I belong to several business groups on Facebook. In most cases, they are full of entrepreneurs at various stages of their business journey who have banded together to network, support each other, and hopefully find clients & partners with whom to work. Every so often, someone posts a question about what to look for when choosing a designer and there’s always some well-meaning individual who advises the querent to review portfolios to find a style that they like.
Nonononono. I know people are trying to be helpful but what was that they say about the paving on the road to hell?
As a business developing your own branding, including your own visual language, the only style you should be concerned with is your own.
You don’t want the designer’s style, or the same look as every other client the designer has worked with; you want something that is expressly you, that resonates specifically as your brand.
A professional designer should not have a style (except for our own brands.) A great designer can work in a multitude of styles so that their work can best reflect the client’s brand. He or she should work hard to discover sites you like or dislike, colour palettes that fit the feel of your brand, and imagery and typography that appeal to your ideal audience. She shouldn’t have one style that gets slightly varied and applied across all sites. Would you hire a mechanic who is great at changing the oil, but has no idea if your brakes need adjusting?
Commercial art work is not about the designer. It is about serving the client in the best possible way. To that end, designers don’t want to impose their own style, likes and dislikes on the client. The finished look in a portfolio may be aesthetically pleasing, but great design is so much more than the final product. A cursory glance through beautiful images doesn’t tell you about the journey the designer and client took together; how they wrestled with brand, pinned a ridiculous amount of images to a Pinterest mood board, or systematically stripped away all unnecessary elements. It won’t reflect the time spent discussing the client’s perfect people, and how they would respond to X over Y, what questions they need answered, and what their emotional state is when they discover the site.
Judging a designer on “style” is like judging an iceberg only on what is visible above the water.
Your designer should be as invested in your success as you are. They should be a great listener, a better communicator, and your guide through the sometimes sticky swamp that is defining your brand and discovering your style. They’re your partner and you need to feel they get you.
Check out the real world person behind the art. Read their blog posts. Follow them on social media. Decide if this is this someone you could have a coffee or a glass of wine with and come away feeling enriched. You’ll be spending a ton of time with your designer on a very valuable piece of your business.
You want to know your designer is able to give you solid advice, but the most important thing is that you can work well together. I’ve written before about my disdain for the word “expert”. Fantastic projects are a balance between a client’s deep knowledge of their subject matter and a designer’s ability to translate it into a visual beacon for the client’s perfect people. A professional portfolio is important, but a professional person is crucial.
A client/designer relationship is an exercise in trust for both parties. We trust you to share your expertise, to do the deep work around what your perfect people really need and to give us honest feedback when we visually respond. You trust us to guide the project, to really, really listen and to ask questions when we’re confused, and to ultimately translate your rallying call into visuals that bring your perfect people home.
Don’t come to us because you like our style. Come to us because you trust us to help you develop your own.