The most common misconception we hope to clarify for new design service buyers and consumers is what is the actual difference between PROFESSIONAL, "CUSTOM" DESIGNERS versus the options of; FREELANCERS, TEMPLATE DESIGNERS, HOBBIEST or "DESIGNER WANNA-BE's", many of which may actually be potential future "professionals" that usually just have not yet formalized their career choice or profession. The reality of the matter is there are really only TWO TYPES of designers. This article will explain how to YOU can tell the the REAL difference, rather than rely on what you are being told by the potential designer you are considering. It comes down to a choice between PROFESSIONAL DESIGNERS and NON-PROFESSIONAL DESIGNERS, and the choice and determination is not commonly obvious or easily distinguished by most design service consumers.
To really have a true understanding, clarifications need to be made on the TWO fronts. If you have the patience to read though this, we hope you will learn from it, and that this article will prove to be very valuable and an appreciated insight and resource, regardless of the design source or type of designer you ultimately will choose. The reality of the matter is there are really only TWO TYPES of designers ... and your choice between the two could make all the difference in the world when it comes to the outcome of your design project.
We take it among our responsibilities in writing this article to HONESTLY represent and provide individuals that may lack clear understanding of technical industry terminology, with a fair opportunity to educate themselves about the important differences between these two primary resources. This article deals with the most common misconception the professional side of the graphic arts industry must struggle with daily ... otherwise known as "The Battle for Design".
Please note that we are NOT declaring non-professional design options to be unviable possibilities for some consumers. FOR MANY THEY ARE SATISFACTORY and potentially can be MONEY SAVING ALTENATIVES! Knowing how to identify the difference, and live with the results of your choice, on the other hand can sometimes be a pain-staking and overwhelming task for a novice that is not familiar with the industry. If you are like many consumers and feel you rank in this novice category, then this article is dedicated to you.
The choice of a designer is really a matter of the GOALS & OBJECTIVES you desire to achieve with your design project. For example, for some of you a TEMPLATE or FREELANCE web design solution may work just fine. It most likely will certainly be a lesser expensive alternative over a PROFESSIONAL, CUSTOM development. As to which type of designers is the right solution for your project ... it really does all come down to YOUR goals and objectives.
On the first front we wish to discuss and clarify how the Graphic Design Industry actually defines a PROFESSIONAL or CUSTOM Graphic Designer. This status is often assumed to be obvious by the public, but in reality its definition seems to be only accurately known to those who are actually employed within or by the design industry as the result of a selected and intentional career choice. Commonly, the average person perceives designers or graphic design firms to all operate under some type of "shared" novice umbrella, with the only discernable difference relating to a "DESIGN STYLE" that is perceived as being unique to the designer. This is where the misconception actually begins.
The actual fact of the matter is that a professional or custom graphic designer is defined academically as being a CERTIFIED or DEGREED individual, or company with staff members that have been schooled, educated, and skillfully trained in the disciplines of the graphic arts industry. This is in no way any different to those general requirements shared by any other skilled profession, including the medical or legal industries. In order to obtain a degree or professional certification, predetermined academic requirement and criteria, usually involving multiple years of study, depending on the level of degree or certification being pursued, must be successfully completed before a degree or certification is issued. Ergo, it should go without saying that a "professional" in any given field has been formally trained, and at the very least, familiarized with ALL of the necessary requirements and aspects regarding the latest technologies or required skills associated with the specific field of study for which they have obtained degrees or certifications in via traditional or academic processes.
Unfortunately, for unsubstantiated reasons, the design industry seems to be perceived differently by the general public or consumer. Surveys indicate that an overwhelming mass majority of those randomly surveyed look upon the design profession to require no more skill or professionalism than that of a counter clerk at your average fast-food store. This could not be farther from the truth. The same surveys further conclude that technology and the internet are largely to blame, and we comment on that impact as it relates more towards the end of this article. For now let's continue...
PROFESSIONAL design individuals or firms can readily present and verify themselves with specific types of credentials and certifications, or can easily prove their qualifications with expert hands-on experience that can be substantiated with "tangible" evidence of being in possession of the faculties to deliver the necessary skills associated with their chosen profession. Like in any other professional industry, they are only then academically recognized as having earned the right of being entitled to the label of a PROFESSIONAL. The same is true in the graphic arts industry. Thus it follows, that to qualify as an industry "professional", one should then also be able to easily demonstrate key abilities to technically execute and successfully deliver ANY STYLE of GRAPHIC DESIGN in ANY FORMAT. These design skills do not necessarily preclude or exclude their own unique creative abilities, talents or styles, or those of the individual staff members that a firm might choose to employ. However, neither should they limit them to these varied factors or resources. In short, a true "professional" in the graphic design industry is normally defined by their predecessors and colleagues according to their ability to "customize" OR accurately "reproduce" any creative project presented to them, regardless of its creative source or their own "styling" preferences. ANY is a key word of importance in this definition.
