This is the second of a two-part post that provides basic advice for writers on how to work with a graphic artist. In the first post I covered knowing what you want, finding the right graphic artist, and the basic graphic design process. In this installment, I will outline money issues and mention a few potential landmines to be aware of in graphics.
Probably the biggest hurdle to working with a graphic designer is the matter of payment. Money is hard to come by, and there are plenty of demands on it. Here are some suggestions for how to talk money with a designer.
Set a Budget. The best thing you can do to make money less of an issue while working with a graphic designer is to make a completely honest assessment of the funds you have available for design and be clear with your prospective designer as to budget amounts and flexibility or inflexibility. If you only have $100 and there will be no chance for that to increase, ask the designer if it’s possible to get the product you are interested in for that amount and no more. Plus, be sure to pick a payment strategy (see the list below) that works with not only the level of money available, but the flexibility of that amount.
Fee Strategies. There are a number of different strategies for how a designer charges for their work (for example check out this post). Choosing the right money relationship depends on how much work you are looking for, how flexible your budget, and how flexible the designer is on payment options, and the size and flexibility of the designer/design firm you are hiring:
Retainer: This means you hire the designer, pay a regular monthly retainer fee, and the designer does all necessary specified graphic design work outlined in the retainer agreement. This is usually a relationship necessary only to highly successful authors working with large premiere design firms. It is also more common for website designers who have to do periodic updates or regular maintenance.
Hourly: You hire a designer to work up a graphic for you, the designer keeps track of hours spent on the project, and when it is finished to your satisfaction, the designer bills you for the total number of hours. The danger of this strategy is the variability of the final charge. Most designers can give a good ballpark estimate of how long a project should take them. If the project requires more revision cycles than anticipated, however, the extra hours can add up quickly. If you want highly experimental graphics, something no one else has done, or you are after the development of a brand, rather than a single image, then this may be the best way to structure the relationship. The designer then feels more free to experiment (as they will be paid for all of their work). No reputable graphic artist will ‘pad’ their hours; in my experience, the hours charged against a project are only those hours spent productively on a design rather than a full reflection of every second spent trying to come up with the right image or make sure every detail is perfect.
Hourly with a Maximum. If your budget is very tight, but your designer asks for an hourly rate, you could ask if they will establish a maximum charge for the project. Once that price is reached, the designer does all work past it to get the project done with no extra hourly charge. The danger of this arrangement is that once the designer hits that maximum amount, they are basically working for free and will theoretically have less incentive to spend the necessary time to complete your work. In my experience, in this situation a reputable designer will not shortchange the product but will finish it to satisfaction (putting out a bad design or leaving a client dissatisfied is bad business).
Priced By Project. In this arrangement, you hire the graphic designer to provide you with a specified finished product (a book cover image, a website design) for a set price. The downside to this arrangement is that the graphic designer is motivated to finish the piece quickly (which improves their rate of payment). This is, however, a good option for someone with a limited budget looking for a product with a well-established format (like a book cover). It is probably not the best option for someone who wants startlingly original graphic design or to work up a creative new format.
Not all of these fee structures or payment options will be available from every graphic designer. Freelance designers can set up the payment arrangement as they wish; designers who are part of a larger firm are often limited by the firm’s contractual standards. Also note that in agreeing upon a price, there should also be consensus on when payment is to be made. Items priced by project tend to be upfront costs–you pay in full then receive the product later. Hourly charges would be more likely to be paid after delivery of the final graphic, or at milestones in the design development (e.g. delivery of first draft).
How Much? This is a million-dollar question. Graphic designer hourly rates can vary from $20 (or even less) to hundreds of dollars per hour. That variation is based on geographic location and experience as well as whether you are hiring a freelancer or a firm. You typically get what you pay for, just as if you were hiring a plumber (you can hire the fly-by-nighter or the master plumber). It’s your choice how much risk you want to take in order to keep the costs low, or how risk-averse you are. I did find this post gives a clear breakdown as to where the money goes, so when you assess a designer’s hourly rate, realize it doesn’t translate into huge income for the designer. Other useful indicators are here, and here.
