Why not seeing exactly what you want in a designer’s portfolio is a good thing.
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I recently received a response back from a proposal we had out. The client said the proposal was great, the price was just right, but they went with another firm because they, “felt that the portfolio of work of the company we finally chose was closer to our current needs”. So basically, they did not see exactly what they wanted in our portfolio. As part of our on-going series on “client education” I’d like to take a closer look at this line of thinking and reasons why making it the deciding factor on choosing a designer might not be your best bet.
Decisions, decisions …
When tasked with getting an RFP out for a design project it can be quite difficult to locate suitable recipients. After asking a number of people over the years how they go about it, I’ve found the number one response to be, “searching the internet”, closely followed by referrals from friends and associates. While it may seem daunting, it’s a process that truly does help narrow down the choices. Through locating and researching each firm, you can get a fairly good idea of who you would like to receive a quote from. If you take it one step further and actually reach out to each firm with a personal phone call, you can often gather even more insightful tidbits on how they work, their experience, how many people are on their team, how long they’ve been in business, etc. (and if they don’t answer their phone or they are hard to get ahold of in person, that can be very telling as well). Do remember at this juncture you’re not pressing people for exact ideas on how to successfully create your project, but just an overall feel for the company. And yes, you should absolutely view their portfolio of work.
Seeing what you want.
I can completely understand how a non-designer can evaluate a portfolio only on whether or not they see what they like or what they feel they want their finished project to look like. If you’re looking for a very clean, professional corporate style for your website, you will most likely resonate more with a design portfolio that is jam-packed with that style. But ask yourself this one question: “Would you want your project to be a ‘template’ of a previously done project or do you want a totally custom design that is tailored to your exact needs?”
In reality, a great design firm (or freelancer) is versatile. That’s one of the main things that makes them great. They can take ANY project and through a process of learning about the client, fully understanding the goals and target market, and applying their expertise and experience, they can create the best design solution.
Tips on evaluating a design portfolio.
I field almost all of the emails and calls we receive of new business inquiries. The large majority have contacted us specifically because they not only like what they see in our portfolio, but that they appreciate that, “every project is different”. There are a few that this very fact makes them a bit uneasy, and those are the folks I’m trying to reach here.
A great designer’s portfolio should reflect an element of diversity in that each project should be unique and individual (even in the case of “niche” designers there should be a clear distinction between projects). If you don’t see an explanation of how each project met its goals, make inquires for client referrals, case studies or other explanations of how the project was completed successfully. Many potential clients also inquire if a designer has previously worked in their industry. I consider this a very valid question, because if they have, it could make the process of understanding the target market and goals a little faster. But remember, a great designer is versatile and they use a discovery process to ensure they do understand your industry.
When you look through a design portfolio consider the following:
Does everything look the same? If so, they may only be good at one thing. In the worst case scenario, they might simply be purchasing pre-made templates and not doing custom design at all.
Are there descriptions along with the images of how the project was completed successfully? If not, make inquires to validate that it successfully met goals, etc. Only after knowing and understanding what the goals and target market were can you fully evaluate whether the design worked for that project. You may like the look of a design just fine, but design is about function and purpose, not just looking pretty (unless of course that was one of the main goals).
Does their portfolio show experience? This can be hard to determine simply from looking at images. Browse around the rest of the firm’s website and there should be information such as how long they have been in business, any high-pofile clients they might have worked with, any degrees, accreditation or awards they’ve received, bios of team members or other information that can help establish their experience.
Does their portfolio show quality? Even if you don’t “like” a particular portfolio piece, does it still show signs of quality? Does it look like a modern or timeless, layout or is there something very dated about it? Is there a good use of colors? Are all images high quality? Does the link for the actual website work or is the site broken in some fashion? Does the design itself “fit” with the project (remember, you should have an understanding of what the basic project goals were)?
Some final points to remember …
I’ve heard a lot of horror stories over the years from those uneasy clients who hired someone even though they didn’t see exactly what they wanted in their portfolio. Nine times out of ten, the reason they got “burned” was because the company or freelancer was not a professional, plain and simple. Many times no contract was signed (always sign an agreement before beginning work!) or they flat out disappeared. You can protect yourself from these design-deadbeats by fully evaluating the work and the company before you consider hiring them.
Don’t assume that a designer can’t successfully accomplish your project because they haven’t worked on something similar. If you’ve done your due diligence to check them out and their portfolio is diverse and filled with quality, successful projects, they are most likely an experienced professional, capable of handling your design project.
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