect a dip in quality between self-published books and Penguin's books, but it shouldn't look like someone's done it in paint. If the designer's work isn't much better than what you can do yourself (and you have to be realistic about that) then avoid them, it's the reason they're charging so little, it has nothing to do with compassion. Look for designers with covers and book designs on their site, and make sure they are of high enough quality. For instance, I have worked with National Geographic and Collins, and they found my work excellent, therefore I can command a higher price (though I am perfectly happy to take lower-budget work) and you can see on my site (http://theuglytreegraphicdesign.co.uk/) two full book designs and a set of prospective covers, as well as other projects that have utilised book designs. So it is safe to assume that I am a book designer. This site however: https://www.behance.net/gallery/378124/Book-Covers (and I don't wish to be rude, but critique is part of the design community) is full of low-quality book designs from someone who is marketing themselves as a designer but likely isn't. So it's important to look into whoever you approach or approaches you.
Also, have a look at what they have to say about themselves. You don't need to trust that everything they say is true, but this is the face they are presenting to potential clients so most if it can be taken as gospel. This is going to be a commitment for both of you, regardless of how long, so it's important you can at least agree on a few things. For instance, my site states: "Here at The Ugly Tree Graphic Design, we’re not interested in working for or against someone, but rather working with you to give you the design you need. Nor will we flood you with terms like “design solutions” or fill your offices with superfluous gifts with our logo pasted all over them. Our design philosophy is simple: do good work. This means high-quality work but also, as much as possible, work within an ethical or green sphere. We don’t care how trivial you may think your needs are or about your budget, we believe in a process in which the client is first and foremost, and every project deserves equal attention. This means that we do all our work with the same enthusiasm and commitment, because we believe that all work has the potential to be something great – for The Ugly Tree Graphic Design there is no low-budget or un-sexy briefs." and we firmly believe that. Do we hold true to it ALL THE TIME, of course not, it's impossible. But we approach everything with that ethos. Every designer has a belief, so try and find out what it is.
Now, as I mentioned before, critique is a huge part of the design community. Just look at the recent Met logo from Wolff Olins and how much criticism it attracted. So, good designers, develop a thick skin. This is because we know what we're doing and we know how to justify our work. This means that, in all likelihood, we will defend our designs. It's natural. But that doesn't mean you should be afraid to ask for something else. If you don't like what we do, tell us. If the designer reacts badly then that's their failing. And don't be afraid to drop a designer if they're not doing a good job. If they're being unreasonable and they're not helping you get what you need, they're not worth it.
And ALWAYS pay your designers. If you're happy with the product, pay the agreed amount (or more if you're inclined), there's nothing worse than an entitled client who thinks they can run away with the finished product. A savvy designer will not give you the finished, print-ready or high-quality design until they have received payment.
The most important thing when briefing a designer is getting across what you need. What you want and what you need can be two different things, and you might realise what you actually needed until you receive the finished product. It's all well and good being passionate, and passion is important, but sometimes what you're looking for can get lost in talking about the project. A good designer should be able to help you through this process.
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