5 Things to Look For in a Quality Graphic Designer

Just like a go-to, comfy t-shirt or a favorite pair of sweatpants, graphic designers come in all shapes and sizes. The question is … how can you tell the difference between a designer who’ll get the job done and one that will make your project, and brand, shine?

Throughout my career I’ve been on all sides of the marketing process – designer (of course) but also as a project manager and account executive. And, as you would expect from someone with 20+ years of experience in the business, I’ve met a lot of designers. Some have really surprised me with their creativity; and some have seemed to merely be going through the motions to get a paycheck. Some have years of experience but don’t quite hit the mark; and some are fresh out of school but have an eye for detail that blew me away.

When hiring a marketing agency, there’s no sure-fire way to know which kind of designer you’ll be working with, but here are 5 things to look for:

Brand name written over black paper background with white and blue wooden colored pencils. 3D illustration

An organization’s brand is integral to its success. From proper use of a logo, to incorporation of specific brand colors and fonts, to evoking the proper tone and emotion with words and images. All of these combine to create a strong brand image for the consumer. Even a design that’s truly awe inspiring will miss the mark if the target audience doesn’t associate it with the appropriate brand. There’s a reason every ad or direct mail piece from brands like Target, Subway, and Biggby Coffee are easily recognizable by their target audiences. A quality graphic designer should take the time to research your brand, ask for any branding guidelines your company has, and request high-resolution logos. They should treat your brand as if it’s their own and safeguard its integrity.

Colors are powerful. Colors spark emotions and create a visual connection to a brand. But they can also be tricky when dealing with a global audience. For example, blue is often associated with peacefulness in North America and Europe, but in Indian cultures blue is associated with love. In North America the color yellow tends to evoke feelings of happiness, optimism, and hope. In Egypt is conveys good fortune. But in Germany it’s associated with envy. A quality graphic designer should be able to explain why they chose/recommend specific colors for your project. If they can’t, then you might be sending an unintended message to your customers.

Image of female creative graphic designer working on color selection and drawing on graphics tablet at workplace.

So often designers are asked to “just add one more sentence,” “add a burst to make the offer really stand out,” or (my personal favorite) “make my logo BIGGER.” While all of these requests are valid, a quality graphic designer should appreciate the value of white space. Just like a fine wine, good design to breathe. Shoe-horning too many elements into a limited space, without allowing for white space, only clutters the piece and reduces the chance that any of it will actually be read/noticed. You wouldn’t try to speak to someone non-stop, no pauses for effect or breaths for separation of one thought from another, so why would we want to do that visually? The eye needs a break, or relief, from having to figure out to look at next. A quality graphic designer needs to employ white space – and defend its use if necessary. There are other ways to make offers stand out or call attention to a logo. When it comes to design, bigger isn’t always better.

Especially when it’s the right picture. A quality graphic designer should incorporate images that help convey the message of the piece – no matter if it’s an online ad, an annual report, or a direct mail piece. Need to reinforce a strong emotion? Use an image that acts as a visual exclamation point. Want to convey that your organization understands a specific target demographic? Incorporate images that show real people in real situations. Trying to let potential customers know you have a unique solution for their situation? Look for images taken from an unexpected point of view. When you can elicit a desired response from just an image, half the work of the piece is already accomplished.

Finally, a quality graphic designer should be open to collaboration with the customer. After all, it’s your brand, and you understand it better than anyone else. You also know your marketing history. Rather than think the design is the most important thing, a quality designer should listen to the customer. S/he should ask about what has worked in the past and what has failed. If a customer knows a segment of their target audience responds best to print messages over digital, then the designer should incorporate that information into the concepting phase instead of disregarding it and proposing a digital solution because it’s “what everyone is doing.”


I could go on … understand the printing process … create good flow on the page … use creative typography. But I think you get the idea. Hopefully I’ve given you some things to consider the next time you’re looking to hire a marketing agency or freelance graphic designer. While I can’t guarantee every designer will live up to your expectations, I can guarantee that if you find one that embodies these qualities, you’re more likely to receive a final product that’s both creative and effective.

by Dionne Wetzel, Senior Designer at Extend Your Reach

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