Things to consider when choosing your ideal design partner

Every now and then, you come to a point where you need to select a designer to join your team. They are the key makers, those with the ability to catapult your product and/or services to new heights. Making a well-informed hiring decision is no different than choosing a business partner or a new flat. It is one of those mind-boggling and stressful challenges a leader can face. Without a roadmap, most leaders simply hope and pray for the fail-safe solution to magically appear that will leave them feeling good about the choices they’ve made. So, what, or rather WHO does it take to transform your hiring anxiety into a deep sense of relief? This is the person who can create a design that truly GOES BEYOND.

The question then becomes, “Where should I start?”

Navigating “minefields” such as Behance or Dribbble can be very complicated. You may land on a superb designer portfolio. Premium quality! Inspiring! Pixel perfect! Yes, they are all there. You may even start feeling comfortable, hoping that there is no nasty surprise underneath the surface impression. Maybe you are right. But many times the polished presentation hides a lack of experience, knowledge and well-rounded skillset. To the average eye, this person looks great — but they are the mine you’re actually trying desperately to avoid.

Why is this so?

There are a few reasons:

  • Some providers are just a bit too green. They simply do not have sufficient exposure to the real and “on the field” clients. Therefore, they frequently end up investing a lot of time and effort to create a perfect design concept, much more than an actual project would allow. It is often easier to produce a concept than to overcome a real challenge. Designing a “wow” page or a screen for an app in order to achieve the “perfect shot” does not necessarily take into account things like the information architecture, usability, user-experience or user-journey. The end result could easily look outstanding while not truly delivering the commercial benefits of a well-designed web page.
  • I won’t disagree that picture (portfolios) is worth a thousand words. However, these portfolios do not necessarily contain some vital words which describe an actual designer or an agency behind them. The missing words can only be generated by relevant experience working within both small and big teams, successful cooperation with the developers and expertise within a certain industry. The essential vocabulary should be able to describe your partners as people who think strategically, analyse various aspects of your project while applying their well-tested methodology and processes and ultimately delivering top quality within the defined timeframe and budget. With all this in mind, do you still believe that just by skimming different design marketplace pages and selecting the “wow” portfolios you could make a fail-safe choice?
  • The impression made by a well-designed portfolio is akin to “love at first sight”, but in order to turn those early flutters of the heart into “happily ever after” I strongly advise you to conduct a thorough due diligence. Check out their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn profile. Do they have any published articles? Interviews? Blogs? What is their company culture? This should help you evaluate your future partner’s profile based also on “organic” data such as their way of thinking and communicating interests and how they present themselves to the world. In the same way, as the books on the shelves speak volumes about its owner, your partners’ social network content could say a lot about them.
  • Finally, after applying these filters and getting yourself off the “minefield” it is advisable to establish direct and visual contact with your potential partner. In the ideal world, it would be great if you could meet them in person. However, depending on your level of business, Skype or a similar audio/visual platform could also do the trick. I learned to insist on the video component of the call. Just like on your first date, it is important to see the person you are talking to. Focus on their facial expressions, the tone of their voice, body language and even their work environment. Many studies have confirmed that more than 80% of the message is nonverbal. If that is true, would you really make your decision based on an email or a phone call? I wouldn’t. That’s for sure!

A quality life demands quality questions. Use this formula: quality questions = quality of answer = quality of outcome. Simple right? It’s amazing how the simplest things can make the largest amount of impact in our lives both personally and professionally.

Why does this matter? Because my team has been trained to always put themselves in the shoes of our client. Then they ask 10x quality questions:

1. Am I playing in the right sandbox? (Is my market able to sustain 10x business growth?) )

2. What’s the ONE THING you need to do that would 10X your growth in the next 12 months?

3. What kind of risk and commitment are you ready to take on your 10x journey?

4. Am I able to identify my strengths and strengthen them even more?

5. How can the experience be easier, cheaper, safer, more interesting, more worthwhile, more fun?

6.What is the X factor of my business/industry? How do my values correlate to that X factor?

7. What is something I believe that almost everyone else disagrees with me about?

Even after 10 years in this business, I am often surprised by the answers we receive. The answers may not address the quality of the design, but they ALWAYS reveal our partners’ ability to align their values and principles with those we have here at Saturized.

Our partners sometimes see us as “ideas breakers” because of this approach. We don’t work with any client, we work with the right clients. Those we choose to work with soon realize that we just want to ensure that their most precious commodity — TIME — is well invested. As a leader, this is the only thing you can never get back. Therefore it is infinitely valuable. We believe that if you invest your time wisely, with a partner who has complimentary values and principles, both sides will be able to maintain a strict focus and feverish enthusiasm. This is the magic recipe for excellent design, alongside investing in proper due diligence for effective budget planning.

By leading with values and principles, it’s really hard to make a mistake. This is why if you’ve already chosen to work with someone, I would encourage you to give yourself enough time to deliberate further. Any uneasiness about who you’re working with? Stop. Take a healthy step back to identify the reasons why you feel this way. If you are not able to eliminate them through further due diligence, consider changing your partner. The sooner you get off the “pins and needles” the better.

To be completely honest, choosing the ideal design partner may at first appear to be rather easy. But there is a multitude of choices, and to sift through the white noise is extremely stressful. To make life easier, apply the filters mentioned to narrow down to the strategic options. Your first step should be to focus on designers’ portfolios by exploring their background skills and methodology. Understand how they lead to a successful product delivery. Then conduct a thorough due diligence of their social media and online presence. Finally, set up an in-person meeting or a video call to ensure the partner under consideration has the ability to connect with your values and principles by asking quality questions.

At every step in the process, take your time. Invest in assessing the way you feel about them. Your ideal partner should never have to persuade you with their technical skills alone, but also with their ability to understand and connect with your journey.

Do get in touch and let me know about your thoughts and experiences!

 Author: Goran Bajazetov

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