How do you know if you’re choosing a real graphic designer?

How can someone who doesn’t know anything about graphic design know that the graphic designer they’re choosing actually know what they’re doing?

The internet appear to be full of people who have self-titled themselves as graphic designers. That’s apparently enough for them to go out into the world and charge others for graphic design work.

Even though the only thing they have in common with a real graphic designer is a copy of Photoshop, though they use it for everything, even when it’s not the right tool for the job.

How can you separate the real graphic designers from the “graphic designers”?

Add or subtract

For a long time I’ve used the following analogy.

If you ask a “graphic designer” and a real graphic designer to improve an existing piece of the design, the former will usually try and add something while the real graphic designer will try to take something away.

I think that’s probably a good rule of thumb, but not really very helpful for anyone trying to choose a graphic designer.

I’ve recently thought of a question that I think may be a more helpful guide to solving this conundrum.

One question to ask

The question is simply “tell me about a piece of design you love?”

The type of answer they give should be a reasonable rule of thumb by which to judge them.

If they focus primarily on the form or aesthetics of a design, such as they love the color scheme or that’s a beautiful font, I’d expect them to fall into the “graphic designer” camp.

Design isn’t about form, it’s about function and problem solving. How it looks is just a part of it.

If the designer gives you answer in which they focus more how how something works or how it solves a problem, they’re more likely to fall in the real graphic designer camp. They’re certainly thinking more like a designer.

Incidentally, don’t feel that any examples they give should be specifically graphic design based. Design covers all sorts of things and many may be easier to explain than a business flyer for example.

Some examples

As I’m writing this, I can hear the washing machine going through its spin cycle. It was only a cheap machine, but after our previous machine gave up the ghost after 13 years, I was hugely impressed by one design feature of the new machine.

The program dial.

On every washing machine I’d used before this one, the program dial could be left in any position and the machine could be started again.

So the last user may have turned the dial to the 90ºC annihilation wash meaning the cashmere shawl comes out as a postage stamp.

On our current machine, and I guess every other machine nowadays, once it finishes a wash, it can’t start again until the program dial has been zeroed.

That’s a really simple idea, but for some reason many machines went without that feature for decades.

I’m also a fan of plastic water bottles. In Europe 1.5 litre bottles of still water are common. Unlike carbonated drinks, they use a very flimsy plastic and yet they remain rigid because of the different shapes designed into them to create tension, even though the plastic is so flexible in flat form.

That’s clever design, not because of how it looks, but how it works.

Any better ideas?

Clearly this is an imperfect approach to assessing a graphic designer, but t’s the best I’ve been able to come up with.

Have you got any better ideas?