The big design question, DIY or get a designer?
Nowadays, the range of options in terms of design tools available is incredible, as are the types of professionals you can turn to if you decided you’d better outsource. Computers and the Internet have certainly opened possibilities for non-designers to design something reasonably attractive without too much effort.
So, if you decide to have a go yourself with a visual design piece, what programs to use? Or if you decide to look at outsourcing… which professional should you contact?
In this post, I’ll give some tips and background that might assist you in making a choice whether you go it alone, or hire someone. In my previous post I explained Where to start with designing promotional pieces for your business - that’s critical to have ready whatever you direction you choose.
You’re taking the design challenge on yourself?
There is a multitude of reasons why you might choose to design yourself. One of the most common one is cost saving. It could well be that you enjoy fiddling on the computer to make it look nice and ‘designy’, or get one of your creatively inclined staff members to create something that gets your message across in the way that you envisaged it. And certainly, some things can, and make sense to, be designed by yourself. I’ll will give you useful design tips in later blogs, but for now let’s just focus on things you might like to consider doing yourself.
You can easily put something together for things like simple DL-size flyers, gift vouchers, invitations, office forms, simple menus, product/price lists, labels, program booklets (for school recitals, weddings, funerals, births) – items that don’t necessarily require a high design standard. That said, of course I’d recommend you engage a professional designer if your brand calls for it, or if your type of customers expect a certain standard.
What design programs can I use?
In an ideal world, you’d use the tools that designers use – InDesign (for layout design) and Photoshop (for photos), and Illustrator (for vector graphics and logos). Adobe has available a license available for around $50 per month, or very cheap Student licenses to buy the programs outright, making access to these programs a whole lot cheaper than. Downside of the programs is that it takes a little bit of effort to learn, but with a fantastic help library and YouTube video you can make that work, if you’re so inclined.
Everyone is familiar with Word. In fact, Word is a great document layout program and will cope quite well with you designing a simple flyer, an order form, particularly if you are familiar with the program.
There are some drawbacks you need to be aware of when using Word. One of the main ones being the quality of reproduction, particularly with images and colour. Because Word functions in RGB mode the colours when printed could turn out differently than expected (sometimes dramatically).
Another drawback is with fonts – for instance, when you send a Word file to a printer that doesn’t have the fonts you’ve used, Word will automatically use a different font without informing anyone. But for most simple projects this will be totally acceptable, particularly if it ends up being printed on a digital printer or digital press.
We’ve had customers that provided their designs in Excel and PowerPoint, not your ideal program to design in. People do tend to stick to what they know – and we make it work.
You can use Publisher for laying out of design projects like gift vouchers, church booklets, newsletters, menus etc. It is more of a design program than Word is in that sense. For instance, it has features that makes it easy to prepare files for a printer.
Pages (on Mac)
A program called Pages is something like a simplistic version of Word and Publisher combined.
Free online design software is making its presence know as well, and I am quite impressed with the capabilities and results that come from one of those programs, called Canva – a couple of our print customers supplied print PDFs that were made in Canva, and the results were pretty good.
The program is tailored specifically to make it easy for non-designers to design something reasonably decent – it seems to be a lot simpler to use than the other regulars like Word and Publisher.
There will be plenty of other software available that you can use to design things with. Whatever program you end up using, the important thing to know is that you need to be able to produce PDF (preferably with high quality print settings and bleed area) as printers will accept and check these PDFs to print from.
Help, give me a professional!
There are a lot of different creative professionals out there that can assist you. Below I have listed them in order of dollars you can expect to pay and how professional they’ll handle your design project (ranging from low to high). Most designers quote per job/project, or will provide number of hours they expect to work with a set hourly rate.
- In-house graphic designers (commercial printers and sign companies)
- Web designer
- Graphic design professional
- Design studio
- Web design studio/agency
- Brand agency
- Digital (and traditional) marketing agency
- Advertising agency
When contacting any of the above – perhaps with exception of the marketing and advertising agencies (who will expect to develop and execute a strategy for you), it would be beneficial to let them know what your goal is for your design piece, what your Key Message should be, the Audience you’re targeting, Distribution Type and finally your Call to Action, as discussed in my previous blog post).
