Graphic Designers Tips

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Elements of a Freelance Design Contract

Artisan Talent Tip: A good contract protects the freelance graphic artist by setting out the work to be done, the schedule of work to be delivered, and the schedule of payments to be made. A graphic designer should have a standard contract available for clients to sign, and should not do any work without a signed contract. You should also include a clause reserving the right to display a copy of the completed work as part of your portfolio.

   
How can I deal with difficult clients?

Graphic Designers: The Difficult Client

If you are going to be a freelance graphic artist, eventually you will encounter a difficult client. Having a plan in place to deal with this type of person can really help minimize aggravation and conflict. Here are some great tips for keeping things cool:

  • Recognize the warning signs. If you are getting multiple voicemails with last-minute details or unreasonable time-frame requests in the beginning, pay attention to this and try and head things off at the pass before the situation worsens.
  • Realize that the situation is temporary. Even if a client is being impossible, eventually the project will come to an end. Keep that in mind.
  • Prepare yourself for interaction. Make sure that before you talk to the client, you have the project specs in front of you so that you can refer to them if needed.
  • Build in a set amount of revisions for your projects. A client that can endlessly revise your work can be a real problem. Set a certain amount of revisions and then charge for those that go over.
  • Avoid losing your temper. This can be hard to do, but even if the client is totally off-base in his requests, losing your temper is unprofessional. Take deep breaths. Work out before your meeting. Do what you need to do to keep your cool.

   

Getting Paid for Graphic Design Work

Artisan Talent Tip: To protect themselves and get proper compensation for their work and skills, many designers recommend a series of milestones and payments. For instance, a partnership of New York designers might bill 30% of the final fee on completion of the prototype, 30% on completion of the first draft, and 40% after two rounds of changes. Only after the invoices are paid are the final files provided to the client.

   
How can I get into freelance logo design?

Logos As A Specialty

If you're looking for freelance graphic work, one exciting area that you can focus on is logo creation. This specialized field requires a good ear as well as a good eye. Successful graphic designers know how to listen to a client to find out what they are looking for—and then deliver something amazing that exceeds expectations.

Many designers think that for a logo to be great it has to be complex, but many of the best are very simple. The logo needs to communicate with the viewer, and the graphic designer's job is to marry that concept with the direction the company wants to go with the look. This can be more difficult than people think. Truth is—it takes a lot of practice.

The good news is that the more logos you do, the more information and experience you will have. You may want to create logos for charities as a way of practicing. Once you have a portfolio together of sample logos, it will be far easier to sell your work as a freelance designer.

   

Mockups and Prototypes

Artisan Talent Tip: At the mockup stage, it's easy to add features, switch elements, and even redo the whole look of the product. These changes get a lot more difficult when you're working with the real product. A team of Chicago designers might use a standard contract that includes at least one round of alterations at the mockup stage, to emphasize to the client that now is the time to change one's mind.

   
How can I learn more about Photoshop?

Photoshop Help

If you are looking to become one of the freelance designers that work with digital images, you will need to know Photoshop inside and out. There are many different ways to dig into all of the features. Here are a few suggestions for learning more about all this great program has to offer:

  • Practice/play. When you have a chance, try playing around with various features and see what they do. Much can be learned from just practicing.
  • Take a class. To learn more advanced features you will need to take more than a basic class at your local community college. Check out local colleges and universities and see what they offer at a higher level.
  • Get tutored. If you have a colleague or friend that is good with the program, see if they would be willing to tutor you. If you can tutor them on another program, it can be a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Check out a book on Photoshop. There are many Photoshop books on the market, and they exist for those at all different levels. See if you can find one that will stretch your knowledge.
  • Try out a Webinar or tutorial. There are Webinars and online tutorials for all kinds of different Photoshop techniques. Here is a good place to get started: http://www.allgraphicdesign.com/pshop.html#links.
Honing your Photoshop skills can help you get graphic design jobs and make you more marketable as a freelancer. Try to advance your training and it will pay off in the long run.

   
What should go in my contract for freelance design work?

