Treat your graphic designer as you would any other consultant

Because that’s what a freelance graphic designer is—a consultant. If you’ve hired a freelance designer because they “know how to use Adobe software”, then you’re coming at this all wrong. You’re only using one part of their skill set. Everyone thinks that they themselves have good taste—so everyone thinks they can do our job if they just learn how to use Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign. That’s like saying if I learn how to use a pipe wrench then I could be a plumber. You may have fantastic taste, a stylish apartment, fashionable clothes, but none of those things amount to being a trained graphic designer. Graphic designers aren’t just people who make things look pretty. Our training and expertise is what makes us designers, not good taste.

It’s important to understand that our training wasn’t just in how to use the software—in fact that was a very minimal part of the years we spent training—most of our education was in how to communicate through graphics, typography, photography and illustration. The very first things we learned were how to use colours, shapes, contrast, and balance to communicate. We understood early on that a triangle elicits a different emotional response than a circle. An organic line sends a different message than a geometric line. A heavy sans serif typeface communicates quite differently than a fine serif typeface. When we’re designing, we’re considering things that you may not even know were considerations.

Ever heard the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know”? Graphic design is one of those fields where many non-designers think it looks pretty easy, but they don’t know what they don’t know. If you couldn’t draw, you wouldn’t assume you could become an illustrator if you just learned how to use the software. People tend to think that drawing is a talent, but that’s bullshit. Maybe it started as a slight glimmer of talent, but illustrators spend insane amounts of time practicing their craft. It’s not magic—you’re not born with it—you become skilled through training and tons of practice. Design is a skilled trade, and like any other trade, it requires expertise.

One of the toughest parts of my job is combating personal preference. Not mine—my clients’. When you hire me, you’re hiring a consultant, and it is my job to tell you when your personal preferences are getting in the way of effective communication. Notice I didn’t say “getting in the way of good design”. Terms like “good design” are far too subjective—there’s no unit of measurement there, and it leaves too much room for personal taste to sneak in. Ultimately if your piece isn’t communicating effectively (sending the right message in the right tone in a consistent, clear manner), then it’s not “good design”, no matter how pretty it might look.

And trust me, your design consultant knows a lot more about good design than you do. After all, that’s why you hired them. I know the instinct is “well if I’m paying for it I’m going to get what I want”, but I assume a big part of what you want is expertise. You’re not getting your money’s worth if you don’t let your designer be a consultant. You could pay a lot less if you only needed to hire a pair of hands—hire a designer’s brain too.