So how can these professionals help me?
Freelancers can help create you a nicely designed piece, but chances are that it’s only just that. What is designed depends on the designer’s skill level, and the brief you give them. It might be low cost generally, but if you get something that doesn’t hit the mark, that doesn’t tie in with your brand, has spelling errors, or just misses proper design structure, you might be paying too much. That said, for certain design pieces where it’s either a one-off or something different, it’s nice to give it to someone else to instead of having to do it yourself.
A freelancer could be a friend of a friend, a visual communications university student/graduate, design contractor (via online freelance websites like oDesk, Freelancer, Behance, Fiverr). A note of caution - working with design contractors via websites such as oDesk, Freelancer etc. demands that you be incredibly clear on your brief. You might also find that it’s rather hands-on for you and not at all as easy as it is advertised – particularly when things don’t quite go as planned/briefed. Most of the contractors are based overseas in countries like India, Phillipines, Ukraine etc. My attitude on this is that ‘local is best’.
In-house graphic designers (that work at commercial printers and sign companies)
Using in-house graphic designers from commercial printers and sign companies is a good step up. Most will have the skills to work the program efficiently. These designers are focused on getting the job done, due to the volume of work. Some printers hire excellent designers, whilst others struggle to lure designers that have experience behind them – it will be clearly visible in the work that they produce. The design also matches the type of work that is printed and the volume of jobs that that flows through e.g. docket books, ordinary business cards, menus, order of services etc.
They build websites – these day websites are fluid and use ‘skins’, or ‘themes’ (templates that work with a website database) and add coding for styling purposes. Please, value your brand, and don’t go to your web designer for anything to do with print. Full Stop. Vice versa too – don’t go to a graphic designer and expect them to do a great job on your website. It’s different when it is a studio or agency that have specialist in both areas.
Graphic design professionals
Graphic design professionals generally have several years of experience behind them. They work with passion on your pieces, have a personal approach and understand aspects of marketing you will find helpful. There generally is consistency of design between various pieces you get them to design. Sometimes you might find that they’ll get overloaded with work, or go on holidays which could potentially leave you stranded if you’re in a hurry to get things designed. Mostly though you tend to build up a good relationship that will last for a year of two, sometimes more.
Design studios brings together a team of design professionals, generally with a creative that has a decade or more experience. It’s another level up, and it’s all about working with you, your company and your brand. You should see them as part of your company – just working externally. You will find consistency of design between any of the pieces you get designed. They are all-rounders, and can handle pretty much anything print related.
Web Design Studio/Agency
Web Design Studios/Agencies also have a team of specialist in the field of web creation, website content management systems and search engine optimisation. With websites, content is king, but so is usability, navigability and the way it looks…. just have a check that your website is mobile-friendly e.g. works on a PC, tablet and phone. If it isn’t, and you’re planning to upgrade your site, let me know and I will send you in the right direction.
Brand agencies is where you’d go to get your brand developed. They are specialists and they’ll research, create and manage branding strategies. Brand agencies generally also support you in terms of advertising and other forms of promotional design.
(Digital) marketing agency
You’d go to a (digital) marketing agency to be helped with developing a marketing strategy for your business. It involves online/social media, PR, advertising and prospecting activities, all of which involve some elements of graphic design – which predominantly is either done by their in-house designer, or external contractor.
Finally, the advertising agency – specialists in creative communications across all facets of marketing. Advertising agencies provide everything from complete strategy, research and testing, with full marketing support, strategic brand management and backed up by production expertise in creative direction, brand development, copywriting, graphic design, photography and video/audio production. If you’ve got a decent marketing budget, and a big brand (or wish to create a bigger brand) you know where to go.
Your choice comes down to this…
To DIY-Design or Not to DIY-Design comes down to making simple choices. What can you afford – and don’t just look at it from a dollar perspective but also in relation to what your brand demands and the timing and scope of your design project. A great question to ask yourself is what can you NOT afford (eg. bad design, miss-targeted flyers, spelling errors, etc).