Caribou Creative
We're Caribou Creative, a graphic design studio in the Comox Valley that wholeheartedly believes successful businesses stem from great design. Our focus is on identity, print, packaging and web design.

Journal

Journal

Below is a peak into the graphic design life at Caribou Creative. I will post articles on different design processes, provide tricks & tips for clients and offer advice to budding designers. I'll also throw in a mash up of playlists, random FAQ's and things that inspire me just to keep things interesting. I hope you enjoy.


 

Picking the right designer.

After 8 years in business (18 in this industry) I've learned a thing or two about working with clients. But today I want to talk about how clients should choose us.

To make it simple, I've categorized things. Each client will have different requirements or expectations from a designer, so depending on your needs, take a look at each category and see where you might fit in.


 

The Newbie Client
You've never worked with a designer before, but you need a logo, packaging, website, etc. - where do you start?

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  • Set A Budget
    Before you even begin looking for a designer, crunch your numbers and figure out how much you'd like to spend on design and marketing. It doesn't matter if you don't know how much design services cost - it's what you can afford, and also what you consider valuable to your business. If you think a logo shouldn't cost more than $200, they are certainly options out there for you. Or if you know exceptional branding is going to make or break your business, consider the value placed on your design collateral.
     
  • Do Your Research
    Now that you have a budget in place, reach out to family and friends and ask for referrals - this is usually a safe route to go. Or perhaps you scoured Instagram and found a few feeds you like - now what? Go to each designer's website and check out their portfolios. Do you like what you see? Does their aesthetic fit within your brand aesthetic? Do they offer everything you need - from a logo to packaging to web design, or will you have to work with multiple designers? How much experience do they have? What does their bio say? Have they won awards - is that important to you? How long have they been designing? Do you need a team to execute your project, or just a single designer?
     
  • Get In Touch
    If working with someone locally is important to you, do a quick Google search for graphic designers in your area. Read testimonials and reviews, and look through their websites so you have a clear understanding of their aesthetic and services they offer. When asking for a quote from a designer, go in to as much detail as you can about the project.

    If you're comfortable working via email or telephone, well the world is your oyster - you can pick from literally thousands of portfolios.
     

Instagram, Dribbble & Behance are great tools to connect clients with designers.


Writing your email: 

THIS...
"Hi, my name is ____ and I am a florist from Vancouver. I found you on Instagram and I love the work you've done for other florists and wedding industry creatives. I just secured a retail space in Gastown and I need help with naming my business, a logo, signage, a website and anything else you think I might need to get started. I'm not very computer savvy, so would need a lot of help in all areas of design. I have a few ideas in terms of direction I'd like to take my brand, but am open to your expertise. I have a budget of about $10K, albeit I am unsure how much this will all cost given it's my first time working with a designer. I also have a hard deadline of 09/01/18 as that's when my shop is set to open."

VS. THIS...
"Hi, I need a logo - how much do you charge? Call me at 555-1234."

...

By sending a detailed email to a potential designer, you are eliminating a lot of back and forth. If I see your deadline is September 1st, but I am already booked until October, it's a quick response of 'Sorry, can't do it.' and you can move on to the next potential designer that can.

Make a list of your top 5-10 designers you want to get quotes from. Base your pick on how quickly they respond and answer any questions you might have, whether or not you can afford them, if they can work within your time constraints and if their design process works for you.


 

The Disgruntled Client
You've worked with another designer or agency before and felt supremely ripped off at their lack of experience/knowledge/deadline constraints, etc.

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First off, I'm sorry this happened. It's often a big (and costly) disappointment when a design problem can't be resolved. And putting your neck out for another designer can feel like a big, fat vulnerable risk. And truthfully it kinda is.

Treat your bad experience as a lesson learned and try to move forward with vigilance. Remember to address the issues you faced with you last designer and explain to your new potential designer why the process/experience didn't work for you. Be transparent and forthcoming with this information - it will only help your new designer understand your experience. You needn't throw anyone under the bus, or offer up names (I REALLY prefer that you didn't), but it is important for your new designer to take note of what when wrong and why.

Some examples:

  • You were upset that you only saw 1 mock-up and were expecting a handful.
    Ask your new designer to lay down the groundwork of their process to you and what you can expect from them, and for how much.
     
  • You didn't like how long your designer was taking.
    Ask for a timeline up front and tell them your hard deadlines.
     
  • It cost 10 times the amount you were quoted.
    Were you quoted a solid number, or a ballpark figure? Was there a sliding scale based on number of revisions? Ask your designer to give you an estimate, then place a cap on it if you can't go over budget. Ask them to inform you (they already should) if you are going to go over the requested budget. The more background work you do on your end, and the clearer your vision is for your designer the easier the process should be for both of you. This will save time, money and number of revisions required to get to approval.
     
  • The work felt amateurish and they didn't bring your vision to light.
    Did you research their portfolio and skillset before hiring them? Were you aware of how long they had been designing for? Did you clearly articulate what you wanted, or did you leave it up to them? Go back to your business plan and do the research needed to confidently work with another designer. Ask for what you want rather than waiting for it to appear. Given that this is your second go-around, you should have a very clear understanding of what did/didn't work.

