Selecting the right graphic design agency from the multitude out there is no easy task. This article seeks to set down a number of basic ground rules to help you evaluate and position your panel of prospective design partners. In an industry where agencies seem to spring up practically overnight, offering an increasingly diverse range of specialist services, it’s critical that you cut through the spin and find out exactly who you’re really dealing with and ensure that the “fit” is right for your needs.
# 1. What kind of relationship do you need?
- Do you need a quick turnaround or maybe it’s a one-off project? It could be on-going requirement where you need to deal with the same designer continuously.
- Do you need advice from an account manager or are you happy dealing directly with a designer?
- Are your design requirements simple or complex.
- Are you happy with a “Ryanair” experience or do you want all the bells and whistles in terms of service and extras?
The above will have a big bearing on who will ultimately prove the right design partner.
# 2. What’s your budget?
It’s the old chestnut about having “champagne taste on beer money”. If you’re spending 500 euros on a quick logo concept then don’t expect it to go far in a big agency with large overheads. Conversely, if you’re a large corporate it’s not realistic to expect a small local agency or freelancer to have the finances to carry/fund large scale project work over long periods.
# 3. Size matters!
In the same way as your local mechanic won’t have the skill-set or tools to service a Ferrari, a smaller agency may not have the experience or scale to deal with complex, multi-faceted campaigns. It’s only natural, however, to expect that many will try very hard to convince you otherwise, so beware of silver tongued “yes men”. On the other hand if you’re a start-up or small business on a budget, then a small local agency may be just what the doctor ordered – delivering greater value for your hard earned marketing euros.
# 4. Experience matters even more!
Ask to see case studies and portfolios of each agencies past work. Only then can you establish whether they have a proven track record of delivery in the area of work that’s important to you. Also, look for the type of clients that each agency works with. Do they have a portfolio of clients within your sector? Do they understand your business/markets/customers…..just like backing a winning horse, it pays to study form.
# 5. Ask for client references & testimonials
This doesn’t mean accepting the pre-prepared marketing fodder than adorns their website. Better to see a sample client list and choose to call some of them yourself. You’d be amazed what you might discover!!
# 6. Standards
Every industry has annual awards, competitions etc. and graphic design is no different. Does your agency strive to excel and frequently submit their best work for comparison to that of their competitors? And if so, has the quality of their work been recognised by their peers? Design awards on the wall won’t guarantee a success outcome for your work but it’s an indication that the agency has at some point proven they have the ability to deliver at the highest levels.
In addition to this you can check to see if your design agency is an accredited member of their respective professional design association. Are they published on industry websites or blogs? All the above are small yet important indicators that will help you build a better pictures of the agency you are dealing with.
# 7. Strategy and ideas
If you need more than simple design execution then look to see if the agency contains individuals within its team that can assist with creative, strategic and tactical thinking (in other words, the “big picture” stuff). Don’t expect a graphic designer to always provide this knowledge – it’s not their forte.
# 8. Don’t be led by price
The bitter after-taste of poor design will linger long after the sweetness of a low price has been forgotten! Great design it always worth that bit extra – it will help drive your business, generate sales, persuade customers and make you proud every time you see it. Agencies who hold tough on their rates are often the busiest ones, and don’t need to discount their prices. Ask yourself why are they busy? It’s probably because they’re good at what they do and they know it.
# 9. Understand the design landscape
The past decade or so has seen the way that graphic design is delivered as a service change beyond recognition.
- Today you can employ an off-shore company/designer that you never see or meet, on an hourly project rate.
- Alternatively you can choose to engage one of the many excellent ex-agency freelancers that have branched out on their own.
- On the other end of the spectrum are the numerous start up freelancers offering a more basic level of expertise but at very competitive rates.
- Agencies come in all shapes and sizes and with vastly different service offerings.
- From traditional large agencies (beloved by big brands and public sector bodies), to mid-size/boutique agencies who’s offering is often every bit as good but who target a different client profile.
Chances are you’ve also got several small local design agencies or design/print outfits that would be more than capable of undertaking all manner of B2B marketing/design.
# 10. It’s all about results
At its core, graphic design is not simply about creating “pretty pictures”, it’s an effective communication medium that, in the hands of a professional, should yield results. That means there should be an agreed outcome, objective or measure of success. Seek out a design partner with an understanding of both the commercial and marketing challenges facing your business and don’t be sold on a design solution to a marketing problem.
# 11. Is there a good chemistry?
This is important. Sometimes you just get the feeling that the designer/agency just doesn’t “get” what you’re all about. Go with your gut on this and move on to someone who you feel more comfortable with. Remember that you are entrusting a significant stake in your business with this individual or company, so a good rapport is critical.
If you have any other tips for choosing a design agency then please let us know in the comments below.
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