So, you've got a project you want to get done and you're ready and willing to hire a Graphic Designer. One problem, you've never done this before and there are so many options! What's an intelligent, savvy client like yourself to do? Fear not, I've got your back. Let me walk you through how to select a designer, how to recognize the scams, and how to make the right choice for your project.

Step 1: Deciding what kind of project it is
Believe it or not, the first step is not selecting a designer! First, you need to decide what your project calls for. Is it a website design? Will you need programming as well? Is it print based? Do you have a printer to work with? Will you need print supervision? Is it a logo? Or is it motion graphic based?
You see, the term "Design" is actually an umbrella term for a field of commercial art, and under that umbrella are a myriad of different types of design. Contrary to popular belief, designers are trade specialists, and each of us have different skill sets. A web designer isn't necessarily going to know how to set a project up for a full-bleed, short-bound, 2-up booklet; conversely, a motion graphic designer could have absolutely no idea how to build a website in a text editor using HTML 5 and attach a separate style sheet in CSS. (Don't get me started on Front-end design versus back-end either!).
So what's a client to do? My suggestion would be to think about what the end product of this project is for. Think beyond what the designer will do to what the design itself is going to be used for. Below are the most common types of designs a company might need, and the design titles that would be best associated with that type of work. Take a look at the list and see where your project falls:

Branding (Logo, stationery, collateral, marketing materials) 
Print Designer, Graphic Designer, Visual Designer.

Website/Mobile design (no research) 
User Interface (UI) Designer, Digital Designer, Interface Designer, Visual Designer.

Website/Mobile design (with research) 
User Experience (UX) Designer, Product Designer 

Social Media/Online Presence
Visual Designer, Digital Designer

Mobile Gaming, 3D modeling, Video games, Animation, Motion graphics 
Game Designer, 3D Production Designer, Motion Graphics Designer, Animation Designer

Step 2: Finding Design Candidates
There are a bunch of online portfolio aggregate sites out there such as BehanceDribbbleInstagram, etc. However, the first place to start would be to ask around for local referrals. There is almost always a freelancer in your area that is accepting work, but be sure you have already gone through step 1 in identifying what type of design you need done! Not every designer does all types of design (sorry folks, those unicorns don't exist). Of course, you can search on LinkedIn and the good ol' Google, but designers live and breathe (and eat, paybills, etc) by referrals. Once you get a few referrals, you can check out their portfolios.
RED FLAG #1: If someone you are considering doesn't have an online portfolio, or any sort of portfolio that showcases their work -- buyer beware! It's pretty standard in the industry for a design professional to have an online portfolio. 
When looking at portfolios look for the type of design you are looking for, and then see if what they do is something you like. After all, why would you work with someone whose work you didn't enjoy? Take a look through their work, their past clients, maybe reach out to a few of their past clients to get an idea of what working with them was like. Designers at the end of the day are artists so if their style isn't something you enjoy, don't work with that designer. There's no point in paying for a design you won't like!
Once you've found one that you like, has the experience you're looking for, and is accepting new work it's time to reach out which brings us to step 3...Initial contact!

Step 3: First Contact
Most experienced designers are approachable through email, or a form on their website. They may even be brave enough to put their phone number on their site! Remember: a conversation is not a contract, just talking to a designer doesn't mean you have to work with that particular designer. We provide a service, it's understandable if a client wants to get a feel for what our service includes before signing on the dotted line. We'd rather you be comfortable with the process! So, talk to us!
Tell the designer what you're looking for, give as much detail as possible. An experienced designer will be able to lead you through this conversation and suss out the information they need to put a quote together.
RED FLAG # 2: If the designer you are speaking with can't pick up on what you are looking for, or articulate what they can provide for you buyer beware. An experienced designer will have gone through this process a few times before, and should be able to communicate clearly what they provide, and what they can do for your project. 
After this conversation some designers will put together a Creative Brief in order to put in writing what the project will entail, and review this creative brief with you. Others will put together a proposal for you to sign that reviews the needs/wants of the client, the services of the designer, and the contract conditions.
For my clients, I usually follow the first contact with a proposal that includes a quote, contract, and creative brief all in one. Every designer is different! This brings us to step 4...

Step 4: It Costs HOW Much?!
I'd like to start this section off with a bit of harsh truth - professional [good] design is not cheap.
You get what you pay for. Just because it is 'art' doesn't mean it has any less value than any other service you'd pay a professional tradesperson to provide for you. The designer is putting in time, research, their own overhead costs, their intellectual property, creativity, educational background, and skills into a product. They should be fairly and adequately compensated for such an investment. Each designer will have a different hourly rate, or flat pricing based on multiple factors including, but not limited to:

Years of experience
Amount of projected hours of work
Scope of the project (how large of a project)
Detail of the project (what type of project)
The costs of materials (typeface licenses, etc)
Any odds and ends their contract will cover. (discussed below)

There's no way around this folks. You want the service, you pay for the service. Those places where you get a logo for $5? These websites, and crowdsourcing sites, tend to devalue the field and make it harder for professionals to work properly. (Remember, we have bills to pay too! This is our job after all.) I'm going to break it down in one simple humorous image that has been meme'd by just about every designer on earth (seriously, just do a google image search for: Graphic design, fast cheap good. My personal favorite is the one by Daniel Belen [so pretty!])
Now that that's out of the way, lets get into the nitty gritty. Most designers who have been in the game a while will be able to provide you a flat rate for the project, but sometimes you'll get their hourly rate. It really depends on the designer which way they prefer to work, and the type of project they're going to be completing for you.
(Note: web-design is going to cost a pretty penny and if you include hosting, coding, and domain name that will drive the cost up even more. Bottom line: if you want a 1-10 page fully responsive custom website you're going to want to budget in the thousands)
Furthermore, most designers require a deposit up-front. This is to protect them in cases of the vanishing client - someone who refuses to pay when the bill comes due, this is such a common place issue in the industry you'd be hard pressed to find a designer that doesn't require some sort of downpayment. Be sure that you can afford a professional designer before you sign on the dotted line, read their contract carefully for things like kill fees, add-on fees, revision clauses, etc. All these pricing goodies will be in the contract, and if it's not be sure to ask your prospective designer about their pricing breakdown and their fee policy!
RED FLAG # 3: The Designer doesn't have a contract. A contract protects both the designer AND the client and is a necessary part of the process! 

Step 5: Signing the contract!​​​​​​​
Congratulations! You selected your designer, got the quote, got the proposal and now you've signed the contract. You did it! I'm so proud of you. Now go off into the sunset and come back to show me the beautiful design that came out of this collaborative effort! You are now a savvy Design Client extraordinaire.
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