I am in the process of hiring a designer that has good portfolio material. The problem i always run into is the fact that many designers will highlight their best work and that is what initially draws me to them. However, very often i find that once we start working together, it seems they aren't putting as much creative effort into my projects.
I understand that in a one-ff paid situation, it becomes a "cost-of-time" situation where the more they work, the more they earn, but there must be a clever and fair way to assure that both parties receive the agreed upon results. I do not pay all upfront, i deposit 50% and have very clear wire frames and design specs. I think i am missing something in regards to my approach or process in working with these designers. Any tips or ideas would be gladly appreciated.
It sounds like you are not managing the project well. If they have done work you like before, then they are capable of it. What determines how well they work for you? Probably a combination of:
It would be nice if you could just write a spec and pay the fee and get great work. In reality a lot more factors come into play (including are they having a good day).
I think you should really work hard on motivating them to do a great job. Ways to do this might be:
It is also really important that you find a way to describe accurately what you are looking for, no matter how well they work, if they aren't working in the right direction you aren't going to like the result.
Let them know that you are looking for long term cooperation. They are aware of high supply of freelance designers, so push them hard and set high requirements. Go for a price that is slightly higher than minimal, so they will see you as someone who is worth putting effort for.
You're confusing two things.
First, there's can this person do the work? Portfolios (and CVs) are a good indicator here. And unsurprisingly, you'll find it easy to inspect the very best work someone has ever done, but to test someone's ability you'll need more third party evidence or/and to do some objective testing.
Second, there's is this person good to work with? That's about relationships rather than technical ability, and it's about how suited you are in terms of work styles and expectations. Someone else's recommendation may tell you very little. So commit slowly. Structure your engagement in a way that is going to take small steps, and that allows you to spot when it just isn't working. There are rotten apples in any barrel, of course, but chances are when you're unmatched, you're a rotten apple to them, too!
When I hear this I have to ask the question - how do you know if they did those projects themselves or got someone's help, or worse - copied from someone online?
It is too easy to copy someone's website and modify it. What counts here are real recommendation from real people they work with.
So if I see their profiles as work for their former clients, I would ask those clients to give their recommendation and gauge their reaction.
Then I would look into the code ask specific question about the code, styles, fonts, spaces, typography, all the stuff that matters. From that conversation, it will be easy to see, how passionate they are about their work.