4 Oct ‘12


The Ingredients of a Top Notch Designer: How Do You Spot One?

4 Oct ‘12

In: Branding & Visual Design, / By: Heather Richman

While watching one of my favorite foodie shows, Chopped on the Food Network, it occurred to me how amazing it was that these talented chefs seem to immediately know what to do with a basket of gummy bears, pork rinds & nopales. Even before the timer starts you can see their brains churning and coming up with a strategy for their dish. In many ways it reminds me of the creative process and the bliss of working with a truly top notch designer. In my 15 years of creative direction and visual design, I’ve developed a real taste for designers who do more than just make things pretty.

While it helps to have a lot of experience working in this field there are some key points or guidelines that you can work with to spot the designer that fits the bill and will really wow you with their solutions. The simple infographic below uses the well known 10,000 hour rule as a reference. The rule purports that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill in this case visual or graphic design.


a) While this individual is just getting started, if they have sample work (even if it’s just from a class) that shows potential and creativity they may be worth considering. Of course the right attitude always goes a long way as well.

b) This designer has a few actual professional examples under their belt. They should be eager to learn, take direction well and work nicely with teams. These are all good characteristics for you as an employer but also it’s good for them as they are positioning themselves for a future role as a leader or expert.

c) This person is about half way to official expert status. They should have a diverse and impressive portfolio. At this point they should be quick on their feet and able to turnaround comps, concepts and approaches more rapidly. Ideally they are displaying problem solving skills and an aptitude to move into the next level.

d) At the director level this person is a true problem solver. They are involved with business decisions and strategy. Their portfolio shows experience creating brand ID systems, brochure-style and feature-rich websites as well as mobile, print, interactive and possibly motion graphics. They’ve worked with start-ups and entrepreneurs as well as Fortune 500 companies; this demonstrates that they are a seasoned professional that has worked in a wide variety of workplace environments.

e) A Creative Director is in charge of coming up with the big idea, concept or approach to a design challenge. Typically, they are responsible for the brand IDs and overall design quality of the companies they work for. Their portfolios of course should be fantastic but they should be able to talk about each project in the context of business objectives not just how “pretty” something is. These professionals are sometimes well known names in the design industry and run their own agencies.

In conclusion the top notch designer for you is really the one that best fits your needs. If you follow the above guidelines and thoughtfully craft the job requirements then both you and the designer are set-up for success. As a Creative Director myself I really thrive and enjoy what I do when I’m given the space and responsibility of delivering real solutions. As a business owner it’s critical to resource the right people for the job. It allows your business grow and to truly have fun while doing it.

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