Gregory Wolanski

@gregorywolanski

How hackers buy design services

You’re the owner of a small company or trying to create your own product as a software developer after hours. You don’t buy design services every day. When you think of “design”, you think of stress, discomfort, and risk. You think, “hmm, I’m not so sure about this” and “do I really need a designer?”

I’ve prepared for you a short list of things to keep in mind when you buy design services, which you can return to whenever you plan to work with a designer.

What I want you to remember

Start, money, business goals, final say, expectations, involvement, deadline, phrase, words, research, mistakes, trust

Start

I engage a designer right from the beginning of my concept

Involve a designer in the project at the idea stage, even in the form of an hour–long strategic phone call, or buy 2–3 hours of their time for an asynchronous email exchange. This is a much wiser approach to design than hiring a designer at the end of the project with a request to “improve the UX”. When you start with a designer, you have a chance of making a good UX part of the initial budget, scope, and schedule, not a reason to increase the budget, extend the scope, and miss the deadline.

Money

I understand where the money comes from in my business

Knowing where your business money comes from is incredibly important in designing good things that respond to business needs. If your initiative doesn’t bring you any money yet, this is also valuable information for the designer.

Business goals

I know how I want to measure the impact of design on my project

If you don’t know how you want to measure the impact of design, please admit this to the designer. A professional designer will help you with this.

Final say

I decide who will have the final say on the project before starting it

Be honest with yourself and the designer: Will the final say in the project belong to you, your business partner, one of your employees, your investor or your life partner?

Expectations

I’m aware of my expectations

If you don’t know what you expect from a designer, it’ll be difficult to evaluate and appreciate their work, and — consequently — it’ll be a challenge for you to feel good about your cooperation and the money and time you invest in it.

If you know what you expect from a designer, be sure to write it down. Some call these little notes a “brief.” If you think you know what you expect from a designer, but not enough to write it down to formalize it — think a little more.

Do you have problems writing briefs? Again: Ask your designer for help. It’s part of their job. And yes, this is also a part of a paid job.

Involvement

I know how much I can involve myself in the project

How much engagement can you afford? How much or how little do you want to involve yourself in the project?

One 15–minute phone call a day? Two meetings a week? One? Do you have to (or want to! :)) delegate this project to a business partner or employee?

How do your answers to these questions affect who has the final say on the project?

It’s worth answering these questions before determining the time, budget, and scope of a project.

Deadline

I add one day to the due date every time it seems like I can come back with feedback on the project

Feedback is real work that takes real time. Don’t deprecate it, and avoid being forced to apologize for being late and putting yourself and the designer in an awkward position.

Phrase

I use the phrase “What kind of feedback do you need? What should I focus on and what should I ignore?”

Remember these questions when the designer presenting the work doesn’t answer them unprompted. We all have bad days, but that isn’t an excuse to waste time and energy.

Words

I’m building a shared vocabulary with my designer

Words have meaning. Do you not understand the words or phrases your designer uses? Let them know. Do you have any doubts as to whether you two are on the same page after saying a few dozen words? Signal your uncertainty as soon as possible. Ask the designer to paraphrase what you said. The quality of your cooperation depends on the quality of your communication.

Research

I don’t accept design work without research

If a designer rushes to draw things, create wireframes, etc. at the very beginning of the project without doing any research or asking you an irritating number of questions, look for another designer.

Mistakes

I know blunders happen

Mistakes occur on both sides. At the end of the day, we are all just human. Professionalism doesn’t mean perfection. Professionalism means, among other things, the skillful handling of problematic situations.

Trust

I trust the designer I chose

Heated exchanges, mistakes, and misunderstandings happen, and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as you trust your designer. There is no good design work without trust. If a designer doesn’t inspire confidence at the beginning of your cooperation, or if you have lost confidence in the designer throughout the project, say so directly. I know it’s easier said than done, but when you say nothing about this, you almost guarantee dissatisfaction with the cooperation — often a few weeks or even months before it ends.

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