1. Don’t buy pre-made designs
This is more of a pet-peeve of mine rather than an “absolutely don’t do this!” I really don’t like when people treat sites likeMintees as a shopping destination for t-shirt designs. If you’re creating a clothing line, don’t just choose random, well-designed pieces of artwork. If you’re creating a brand, you want art that was created specifically for your brand. If you’re a band in a rush to find a merch designs for your upcoming tour, then maybe I can understand, but if you’re a brand, you’re better off contacting a designer that you like and getting something custom made. Sometimes you might find a design for sale that just happens to work perfectly with your brand, but it’s pretty rare.
2. Don’t ask a designer to design in another designer’s style
A lot of times, I find that newer brands are intimidated by professional graphic designer prices. They charge a premium, so don’t offend them by trying to lowball them and say “Well, designer X can do the same thing for 50% of what you’re asking for.” You’re coming off as an unprofessional douchebag. Which brings me to my next point: some designers are good at certain styles and others are more versatile. Don’t ask a more affordable designer to copy the style of a more expensive designer as a way to pinch pennies. It’s not that the average consumer will notice that you have a fake Jon Burgerman design, it’s just unethical. If you want to create a respectable brand, you get what you pay for, so hire a professional graphic designer. Plus, the cheaper copy will rarely ever be better than the original.
3. If you choose not to work with an artist, tell them.
Sometimes, you may show an interest in a certain artist’s work, and change your mind soon after. Let them know that you’ve changed your mind, because communication is important. It’s unfair to leave an artist hanging if they thought you were interested in their work. If their prices are too steep, but you still really want to work with them, say “sorry, but my budget is X, would you be able willing negotiate a price”. You might get lucky, if you’re nice and professional about it.
4. Pay some money upfront for the design, and pay the rest after the design is delivered
This is something I do with most of my clients. It’s an agreement, so that they can’t just run away and not pay you anything for your time spent on the design. I usually design things in two phases. I first ask for 50% of the design payment, then send them a sketch of the composition. After they approve the sketch, I’ll finish the rest of the design and get paid the remaining amount. Of course, if they don’t actually like the design after the sketch, they can ask for changes, or stop everything right there. That way, at least the designer gets paid for the time spent doing the sketch.
5. Try to have an invoice or a contract
I think it’s important to have a signed contract with a designer, because it shows your trust, and your agreement to pay the designer. If they don’t deliver, or if you don’t pay them, either party can refer to the contract and make a case. If things get elevated, though it normally isn’t necessary unless it’s for a major amount of money, you can take it to small claims court. Of course, if you’re talking about a $300 t-shirt design, it shouldn’t really escalate to that level. Also, the contract should explicitly state what the rights are to the design. If the design rights are only for t-shirt printing, the designer should expect to get paid more if the brand uses it on totes and posters. If the designer grants all rights for the design, the brand can use it for whatever they want.
6. Make your briefs clear and concise
When I get client work, I personally don’t like having really vague briefs. For example, some people will be like, “I love your work, can you design a t-shirt for us? You can do whatever you want, I trust you!” That’s a poor brief, because I have no direction or idea of what kind of style or mood you’re looking for. It’s even worse when the same client says something like “Uh, that’s not really what we were looking for” even though they gave no direction with the design. That rarely happens, if ever, because after the first email, I would usually send a list of information I’d like. When I get a design brief, I like knowing a little background of your brand, what kind of things inspire you, what themes you want to incorporate, and what your budget is. Sometimes, I take lower paying projects just because I like the concept of their brand, and I negotiate the budget. If you’re friendly and intelligent (ie. spellcheck, bitch!), I’ll be way more likely to negotiate pricing.
7. Give your designer a shirt
If you end up using the design on a t-shirt, be sure to send the designer one. It’s not something you need to do, but I think it’s a nice gesture. I don’t even wear every t-shirt I’ve designed, but I like seeing how they turned out in person.
If you do all of the things listed above, I’d say you’re a pretty good client. Just be sure to be respectful, and communicate. They’re the ones offering their expertise so don’t act like an entitled asshole.