So, now we come to clarifying and defining the second front ... We acknowledge that there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with the common aspirations that the massive world of FREELANCERS, TEMPLATE DESIGNERS, DESIGN HOBBIEST, and other design types all share, ... after all they say imitation is the highest form of flattery. On the surface these alternative design options will almost always appear to be the lesser expensive of the two primary "designer types" you have to choose from. Many design service consumers are even willing to wait the extra time that can sometimes be associated with this option, just to save money. Others are convinced that time, (thus money) is greatly saved by utilizing design options such as a template web site solutions. We have to admit it would be a common temptation for anyone tasked with getting a project done right for as little money as possible to seriously consider and even choose one of these lesser expensive alternatives, especially in today's economy.
However, in such considerations, all too often the choice of scenarios rarely seems to get played out to what would seem to be obvious and logical conclusions, all in a stark over-stressed effort to conserve the mighty dollar. Obvious consequences tend to get completely overlooked or deliberately ignored, while the decider(s) hold their breath and cross their fingers. The bottom line is IF you want PROFESSIONAL RESULTS that will impact the over-all SUCCESS of your design project or online venture, then PROFESSIONAL is always going to be the right choice. A point of obvious fact, ... if you were in need of medical or health services you probably would not trust your open heart triple by-pass surgery to a first year medical student just because he or she might someday be a licensed heart surgeon but in the interim offers you a better rate if you let him perform your operation ... or would you? This same logic when applied to the professional graphic design industry usually never seems to equate when it really actually should.
So then, be aware of, and consider this important fact ... A non-professional resource, when selected as a DESIGN TYPE alternative just to save money, more often than not will almost always usually result in the exact opposite. PLEASE TAKE SPECIAL NOTE OF THE DELIBERATE REPEATIVENESS AND POINT OF THE LAST SENTENCE ... perhaps reading it again wouldn’t hurt. We are not just making this up to praise the professional, it IS a statistical fact that can be easily verified by checking with a few friends or colleagues that have at some point in the not so distant past, been tasked with a similar DESIGNER TYPE choice, such as the one you may now be faced with. They likely, if they were new to the process decided to try what seemed to be the lesser expensive option at the time. Eight out of ten design consumers who have made this choice for the first time end up regretting their decision and are forced to seek the services of a real professional. The underlining cause is mostly related to the lack of experience or knowledge that many of these resources simply do not possess to begin with and thus, do have in their arsenal of experience to bring to the project table. It is NOT that these types of designers don't mean well, it's just that there really is no comparable substitute for the experience and knowledge of a real professional graphic designer or educated design technician and programmer.
This really is something to seriously consider, regardless of the final design resource you choose. It's fine to help the freelancer out occasionally and/or to try to save a buck, but if its saving money you really care about, unless you don't care about the end results, have lots of time to waste, or don't mind the risk of likely having to start over or re-do the project at some future point in time due to lacking or low-tech features ... then chances are, if you really want to save money, go with a professional source to begin with, even if it means it may cost a you a little more up front because in the end it will probably save you a fortune.
Another little interesting related industry tid-bit we would like to share ... if you recall we mentioned coming back to this subject again earlier in the article. The great "boom" of personal computing and internet technologies over the past two decades has placed a home PC in nearly every private house-hold, public building and business office across the globe. Since the world wide web was established back in the early 90's, information technologies have grown at a rate unprecedented by any other previous technology in recorded history. A not so publically known result of this phenomena is that it also flooded the professional GRAPHIC DESIGN and DESIGN TECHNOLOGIES INDUSTRIES with literally millions upon millions of self-proclaimed "GRAPHIC or WEB DESIGNERS", all seeking what they believe to be "easy-money" that can be made from the comforts of their own home, just because it has now been made easier than normal to learn how to use some internet based "design" gadget or create and launch a simple HTML site from their own home PC's. Now suddenly and miraculously millions of people, innocently enough, actually consider themselves to be qualified "professional designers". The truth is if "professional" were truly that easy, then there would be no need for degrees or certifications or for that matter the professional industries at all and we would certainly not be writing this lengthy article to defend the honor of the professional.
Now, with your full awareness of the distinctions we have described above, you should now be well informed and better armed to carefully consider this information when reviewing any individual or company for a design project. But try to also remember that REGARDLESS of the "DESIGN-PORTFOLIO" you are presented with, that you may very well just be looking at a series of pre-made factory DESIGN TEMPLATES and possibly a design that was not even actually created by the designer or design firm you are considering. Sadly enough, as unethical as this practice would seem, with millions upon millions of designer wanna-be's competing for your business, it certainly is not unheard of. Thus, the dilemma and "Battle for Design" continues to be faced by the real design professionals. Annually, billions of dollars are wasted and spent by design consumers looking to re-do the work of an amature or non-professional design solution. We hope with this article to help clarify this difference and we encourage and invite you to share it with your own friends and colleagues. Only you know what or whose future you might positively impact in doing so.
