How to Choose a Designer for Your Podcast Cover Art
I would recommend reading this post to really make sure you understand how important it is to find a professional designer that you can trust.
Where to Look
So you want to hire a professional designer to create some kickin' cover art that will help your podcast grow. But how do you do that? Where do you even find a designer?
Leverage Your Network
The first place to turn when hiring for any project is your own network. Talk to people you know and trust, they may be able to refer you someone whom they can vouch for. A solid reference would save you a ton of time and effort sifting through the multitude of designers out there.
These days, it's likely that your network is largely online. Don't forget to use your offline connections as well. Anyone you have a good relationship with will be happy to help you if they can. If a friend or colleague can connect you with a graphic designer that they know it creates a win-win situation for everyone.
If you've struck out within your own network, I recommend looking for a designer to hire on Dribbble, Behance and even Google. Start with specific key-word searches. Being specific helps you target designers who may specialize in projects like yours; you can always broaden your search if you don't find what you're looking for. If you find a designer you're interested in through a portfolio platform like Dribbble or Behance, there is usually a link to their personal website where you can learn more about them and find their contact information.
Don't hesitate to dig deep into search results; a great graphic designer will not necessarily be an expert in search engine optimization. This is a particular problem on Google where companies that do focus on SEO can bury the really gifted designers. Prepare to click through many pages of results.
I've written before about why you should avoid sites like Fiverr and 99Designs. I won't say that you absolutely can't get a good result from these platforms, but these kinds of marketplaces are focussed on cheap, quick turnarounds rather than providing you with an effective, valuable design.
What to Look For
Once you've begun your search, there are three main things you want to look for in a designer: talent, experience and communication. They all go hand-in-hand.
First and foremost, look for a designer with a strong portfolio. Quality is more important quantity, but having too few projects to show can give you reason to hesitate.
Keep an eye out for styles that are appropriate for your show. This isn't a hard and fast rule, because many designers are capable of using a variety of styles. However, if you are creating a podcast about meditation and a designer's portfolio shows grungy MMA designs exclusively, it may not be a good fit. Established designers tend to carefully select the projects that they show in order to attract particular types of projects. This can help you sort through the many talented designers you'll find out there; ff someone is specializing in your area, there's no reason not to reach out to them first.
You don't just want to see designs that look nice, look for real-world projects. I think personal projects are great, I even show a few in my own portfolio. However, client projects present a whole new set of challenges and real-world projects indicate that the designer is up to the task.
Ideally, a designer will include detailed case-studies for their projects or at least some kind of explanation of the process and reasoning behind their designs. Look for signs that they are interested in more than just making a pretty picture; they should be designing purposefully to address the clients needs and goals.
There is quite a bit of overlap between this section and the previous one because a designer's portfolio will tell you a lot about how much and what kind of experience they have. But it is not only way to learn about your potential designer.
Price is an indicator of competence.
Look for designers who are self-assured enough to charge what they are worth. I know it's counter-intuitive, but hear me out. A designer who is charging more is confident in his ability to deliver real value to you. She won't last long if her clients don't feel they're getting their money's worth. Isn't that what you really want, a good return on your investment?
Designers who charge what they are worth can afford to take their time on your project and give it the care that it deserves. Cheap designers are always rushing to get projects out the door because they have to quickly move onto the next one to pay the bills. That's no way to create an effective, impactful design. Think of it like Walmart furniture versus custom, hand-crafted pieces.
Remember that this is an investment and the old adage, "You get what you pay for" is largely true.
Are they sharing what they know?
It's a good sign if a designer is teaching or passing on their knowledge in some way. Whether it's through a blog, a podcast or more formal classes, teaching demonstrates some level of expertise in their field. It also indicates that they are capable of communicating in a way that others can understand. I wouldn't view it as a deal-breaker if a designer doesn't have some kind of teaching presence, but it's reassuring if they do.
Communication and Personality
Communication is an extremely important and underemphasized part of a designer's job. It's vital that you and the person you hire are able to correspond clearly and candidly. A designer's online presence can give you a glimpse into their personality and communication style. The copy on their website is a good place to start, is it thorough and easy to understand? Social media will give you an idea of how they act in a more casual setting. As I mentioned above, if they have any kind of regular content that they publish it will also give you some insight into the person behind the portfolio.
It's not a bad idea to shoot a designer an email to get a taste of how they handle client communications. You can simply tell them that you are considering them for a project and ask if they have room in their schedule or any other questions you may have. Most designers will be happy to answer questions to help set your mind at ease.
Red Flags to Avoid
As with any field, graphic design has some "red flags"to avoid. If you come across any of these warning signs, proceed with caution.
So fast you'll freak!
When it comes to sandwich delivery, speed is great. Not so much with graphic design. By definition, extremely quick turnarounds mean that your project will not receive the time investment or care that it should.
Getting a finished design back in a day or two may sound like a good thing, but that's not even enough time to do thorough research on your podcast and the competition in the market. Forget about brainstorming, iterating, and perfecting your cover art.
Nailing the visual identity of your podcast is an important step, don't try to rush through it.
...or your money back!
'Salesy' guarantees are another red flag to look out for. No one can guarantee specific results from their design, so anyone claiming a certain increase in sales or clicks is just yanking your chain.
Guarantees of turnaround times or price matching fall into this category as well. Each project is unique with it's own set of requirements and challenges. Applying a cookie-cutter strategy to graphic design clients is just not in the customers best interest.
If you feel like you've stepped onto a used car lot when you click on a website, it may be time to move on.
Prices so low, they're insane!
On the surface, paying less for your podcast cover may sound like a good thing. But, as I said before, price is one indicator of competence. You want to invest in cover art that will work for you, not just get something that is "good enough". Low prices are a clue that a significant amount of time and effort will not be put into the final product.
I can't tell you how much to pay for your podcast cover art, there are just too many factors involved. I can offer this rule of thumb: if the price for your cover design has less than three digits, I wouldn't bother. Chances are too high that you'll be paying good money for a bad product. Wait until you can afford to get something you can be proud of that will benefit your podcast in the long run.
Finding the right designer can be a lot of work; even if you weed out the inexperienced and bad fits, there are a ton of amazingly talented designers our there. The key is to take your time and not get discouraged. Find someone who has a track record of doing good work and acts professionally; they are out there and they would love to work with you. Good luck!