One Warning: The Biggest Bargain May Not Be So Big in the Long Run. Graphic designers are professionals, treat them as such. Cutting costs may be a daily mode of operation for authors on tight budgets, with limited income, but be really careful that your search for a ‘deal’ doesn’t equate to giving the other party the ‘shaft’ or to hiring someone with insufficient qualifications or experience. The former leads to ill will and the latter frequently generates bad design.
Landmines to Avoid
There are a few miscellaneous issues it’s helpful to be aware of when it comes to figuring out what you really need from a designer.
What a graphic designer does and does not do. Graphic designers design graphics. They are not always exceptional editors, proofreaders, or copy writers. Some are, but they will most likely charge more for those extra services. So if you want someone to develop the text, the images, and the final graphic, go in with the expectation that you will have to pay not just for the graphic design but for the content development.
Ownership of Graphic. In usual practice, the designer owns the final image and rights to its use. The designer grants you the client the rights to use the image as specified in the contract. Any time you want to use that graphic again, you need to contact the designer for permission (and possibly pay a small fee for the re-use). So if you buy a book cover design, then want to use it on other promotional materials (a bookmark or t-shirt) then you either have to get permission for that use from the graphic designer or you are illegally using their property. Some designers are willing to grant you broad rights of usage; some will even sell you full rights to the graphic. Ownership of the graphic can be (and should be) stated clearly in the contract, particularly if you hope to use the graphic for more than one purpose or in more than one promotion.
Ownership of Images used in the Graphic. Graphic designers of repute will be aware of copyright issues and image licensing requirements. They will use only images that are in the public domain, or that they have created or own the rights to. There are also unreputable graphic designers who will ‘steal’ images from the web, from books, from other people for use in the graphic design (it’s a lot cheaper that way). While it may be unlikely that such infringement will be detected (unless it is a blatant reuse of a highly recognizable graphic) if you or your designer have used someone else’s image without permission, you are open to future litiation by the image owner. Be very careful, particularly with the use of artworks, cartoons, and commercial photography.
One Graphic Might Not Be Able to Do It All. Most writers have tight budgets, and might contract one graphic product from a designer with the unstated expectation that it will also be used in other ways. Regardless of who owns the graphic design, it’s not always that simple. File limitations and types might mean a given graphic might not function in all the various media and applications the author hopes to use it. If you hope to use a graphic in multiple ways, you should be clear with the designer on it from the beginning, and ask the designer to develop variable file types and sizes for the varying uses you intend. A good example of this is the creation of a thumbnail image as well as a high-resolution image of a book cover for possible print or full-page display.
The Original File (with Layers) vs. the ‘Copy.’ When a graphic designer develops a graphic, they will typically work in a software format that lets them put different elements of the design on different layers. This means that each visual image in the file (text, background, image) can then be extracted separately and altered as needed. This creates great flexibility in using the same graphic images for different file sizes and resolutions. Most graphic designers will retain that ‘layered’ original file for their use, and for your graphic design they will provide a file that is all one layer (a .jpg, a .gif, a .png). Such an unlayered file will work fine for the purposes for which you hired the designer to develop it, but is difficult to alter. So don’t expect to buy one graphic, then edit it for other purposes. If you want the layered file, then you need to specify that is what is to be delivered (and you can expect to pay more for the graphic design as delivered that way, since it’s implicit that you are buying rights to rework the elements into new designs).
Have a Written Contract. Before you give a cent to a graphic designer, make sure you have, in writing, an expression of the details of the arrangement you are entering into–including the money arrangements, when payment is due, the final product expected, who owns rights to the final project, what uses may be made of the final project, expected project delivery date, and any other details that would influence your satisfaction with and use of the delivered graphic. A ‘written contract’ might be an email or series of emails between you and the designer, or it might be a more formal contract. Just have what you care about in writing.
Have questions? Comments? The floor is yours. Comments from other graphic designers and publicists and their experiences would be particularly welcome!