Elements of a Freelance Design Contract

Here are some other issues that should be covered in a contract for freelance design work:

  • How many rounds of changes is the client allowed?
  • Who owns the work?
  • If you can't meet deadline because the client was late signing off on the prototype, what happens?
  • Will there be a "kill fee" if the project is canceled?
  • What expenses (software? printing of prototypes? Travel? Postage?) will the client cover outside of the design fee?

   
How can I decide how much to charge?

Track Your Hours

To be taken seriously as a freelance graphic artist, you need to charge for the time you spend working on client projects. Whether you charge by the project or by the hour, your rate should reflect the cost of your time, including the equipment you need to do your work.

The Graphic Artists Guild publishes a handbook on pricing and ethical issues which may be of use in setting up your rates. You probably will also want to be aware of what your competitors are charging. You probably won't succeed by competing on price alone -- that will only attract bottom-feeder clients. Instead, develop your sales skills to position yourself as uniquely suited to solve the client's problems through great design.

At the same time, you'll want to develop a clear notion of how long it takes you to complete a given project or part of a project. You'll also want to develop a reliable system for tracking your work hours, so you can do a better job of estimating projects in the future.

   
What should a mockup accomplish?

Mockups and Prototypes

Mockups are standard communication tools for graphic designers, used to convey visual ideas to clients who may not be accustomed to thinking in visual terms.

There are things mockups can't do well -- for instance, conveying all aspects of a Web site's interaction with a customer. Designer Luke Wroblewski warns against giving clients too many options at the mockup stage. Instead, pare your ideas down to one or two, but base them solidly in a thorough understanding of the problems the client is trying to solve.

Be sure to mark any drafts, mockups or prototypes with a stamp or other clear label that identifies them as not being final products, and prevents the client from accidentally or purposefully using them as final products.

   
How can I bring up the subject of price with a new client?

Qualifying Prospects

As a freelance graphic design pro, you're not just a designer -- you're a business owner. You're in charge of obtaining new work, managing your time, budgeting your money and prioritizing the projects most likely to bring you profits.

One of the important skills a freelance graphic artist can develop is the ability to determine which potential clients can afford your services. Sales professionals call this "qualifying prospects."

Money shouldn't be the first thing you talk about, of course. Just as in a job interview, your focus should first be on the value you can add to the organization with your work. At the same time, you don't want to waste a lot of time selling someone who can't buy.

In your initial conversations, ask good questions to develop a sense of what the client needs. Once you understand the project that's on the table, you can ask about budget and indicate a range into which you think the cost will fall.

Most clients will of course try to get something for less. This is normal human behavior. Respond by offering to do a lesser amount of work for that price.

   
What if I need help to get a freelance job done?

Contracting With Suppliers

As your freelance graphic design practice grows, you may find yourself with more work than you can manage. Instead of turning down jobs, one option may be to contract parts of your workload out to another designer, or to a specialist in a field you don't know as well, such as Web coding or copywriting.

In these situations, you are the employer, and you need a contract between you and your supplier (the other creative person) that specifies work to be done, deadlines, and payments.

Because you are in the middle, you are in a position of responsibility in two directions. You owe your supplier his or her fee even if the client doesn't pay. And you owe the work to the client even if your supplier flakes out on you.

You also shouldn't lie to the client. Let them know that you have a skilled person who "works with" you on projects of this kind, and that you won't be doing all the work yourself but will take responsibility for its being of the highest quality.

   
Should I give my work away?

Should You Work on Spec?

Working "on spec" is work done for free to try to gain a contract or job. It's a common technique for young or inexperienced freelance graphic artists, yet professionals in growing numbers are arguing that no work should ever be done on spec.

Their argument is this: If you work for free, you are devaluing not only your own work, but that of all creative professionals. Good creative work requires custom solutions that meet the client's unique needs -- and those solutions are worth money.

If a customer cannot afford to pay competitive rates for freelance design work, then that is a customer you do not need. Focus your sales pitches on customers who already have budgets for design.

Working on spec is not the same as working "pro bono," that is, providing free services to a charity or other nonprofit organization, usually in exchange for promotional value. This can be a valuable way to build your portfolio and market your services.