In nearing the end of this topic, the most important clarification and point we ask you to remember is that a specific design STYLE does not define the PROFESSIONAL DESIGNER ... it is the DESIGNERS PROFESSIONAL ability to deliver the client with "ANY STYLE" they want that is the true mark of a real, and qualified design professional. They should be capable of BOTH recreating ANY design STYLE or look & feel you want OR delivering you design choices that are completely unique and "customized" to suit your personal taste, desires or design project objectives. A professional designers will also always, whenever permitted by their customer, deploy the technical skills, "learned theories" which are common to all creative crafts, and the professional practices of their trade, which very well could ultimately define the success or failure of your project goals and objectives.
Just as you would most likely listen to your family physician regarding personal health issues, you should also carefully consider the comments or advice of a true design professional when it comes to how technical design elements or features will impact the design project and goals you wish to obtain. The true professionals will usually only make suggestions based on their professional training, theoretical knowledge or applied project experience rather than insisting on their own personal taste or styling preferences. This is another common distinguishing mark of a real design professional. Non-professionals will usually always attempt to steer your towards or get you to agree upon implementing a design style of THEIR choosing, rather than allowing you to participate in the conceptual design process. For some circumstances this too can be an acceptable or a viable option, but only when it is your choice and appropriate to your needs.
A good directly related application of the determination techniques discussed in this article might be this ... IF, for example, let's say you are considering a design firm for an ECOMMERCE project or online store venture. Apply some basic rational thinking first ... ask yourself the obvious ... DOES THE DESIGNERS WEBSITE GIVE YOU THE ABILITY OF BEING ABLE TO PURCHASE SERVICES OR PRODUCT FROM THEM DIRECTLY ONLINE AS PART OF THEIR OWN WEB SITE FEATURES? ... If it does NOT, then chances are, from a surface point of view that they are likely not going to be the best option for an ecommerce development. While this might not ALWAYS be the case, from an Ecommerce Professionals point of view this would be inexcusable. Hopefully you get the idea. Again remember, the right choice will always depend on the goals and objectives you need to achieve with your own specific design project ... and quite honestly, sometimes a FREELANCER can be the right choice. We can only advise that you apply wisdom and caution when choosing your designer for what should now be clear and obvious reasons.
We would like to share one last pointer on choosing designers regarding DESIGN PORTFOLIOS. A Design Portfolio should not solely be considered for its "STYLE" qualities. When viewing a design portfolio, consider that a professional designer has likely prepared the portfolio to serve YOU, the potential client, as an aide to help you view various styling elements, but also various FUNCTIONAL features. For a real professional the Design Portfolio serves more as a reference tool to ALSO feature or highlight TECHNICAL or important FUNCTIONAL aspects of a specific development, in addition to the design STYLE elements. It is not ONLY about the look & feel ... in fact, many professionals sometimes will deliberately include what in some opinions might be considered appalling graphic designs ... just because the project features are of technical or FUNCTIONAL importance rather than visual appeal. Do not overlook these aspects when viewing a design portfolio, and do not be so quick to judge the custom design portfolio based solely on style, because usually in a CUSTOM design the STYLE was probably determined by the client, not the designer. Consider how well technical aspects are balanced with the quality of main graphic design elements. Are they deployed well in the overall development? How might these features serve you in your own project? Also note that when viewing many LIVE WEB SITE design portfolios, that a very good chance exist that the ORIGINAL design has since been turned over to the client. The client themselves might have possibly altered design or had an inexperienced administrator alter it. Thus do not be too hasty to pass judgment if you happen to see something that looks "out-of-place" in a LIVE site design sample ... because this reason may often be the cause.
And finally in closing , when choosing a designer always remember that ANY "look & feel", "style", or "design platform" rather it's being used for print, web, multi-media, video composition, or any other design project , should be easily achievable by what we have defined here to be the key marks of a real DESIGN PROFESSIONAL ... thus, leaving your design options open to an infinite world of possibilities and creative resources, when you choose a PROFESSIONAL DESIGNER rather than being governed or limited by just a few selective choices of the amature. If your resource is telling you otherwise, or pushing you towards a specific design that they claim cannot be altered for some declared "technical" reason ... then chances are you are NOT dealing with a PROFESSIONAL, CUSTOM DESIGNER, but rather the other design type.
Congratulations, if you made it this far, you now really should know how to actually tell the difference between a professional designer and a non-professional designer. We hope you are able to use this knowledge wisely and to your own benefit. We also hope that all of your design ventures are filled with rewarding success.