by Rishi Patel

There is an immense talent gap in the design industry.

You’ll find professional designers, and those that just call themselves professional designers. Then there are those that don’t call themselves designers, but they design.

The key to hiring a great designer is understanding the differences between each type of designer and how they can work together effectively.

3 Types of Designer

The Professional Designer

The professional designer is educated in design (although not always through a design school). She understands the true strategic value of design, and how a variety of factors effect the effectiveness of the design. She is careful to make decisions based on the your objectives.

The professional designer often charges what seems like a higher-than-fair rate (but, trust me, it’s not). He or she will have a full schedule, will require a contract, and a hefty deposit.

You may find this designer at an agency/studio, or you may find them as a freelancer. More often than not, a professional designer will specialize in a discipline.

Their sales pitch to you will be focused on value and return on investment. You might hear words such as conversions, response rate, effectiveness, and strategy.

The Amateur Designer

There are certain “professional” designers that shouldn’t be allowed to roam free. Most of the time, you’ll find this designer in the wild as a freelancer. Their rate will be much lower than professional designers (price and the quality of their portfolio are the easiest ways to distinguish between the two).

Their sales pitch will revolve around price and/or quantity of work.

Note: “Amateur” is not the same as “inexperienced”. An inexperienced designer may have a design education (or could even be self-educated), but will typically work somewhere to gain experience before going freelance. Amateur designers simply lack the talent + creativity to qualify for such jobs and work freelance because of their lack of skills.

The DIY Designer

The DIY designer is one that isn’t for hire. She works internally in your organization (perhaps a marketing coordinator) and does just enough to make things work. He claims no expertise as a designer – although he or she may enjoy designing.

DIY designers are generally more cost-effective because they are not full time – design is a small portion of their workload.

How to Divvy Up the Work

DIY design is appropriate for certain projects – you don’t always need to spend exorbitant amounts of money on design. Then again, there are circumstances that are best left to the professionals.

In most situations, you’ll get the most out of your design budget if you split your design work between a professional designer and someone internally who can fulfill the DIY designer role.

Step One: Strategy

Before you invest anything in design, you should always have a strategy. Design without strategy is a waste of money. Most professional designers are happy to guide you through this step (along with your marketing manager). The best designers will insist on it.

An effective strategy will help focus the design project on a specific set of objectives. It will establish a barometer of success that will help you and your design team learn for future projects.

Step Two: Foundations

Once you have a strategy, your professional designer should create a solid design foundation.

This includes elements such as branding (a logo, a style guide, stationery, etc.) and templates for low-value items such as flyers, newsletters, brochures, and business cards. The templates should be set up according to the style guide.

While your designer is working on building these items, you (or whomever will be eventually working with the templates) might want to get some basic design training (such as getting familiar with Adobe programs).

Step Three: Handoff

Your designer should sit down with you and explain how the template is built. If you hired the right designer, the document will be well structured, and all the parts will be clearly labeled.

A well structured template combined with the training I discussed earlier will make it easy for you to quickly (and cost-effectively) create new documents for your organization.

Step Four: Oddball Projects

There are some projects that are just too complex to be completed though templates. Examples include annual reports, catalogs + booklets, packaging, and much more.

For these projects, you’ll want to go back to your professional designer and commission them. By the way, trying to have a professional fix a DIY designer’s work on a complex project will just end up costing you more, so save yourself the headache!


While large, more complex projects such as branding, high-value marketing collateral, packaging, and signage should be created by a professional designer, don’t be afraid to use that professional in tandem with someone on your internal team to make the most of your design budget.

So how do you make the most of your design budget? Do you use a DIY designer, a professional designer, or a combination?