Design is not a profession where a degree or certification is required. While this is not necessarily a bad thing in a creative field, it does completely open it up and one person calling themselves a professional designer might actually be someone with very little experience, talent or knowledge about design and working with clients.
While I’m sure there are more than just two things that could give a designer a bad reputation I’m only going to discuss what I consider the most important.
For me, I see this one as number one, simply because if it exists, there usually are other problems. I recently had to unfollow a fellow designer on Twitter simply because I could not read yet one more post where this person’s ego and attitude took center stage. There is a great difference between having confidence in your talent and experience and having a know-it-all attitude where you believe your way is the only way. Usually these folks are easy to spot because nothing is ever their fault or problem and they always have the “correct” answer. They’re above it all. There is no compromise in the world of someone who believes they are always right.
The problem with this is unless a client wants to be told what to do (which, few do – and who can blame them, they’re writing the checks), this relationship will almost always be lopsided and the controlling know-it-all will force their will onto a project because they won’t compromise what they feel are their professional standards.
Unprofessionalism is an unfortunate aspect of many industries, but this is one thing that really stands out in the field of design. From appearances in corporate meetings, to unavailability, to missing deadlines, to a person saying they are more skilled than they actually are, this business has it all.
Yes, creatives are often those free-spirited, artistic types who may not exactly fit into the suit-and-tie, corporate world mold, but there is a difference when it comes to being a professional designer. The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) has an excellent list of professional standards for designers that I highly recommend reading: http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/standards-professional-practice If the designer you are considering working with doesn’t seem to fit with these standards, then find one who does.
Thankfully, not everyone fits the two profiles above, but for someone new to hiring a designer, some of the clues might not be as clear. It’s easy to believe someone at face value who says they can do the job. Don’t be afraid to engage them in conversation to learn a little bit more about their personality, their experience, how they work with a client and how they apply it all to your specific project. Likewise, they should be asking you questions about your business and needs and getting to know the project better. When you give the green light and they give you an agreement, be sure to read through it and ask any questions you might have.
Once the project gets going, they should take the same time and attention with you throughout to meet your needs. They should ask for and listen to your input and guidance (since you are the expert for your business) but should also be applying their expertise and creative problem solving during the project.
With the right designer, you should feel comfortable and involved with the work process and that will lead to a successful project.