The Difference Between Buying Design And Working With A Designer

Crowdsource design sites and services marketplaces have made it easy for entrepreneurs to get design work done easily and cheaply: place your order, tell them what you want, and wait for your design to be delivered.

If you’re a great communicator and clear about your brand, great results are possible. But, the success of the design depends entirely on you. If you want guidance, hiring an experienced designer is the way go to.


Design as a Commodity

When you approach design as a “thing” you pull off the shelf,  it means that you’re in charge of strategy and creative direction. The responsibility for the effectiveness of that design and whether it does anything to help your business rests solely on you. The role the designer plays in this scenario is to give you what you’re asking for so they can get paid.

Some of the most talented designers I’ve ever met work on transactional platforms like these — hey, we all need to make a living. But what they would tell you about that experience, versus working one-on-one with clients in a traditional client-designer relationship, is that the “purchaser of the design product” often makes bad decisions. They can see them making mistakes but aren’t being paid — or even asked — to caution them about it or to guide them to a better result. Commonly, the customer is:

  • Not clear about their brand
  • Is too focused on their own personal tastes, which may have nothing to do with what their customers will respond to
  • Uneducated about the purpose of brand identity, and gravitate toward generic and safe concepts which won’t help them position and differentiate

If you understand the risks of not having a designer’s guidance from start to finish, if you just want the final deliverable and to be on your way, these platforms are for you. And you can get fabulous results at an amazing price, but that depends on how good you are, not how good the designer is.

Design as a service

When you work with a designer one-on-one, as part of the process a good designer will dig deep to understand you, and will do research about your competitors and industry too. You’ll be asked a lot of questions, like:

  • What are the goals for your business?
  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • What do you stand for, what makes you different?

Design decisions are made accordingly, and a dialogue about how to use design to meet your business goals begins. You’ll understand the whys behind those decisions, and you’ll have someone with professional expertise on your side, invested in the outcome. Designers providing you a service want you to succeed, because they want to keep your business long-term.

The more they work with you, the more intimate they’ll be about your brand and the more efficient and effective they’ll be. Decisions made when laying the groundwork for your brand identity will be build upon on the next project, they won’t ask you “who is your customer?”… they’ll already know. Some of my clients have been with me for 10 years, and when they need something done, the process picks up where we last left off. This familiarity and trust means they have an ally for their business, not just design deliverables.

Why business owners don’t trust design as a service

Generally speaking, working one-on-one with a designer is more expensive than buying design from a transactional marketplace. So it’s a big problem when a business owner hires a designer and doesn’t get much value from that experience. Understandably, they’re upset — they paid premium prices for a mediocre result, and they would have been better off going to Fiverr.

Mitigating the risk when hiring a designer

Of course not all designers are made equal. There’s no professional certification process required to practice design, so theoretically, anybody with a copy of photoshop can call themselves a designer. So again, this all comes down to you and doing your due diligence when hiring a designer.

You should get referrals from your colleagues and ask them what their experience was like. Research many different designers to get a sense not only of their design aesthetic, but their approach. Look at their portfolios but also look for signals that they are doing well in their own business, that their clients are happy. Look for case studies — how did they solve problems successfully?

Interview them. Most designers will be happy to receive an email from you and give you a free consultation. Ask them about their process and what you can expect. Ask them, “What if I’m not happy with the outcome?” to alleviate your concerns about the quality of service you can expect.

When you find a designer that’s a good match for you, the experience is far more rewarding than pulling a design off a shelf and hoping for the best. It’s an investment in a relationship that will benefit your business.

Feeling stuck trying to launch your business online? Book a clarity session with me and I’ll guide you through your tough questions and help you leap (rather than inch) forward.

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Design as a product versus design as a service -- which is best for you?