 

The DIY Client
You've always done the design work yourself, or had someone execute your ideas exactly the way you've envisioned. But you're seeing the advantage of working with a designer now that you're getting too busy to tackle it on your own, or you're frustrated with your lack of knowledge and time spent figuring it out.

 

I get it. Most clients I work with have a budget first and foremost to consider, so they try and tackle as many aspects of their business as they can. Or perhaps you're someone just starting out a new business and you want to see it if works before putting forth heaps of money on branding.
 

The DIY client can be a big red flag for a lot of designers, so DIY'ers take note!


Even though you've done the work yourself, please don't feel that you're capable of the same caliber of work as someone who had been to design school and worked in the industry. While it's understandable to designers why you might have chosen to tackle the creative work yourself, it's insulting for us to be told what to do. Note: being told what to do is much, much different than being told what you are looking for.

If you're still feeling like you could win design awards with your DIY self, I would save your money and skip a graphic designer all together. Work with a production artist to tackle your job if you're feeling overwhelmed. A production designer (often found working as a freelancer or in print shops) will take your vision and simply execute it. So if you have something very specific for a logo and have sketched it out yourself, get in touch with them to clean it up and make it print/web ready for you. They are much, much cheaper than a graphic designer who would want to go through a creative process with you vs. straight execution.

...

With all that said, here's a little story:

I'm terrible at math. So terrible that my dreams of becoming an architect were shattered when my grade 10 math teacher told me he'd pass me if I promised never to come back to his class, and ended the conversation with 'math isn't for everyone.'

For the first couple of years at Caribou I did all the accounting myself. Mostly to save money, but also because I felt I needed to understand this aspect of my business. I hated it. I hated it so much I often put it off until the last minute and tax season was always a month of agony and crumpled receipts every where. In my 3rd year of business I said fuck it! I didn't care how much it cost me - I was done. I hired an accountant and my life was forever changed. Not only are my books tip top and I never have to worry about when to pay my GST again, I have more time to spend on doing what I love - designing. I actually make MORE money than what I spend on an accountant by leaving this part of my business in an experts hands. Go figure.

 

By getting over the idea that you have to wear all hats in order to succeed at life, you may find that outsourcing stuff you're no good at and focusing on what you are, will save you loads of time, stress and money in the end.


 

The Pro-bono Client
I have a really great idea that's going to make me millions, so if you do this job for me for free it will give you the greatest exposure of your life.

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Nope.


 

The Control Freak
I'm hesitant to even put 'client' behind the words 'control freak' because I run kicking and screaming from you guys - every time. Here's why.

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I've done this job for a whopping 18 years (I know I already said that). But there's no winning with a control freak. There just isn't. I can give you the FedEx logo (my favourite logo of all time) and you still wouldn't be happy. The single most important words I can hear from a potential client is 'I trust you.' This gives me the assurance I need to buckle down and do what they hired me to do, utilizing my experience and expertise for what I feel is best for their brand.

I would never send a client a design that I felt 'meh' about. Not ever. Not once. Why? Not only do I want to exceed my client's expectations every damn time, but my name is also attached to that design, and will be forever. The work I put out there ensures I have more work coming to me in the future - believe me when I say my happiness is just as important as my clients.

Control freaks have a hard time trusting that someone else may know what's better for them than they do, and when it comes to graphic design (or any creative industry) people tend to believe there's this big grey area of opinion on what is good or bad, or what works or what doesn't. But that's completely untrue - at least with the way I like to work. I take my client's through a creative brief that make the process feel very black and white - before a pen is even put to paper.

I hate wasting my client's time and money as much as they hate giving it to me, so I ensure there's a solid foundation before we even start - with no surprises or curve balls thrown in to steer us off track.

Lastly, control freaks never give constructive feedback. 'I'm not feeling it' or 'I don't know what I want, but I'll know when I see it' doesn't do you or your designer any favours. Requesting 64 different colour changes only indicates to me that you struggle with power more than colour theory. Perhaps the inner you wants to feel as if you have all the answers. And that's okay - I'm happy to pass the torch over, but I refuse to be bullied into poor design solutions just so my client can feel right.

...

So if you're feeling like you maaaaybe fall into this category even a teenie little bit, here's my advice:

You'd never sit in a dentist's chair, desperately needing a filling, and then proceed to tell them how to fix it. I mean, of course you know what tooth is bothering you, and for how long, and you've had that tooth almost your entire life, sooo...technically you're the expert of your tooth. But that doesn't mean you have a clue how to fix it, does it? If that was the case you'd have grabbed a pair of pliers and done the dirty work yourself (see section on DIY'ers).

So what's so different about working with a designer? Our job is to problem solve. And answer questions. And execute beautiful solutions that help you grow. When you stifle the process, you stifle the results. Let us do what we do best.

...

Bottom line: the design phase of your business should be ridiculously fun and exciting, not excruciatingly painful and stressful. This is your brand, your baby, so handle it with care. Do your research, ask the hard questions and put forth the faith in your designer that he or she can tackle your project and provide you with something you can feel extremely proud about.

x,
Laura Prpich