Another way to build up a freelance design portfolio is to barter your design services. You might do $400 worth of design work for a clothing store, and receive $400 worth of clothing in return. Such arrangements are often hard to negotiate, but can result in win-win situations.

   
How can I make sure I get paid for my work?

Getting Paid for Graphic Design Work

In a perfect world, graphic design clients would all be delighted with their projects and happily write checks to their designers within minutes of receiving the completed work.

And the Tooth Fairy would be real, and ice cream would have no calories.

However, we do not live in a perfect world. There are plenty of clients out there who do not want to pay their designers, who want to get something for nothing, or who simply don't understand how much time and effort goes into freelance design work.

   
Should I get a partner for my graphic design business?

Graphic Design Partnerships

Maybe you're great at print design, and your friend rocks Web site design. Perhaps you like to focus on producing creative work, and you know someone who excels at running a business and prospecting for clients. Or you enjoy drawing comic books and you fall madly in love with someone who happens to be great at lettering. Any way it happens, such coincidences may look like the beginning of a beautiful business partnership.

Experienced freelance graphic design professionals urge moving slowly. A business partnership, especially in a creative field, can be remarkably like a marriage -- for good or ill -- and it's worth taking a lot of time to make sure you have the right partner.

Try doing two or three small projects with the other person to see what happens. Pay attention to whether your skills really complement one another; how trustworthy and reliable the other person is; and how you both deal with deadlines and other stressful situations.

In no situation should you turn over the management of the money side of your business completely to another person. Even if it bores you to tears, this is your livelihood. Insist on remaining involved and informed.

   
Should I bother the client while I'm working on a job?

Client Communication

A great many issues between graphic designers and clients might be prevented by establishing better communication at the beginning of the process.

After choosing someone to do freelance design work, a client should expect to spend some time communicating the purpose and image of the organization, the market for its products, and the specific mission of the project being assigned.

The designer should ask questions, take all this information in and incorporate it into whatever final work is produced. If the client asks, "Why did you do it that way?" the answer should refer back to the data gathered during the initial discussions.

While some designers prefer to create their work on their own, the most successful designs are often those that are created with ongoing communication between client and designer. For this reason, some Web developers create two development servers, one for creating products and the other as a demonstration site to show the client the current stage of the work.

   
How can I be a better graphic artist?

Tricks of the Graphic Art Trade

A popular saying in the writing profession is, "Good writers borrow; great writers steal." A freelance graphic artist can surely benefit from this mantra as well. Now, to be clear, this does not condone plagiarism. Rather, it reminds us to study the work of others and incorporate it into your own style. Being an avid reader of other material sparks countless ideas of your own.

Graphic artists should keep a file of designs that have "worked" for them or influenced them in some way – even if it is an example of how not to do a task. A personal library of influential images and art will help a good artist develop his skills.

   
How much work should I put in my graphic arts portfolio?

Portfolios For Graphic Artists

In order to get work, you'll need to show work. It's that simple. Nowhere is this more important than in the world of graphic arts. Your designs are your calling cards. So how much work should you put inside a portfolio?

Graphic arts professionals sometimes opt to show the quantity of work they have done. This is a mistake. It's better to choose 10 strong designs than twice as many mediocre ones. Sadly, the prospective client may remember the average designs the most. If this happens, your chances of being hired diminish.

   
What are some typical freelance graphic design jobs?

Graphic Design Jobs

Successful graphic designers are flexible in the work they take on. Graphic designers create brochures, annual reports, publications, packaging, ads and many other pieces of print communication. Whenever you see print materials attempting to sell a product or promote a view, you are viewing a graphic designer's work.

The work of graphic designers is increasingly evident on many Web sites and multimedia projects today. Therefore, a freelance graphic design job can come from any number of sources. That's good news for your career!

   
How do I keep my freelance graphic arts career going?

How to Stay in Business as a Freelance Graphic Artist

Keep the freelance graphic artist jobs rolling in by taking time to write a brief newsletter. Let your clients know what you have been working on!

