Engaging a Design Firm: Step by Step

By: Mary Barbour

We hear a lot of stories from people who have searched and searched for a design firm to work with, only to end up having a crap experience that leaves them disappointed.  We want to save you the time and money wasted in this process by clarifying what exactly is important to look for in a designer and how to make sure you find a client/designer relationship that really works.

Step 1: Don’t jump into a relationship too soon.

This is possibly the most frequent mistake people make,  and it’s a big one.  You don’t decide to get married on the first date (I hope), so why would you get involved with a design firm before getting to know them? The relationship should be long and fruitful and, if handled well on both sides, involve a lot of communication and ongoing support.  Make sure that you like the work your designer has done in the past. It’s also important that they are available to discuss your project with you and approaches design in a way that works for you.  

Step 2. Make sure you’re working within your budget.

With any kind of business relationship, you get what you pay for. It doesn’t always make sense to go with the cheapest quote you get, because it’s likely that the design work will reflect the price tag.  Alternatively, it doesn’t always make sense to go with the highest quote, either, because big money doesn’t always mean design that suits your aesthetic.  Try to find a good designer who values their work, but whose quote fits into the comfortable spectrum you’ve allotted for your project.

Step 3. Ask questions!

Do whatever you have to do to get a real feel for a designer or firm. You have a right to know! Organize your thoughts and send over a questionnaire if that makes you feel better. A good firm will be happy to answer all of your questions, especially if they are put forth in a thoughtful way. And they should ask you lots of questions in return – an eagerness to know and understand you and your goals is something important to look for when forming any kind of partnership.

Step 4. Check references.

Ask the firm for references and check them. It will help you rest easy knowing they have other satisfied clients and will also let them know that you are serious about the quality of work you’re expecting. While you’re at it, check their Facebook and Twitter feeds. A firm’s social media strategies are another good indicator of who they are and how they might represent you.

Step 5.  Trust your instincts.

At the end of the day, your greatest resource is your gut instinct. Gather information, weigh your options, and go with the designer who you have the best feeling about.  If you’re really listening to yourself, your instincts will rarely lead you in the wrong direction.

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