Publications can set up their staffing structure any way they prefer. They can hire staff or they can outsource all or part of the work. I have had the privilege of working with some extremely smart, talented award-winning graphic designers over my career. Here is what I can tell you about hiring them.
- If you don’t like their portfolio, don’t contact them. Chances are you will not be able to ask them to step away from their style approach to design. You either like it or you don’t. Design is art and it’s subjective to the audience. Yes, there are tenants of good design and there are many different approaches to good design. Find the one that appeals to you and hone in on those potential employees or design firms.
- Hiring and retaining an internal designer is tricky. Most associations I know don’t have a large enough budget to justify hiring more than one designer. In magazine production, we usually have a period of down time—a place in the production schedule where the creative team is not “in production” meaning he or she is not literally working on your files. Some management perceive this “down time” as a way to make the graphic designer more productive by trying to fill in other work. “Bring me your marketing materials, surveys and reports, website needs, your branding initiative” no magazine graphic designer ever said. Really. The scope of work on the types of projects I mentioned is often 100 times more involved than any internal client realizes. Most people outside the design world think it’s just a matter of “flow, then go.” The designer flows in the text and we go ahead with the project, right? Wrong. And, just because someone is a great designer in one area does not mean he or she has the vision or skill set you need for a different kind of project. When you try to jam outside projects into a publication production schedule, what ends up happening is the designer can’t get all of the work done for anyone. He or she burns out. You and the other internal client(s) are mad because the work isn’t finished and upper management is looking at all of you like you are incompetent. Don’t do this. When you hire an internal designer to work on your magazine, this should be their only focus. Make this clear to your boss and your boss’s boss. Your creative and/or their small team need time to actually think about the next issue. Even if you are producing a regular publication, like all of us, they need some time in their schedule to research, network, and be creative—which is why you hired that person to begin with. Don’t put the creative person behind the 8-ball and expect miracles. I have seen this happen often and no one is ever happy with the final result.
- Hiring and retaining an outside design firm is not any less complicated. Outside design firms often have a breadth of work that you may not find in an individual candidate. Some excel at logo creation, others at website design, still others are magazine design experts. That said, you can find a firm with multiple talents, but if you are hiring for magazine design and production, this is a special skill that not all design firms have in their portfolio. So, make sure that they show you samples of their magazine work.
Magazine design and production requires a unique set of skills that must be mastered in a “hands on” environment. There is a cadence to the workflow that is different from other projects because each issue of the magazine takes on a different persona. This is not creative speak. It’s true. Great design teams understand this, which is why they continually win awards. It takes a special approach to maintaining that high level of creativity in a regular publication. It’s easy to get bored with regular. It is challenging to be new and fresh in every issue without veering off of the design standard that the team set.
Strategizing about which direction you go—employee or firm—is not an easy task. But, it is a task worth researching and educating yourself about before you decide. You know your association culture best—what will work and what won’t. You understand your workflow, IT capabilities and how your publications team works best. With programs such as Adobe’s InDesign, InCopy or its new Creative Cloud service, you and your graphic designer can work from anywhere in the world whether you hire a firm or staff. A good place to start your search for magazine designers would be associations such as AIGA, Association Media & Publishing and ASAE. Also, query your colleagues in your office and in the associations that you belong to. And remember to ask them to show you their magazine portfolio.