Another suggestion is to post press releases. These can be particularly helpful when anything new has occurred in your career. Perhaps you've won an award or a site you worked on has just launched. Keep your clients in the loop. Remember that when you write about clients, they are thrilled to get good press from you.

   
What does it take to be a great freelance graphic designer?

How to Be a Great Graphic Designer

A great freelance graphic designer is also a skilled multi-tasker. The job requires excellent organizational skills because one is juggling several assignments at once. It also requires flexibility and the ability to develop fresh concepts with a client's copy, illustrations and photos. Remember that redundancy is death to a graphic designer! There is a fine line between developing a signature style and repeating the same look over and over again.

   
How important are computer skills and print skills in graphic arts?

Does Your Graphic Artist Have Computer And Print Skills?

When hiring a freelance graphic artist, evaluate his or her computer skills along with print knowledge. Talent in digital production is important. The ability to translate an editor's notes into art is important as well.

Knowledge of software such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and QuarkXPress are basics. However, the person you hire should be up on the printing process as well. Today, a number of graphic designers have not bothered to gather an understanding of it. This could reflect badly on your business.

   
What should I be wary of when hiring a graphic designer?

What to Look Out for When Hiring a Graphic Designer

Look online to see if your potential graphic designer has his or her own website. These days it's a standard to have one's portfolio online and/or to have designed the very site on which the portfolio is posted! If a graphic designer tells you that he or she can write your copy be wary. Very few freelancers excel in more than one field. While one aspect of your job will be done well, the other may be mediocre. Very often a good freelancer will team up with another good freelancer in a complimentary field to bring you the best possible work for your specific needs.

   
How do I know what talents good freelance graphic designers should have?

What's in the Portfolios of Talented Graphic Designers

While anyone with a computer and a working knowledge of Quark or Photoshop could call himself a graphic designer, truly talented freelance graphic designers have portfolios to back up their experiences. Confused about what skills they should possess? Use the following guide:

  • A beginning graphic designer should have, at minimum, comps and art-school drawings. Ideally he or she should also have black & white or 2-color printed flyers, postcards, or mailers.
  • Second-tier graphic designers should have originally designed logos in their portfolios as well as the things a beginner should have.
  • More experienced designers will have various bindings, die-cuts, varnishes, inserts, and possibly complex packaging designs on top of all of the things listed above.
  • The top-level designers have usually worked for Fortune 500 clients or perhaps has launched the style for major brand products, so their portfolio should reflect this.

   
How can I promote my business online?

Banner Ads: An Easy Way to Promote Your Business

Hiring a freelance graphic designer to develop a few simple banner ads may be the simplest (and sometimes most cost-effective) way to promote your business online. Banner ads are the blocks of advertising copy and graphics you encounter on certain websites throughout the Internet. Unlike pop-up ads, banner ads can be effective without being intrusive. A graphic designer will have the skills to develop an eye-catching ad for your company using graphics and text treatment that will adequately promote your business. Because the jobs are smaller, many freelancers will be able to provide the service at a lesser cost than large design jobs.

   
What is the artistic talent of a successful graphic designer?

The Craft of an Established Graphic Designer

A well-established and experienced freelance graphic artist should be able to initiate creative concepts on his or her own. Besides being technically proficient, he or she needs to translate clients' needs into a successful design format. A freelance graphic artist should be aware of and understand different trends and “looks” in design and be able to alter them for different contexts. Showing talent at art-directing photographers, retouchers, and illustrators is also key.

   
What else can I do with the designs my graphic artist has created?

Showcase Your Graphic Artist's Work

One way to keep the freelance graphic artist jobs rolling in is to take the time to write up a brief newsletter. Let your clients know what you have been working on!

Another suggestion is to post press releases. These can be particularly helpful when something new has occurred in your career. And, if you've won an award or launched a Web site, keep your clients in the loop. And remember, when you write about your clients you will please them by giving them good press.

   
What are the skill levels of beginning graphic designers?

