Hiring a Designer
“Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.” – Brian Reed
Somewhere along the way, developers managed to assert themselves as the most important and crucial part to a software project, and for good reason. Functionality and bulletproof coding make a product great and will lead to success time and time again.
But we’re not building some word processor for Windows which people use as a tool; we’re building engagement platforms, which is how you should think of apps. It’s a way to engage with a user. Functionality plays a part, but so does visual appeal. Delivering something that pleases the visual sense is sure fire way to create a positive experience.
When you hire a firm to develop your app, often they will have a designer in house or have some design solution for you. Let me start by saying that many times a designer that’s on the team can be top notch – they know how to design for mobile and work with developers. So – if you like the designs that the firm does with their own team, awesome. You can skip the rest of this section.
If, however, you’re not that impressed with a firm’s design capabilities, you’re going to want to hire someone to do the graphics separately. This designer will create a suite of graphics and send them over to the developers in a layered format (Photoshop, probably) who will then slice them up and add them to the appropriate areas in the software.
Luckily, hiring a designer is a lot easier than hiring a developer because you can pretty much figure out what to expect based on the portfolio. Also know that you can often hire designers who are specifically for mobile apps and ones that are not. Unless you’re asking them to do User Experience design, you can hire anyone you please.
Different Design Needs
This is crucial – before you get into the design side of hiring, you need to know what kind of relationship you need. There are two basic buckets here:
1. You need someone to create the entire look/feel/theme and everything else that comes with that (characters, buttons, fonts, etc., ). Also known as “branding.”2.You’ve got a very specific idea of what kind of graphics you want and can write down what you’re looking for (“I need a splash screen of a fighter jet shooting rockets with the title Alpha Combat in big letters.”)
The biggest difference is in the planning stage. A designer for the first set of items is going to have to brainstorm, do a bunch of mockups, ask you 1000 questions, and work closely with you to create the visual impact you want.
The second will say “Send me a few examples of what you like” and then they will send you their version.
The final point with design needs is what sort of project you’re developing – is it a game with 50 levels or is it a simple app that displays recipes?
Hiring a Designer
Honestly, the domestic/offshore difference is much smaller for design. The only issue may be a language barrier, so if you are looking for someone to create the “essence” of your game, you’re going to want someone who speaks the same language. Nowadays all of their work is displayed in online portfolios, so even if they’re in Argentina, you know how they stack up to someone in Minnesota.
I would use the same strategy to find a designer that you used to find a developer, but with more emphasis on the Ask someone and Freelance than on the search engine game. Design firms that win on search engines are actually marketing companies that do design – they do volume (“$25 logo!! $199 for a website!!) and are not going to be your best bet. I personally love perusing Elance and seeing what sort of designer talent pool is out there. Type in keywords like “cartoon designer” or “iPhone 3d designer” and take a peek at their portfolio AND their previous work history. You’ll learn a lot about someone by how they did for other people on previous jobs.
So what should you look for?
1. Style – every designer has their own flair, and you’ll see it after looking through a few of their projects. If it’s what you’re into, get in touch with them and see if they’re interested.
2. Scope of project – has this designer or design firm spent most of their time designing brochures? Or have they designed websites, apps, icons, and email templates? Have they done work for $300 or $15,000? Does your project look like a natural fit into their current portfolio?
3.Credentials – I’m usually not a fan of judging someone based on their credentials, but having a designer that is fluent in multiple platforms makes a big difference in mobile design, especially when you get into 3D images. The reason this is important is that they’re going to need to deliver different pieces in different ways to the developer – the designers who openly share what software they work in will make your life easier. You want skills in Photoshop and Illustrator as a base, and then any of the other CAD or 3D frameworks if you’re getting into that level.
Once you’ve selected a handful of designers to reach out to, you’re going to want to ask them point blank if they can handle an application project. Be careful of the ones that say “Yes, no problem” without then backing it up with projects they’ve done already because those are the ones that assume they can do it.
Make it very clear what set of assets you want – iPhone, iPhone retina (4, 4s) and iPad (and soon iPad 3 with even more resolution). This is going to be critical in the overall project cost and design – if they design for the regular resolution iPhone and then you say you needed it in the Retina size, it’s a nightmare. Just for your information, the sizes are:
iPhone Regular – 320px wide, 480px high
iPhone Retina – 640px wide, 960px high (double) iPad – 1024px wide, 768px high
iPad 3 – 2048px wide, 1536px high
TIP: Offer the designer a small commission to do a “test” run for you. This may be one character or a homepage screen. This will help you get a sense of what it’s like to work with the person before going all the way. I always do this with any design project I’m working on.
Working With Your Designer
One word – examples. This is, without question, the #1 best way to work with a designer. Provide them with as many examples as you can of apps or websites you like, with a detailed explanation of why you like it. Despite being widely accepted as a really creative field, designers actually tend to be very calculating people – ever notice that most computer and graphics designers love clean, simple things? That’s because they take your ideas and process them into a visual asset – the creation piece is very creative, but translating ideas into assets is very much left-brained and UN-creative. So, get some examples.
You should have your hierarchy available for discussion with your designer just the way you did with your developer. You’re going to need them to be able to see the entire project as a whole before they can dive into any one piece. They’re also going to be able to tell you how much it’s going to cost and how long it’s going to take based on the number of “screens” you have.
Introduce them to the development team from the start so that they can both agree on how the files will be delivered and in what format. That’s going to make everyone happy and save you a lot of time down the road.
Pull the trigger and hire them and begin the process. They’ll start sending you mockups and getting your feedback. Typically the first few rounds are the slowest, but once you decide on something that’s working, it goes quickly.
Designer Wrap Up
When selecting a designer, a few things to remember:
1. There are thousands of different types of designers. Make sure you look through enough to know what sort of look and feel you want.
2. Be patient at the beginning – it takes a few rounds before everything syncs up from what you’re thinking to what they’re producing.
3. You can always hire a different one! If you hate the way things are going, screw it. This is a must easier transition than getting a whole new development team.
4. Be clear on your deliverables. Mobile design mandates files come in the formats listed above. If you don’t make that clear from the start, they might not be working in the right resolution and could really hurt you.