Beginning a Career in Freelance Graphic Design

A newcomer to the career of freelance graphic design should have a decent eye for layout, spacing and type. Even if your experience dealing with color is limited, you should have some spot color background such as working with charts and graphs. An entry-level graphic designer often uses graphics and artwork provided by others. So you should be able to set up files for laser printing or screen display. Working knowledge of the computer programs QuarkXPress or PageMaker are essential. It is also hopeful to know Illustrator and FreeHand as well.

   
How can I make sure my graphic artist does what I need him/her to?

Getting What You Need From Your Graphic Artist

When working with a graphic artist, whether a freelance production artist or a branding professional, be sure to clarify his or her duties. Remember, there can be a disconnection between a creative mind and a business mind!

Company managers should adequately relay the needs of the client or project. Project managers can then oversee the scheduling and distribution of materials for review. By setting up an organized structure early on and clarifying needs, your graphic artist is free to do what he or she does best — be creative.

   
Where can I find a graphic artist?

Where to Find Graphic Artists

In order to find a graphic artist that suits your company's needs, use the keyword phrase "graphic artist" in a search engine. This will generate leads to freelancers or companies that offer these services.

Request graphic samples from prospective graphic artists to make sure they can produce the style of graphics that will meet your expectations. Graphic artists may bring a fresh perspective to your site that you hadn't considered before. On the other hand, they may need help with your corporate vision and require supervision to become proficient in your business concepts.

   
Any tips for logo design?

Designing Logos

It's almost inevitable that all graphic arts jobs involve designing a logo at some point or another. Here's a tip: design in black and white!

To help stay focused on typeface as well as shape and size, design in black and white, not color. Later on, as the design is finalized, you can transfer your design to color. There is another reason to do this as well. Your logo needs to be legible and clear in black and white if it is ever photocopied or faxed.

   
Can I study graphic art in school?

Going to School for Graphic Art

Many universities and colleges now have courses and degrees in graphic art. Several schools offer bachelor or associate degree programs in visual communications, animation, network technology, media arts and game design.

Through graphic art programs, students can pursue a career in video game design, animation, PC computer repair, and much more. And, the best part is, many of these jobs can be done on a freelance basis!

   
What computer programs should a graphic designer know?

Computer Knowledge of Graphic Designers

If you are hiring a freelance graphic designer, it's a good idea to check his or her resume to see what design programs he or she knows. Knowledge of QuarkXPress and Pagemaker are basics, much like Microsoft Word is to writers. As the levels of experience increase, your potential designer should also be able to use Illustrator, FreeHand, Photoshop, and DeBabelizer. But, beyond just knowledge of these programs, a very experienced designer will be able to system troubleshoot in the event of program or project glitches.

   
How can I get more involved in my career as a graphic artist?

Getting Involved in Your Industry

For those who categorize themselves as "doers," joining an organization of your professional peers might pump up your career. There is an organization called The Graphic Artists Guild for graphic artists and other design types. The Graphic Artists Guild is a national union of illustrators, designers, web creators, production artists, surface designers and other creatives who have come together to pursue common goals, share their experience, raise industry standards, and improve the ability of visual creators to achieve satisfying and rewarding careers.

The Guild gives direct connection to a designer's peers. Workshops and events sponsored at the local chapter levels provide colleagues an opportunity to meet in a noncompetitive environment, network, and take action on issues of concern. Members appreciate a community where information on business practices, employment opportunities, clients, vendors, and technology is shared.

   
How can I get more involved in my career as a graphic artist?

Getting Involved in Your Industry

For those who categorize themselves as "doers," joining an organization of your professional peers might pump up your career. There is an organization called The Graphic Artists Guild for graphic artists and other design types. The Graphic Artists Guild is a national union of illustrators, designers, web creators, production artists, surface designers and other creatives who have come together to pursue common goals, share their experience, raise industry standards, and improve the ability of visual creators to achieve satisfying and rewarding careers.

The Guild gives direct connection to a designer's peers. Workshops and events sponsored at the local chapter levels provide colleagues an opportunity to meet in a noncompetitive environment, network, and take action on issues of concern. Members appreciate a community where information on business practices, employment opportunities, clients, vendors, and technology is shared.

   
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Mary White