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Why choose a design agency for your project?
With the wide variety of design houses, ad agencies and printers out there, choosing the right supplier for your creative needs can be a daunting prospect. So what are the key elements involved in choosing the right kind of creative resource for your needs? should you employ an in-house designer? What are the pro's and cons?
Most decisions based on sourcing a creative supplier, inevitably come down to budget and what you feel you are looking to achieve. If you are simply looking for a few business cards, and yours is a sector where image is not the highest priority, a design agency may be a more expensive option for the level of input you need.
Many types of company offer graphic design. Printers no longer just print, even many photographers are offering graphic design as a service, as are stationery suppliers, IT companies and many other businesses.
What is a design agency?
So what is a design agency, as opposed to these other options? A design agency is a specialist in creative design as a core business. Independence is a key feature of a true design agency, hence the word 'agency' where we are able to choose unbiased solutions that are not tied in to having to use, for example, a certain print provider or being limited by any other linked-in factor.
At the other end of the scale, there are advertising agencies. Should you use an advertising agency for design work that is not advertising? The probability is that unless your requirements are linked to a certain advertising campaign that has been produced by the ad agency, the level of budget necessary for them to complete other forms of design is usually prohibitive for most businesses.
The reverse situation is equally true, most design agencies will not be appropriate for producing broadcast or press advertising, and especially where media scheduling and buying are a factor. The set-up of a design agency can be very effective for some advertising, but usually for limited campaigns aimed at niche target audiences.
The right design agency?
Within the design agency sector itself, there are still many different options to consider, here are a few points to help in making a decision:
o Where is the agency based, do I prefer a geographically close supplier so I can call in, or they can visit face-to-face?
o What is their relevant experience, do they have examples within the type of design discipline I am looking for?
o Have they worked for similar sized businesses, in closely related business sectors?
o Do they have marketing expertise as well as creative, can they understand wider strategic aims?
o Can the agency handle my expected workload, what evidence do they have of this?
o What is the specific experience of the team, who will handle the account?
o Is the agency doing many more web projects than design for print? Are the designers qualified designers for print, or web designers who outsource the print design?
o Is the agency willing to give references of satisfied customers other than pre-printed testimonials?
o Can the agency provide quantitative results for work, what evidence can they provide for return on investment and accountability?
o Which services are outsourced, which are provided in house?
With the explosion of the web as a marketing tool, many early websites were created by IT people, who had no training in graphic design but simply knew how to put a web site together.
Web site design has now become a standard part of a design agency's portfolio and it is a
natural progression for clients' to expect their web sites to have the same level of branding as any other marketing communications tool.
The main benefit of using a design agency to design your web site is that a graphic designer can integrate your site's branding with that of all your other marketing items. It is true that many design agencies have to buy-in technical back-end functionality for their sites, but this is only like using a printer to print a brochure that has been conceived and designed by a design agency.
In-house versus Agency?
Many businesses have taken the decision to employ graphic designers for themselves as in-house creative teams. Reasons for this are usually based on saving money as there are many designers available and the equipment investment is relatively low.
Although employing an in house team can be cost-effective, the inherent danger is that whilst the cost is less, the value created by the designers over the longer term may be reduced as complacency and ultimately boredom set in.
Potentially, over a longer term, the cost savings made by going in house may be overshadowed by a reduction in sales and profits as the ideas in the in house studio inevitably slow down and the communications become repetitive and stale. Of course, it is important to state, that this will not apply to every in house creative resource.
Using a design agency has certain key benefits over an in-house creative studio. The main benefit is that of value. Design agencies work in a competitive environment, their designers must constantly deliver the highest standards of work, as clients have a choice of suppliers who will often compete on a project by project basis.
As in football, to maintain a 'first team place' it is in the interests of all design agencies to constantly come up with exceptional creative for clients as there are consequences for not doing.
This competitive environment benefits clients by offering them cutting edge creativity, and projects that deliver effectiveness and return on investment.
In house designers very seldom have that competitive pressure to drive up their creative efforts. Work is effectively given to them on a production line and it can be hard for employers to get a true benchmark as to whether levels of creative effort are being maintained over the long term.
Unlike in-house studios, where the projects may only involve the products and services of one company, designers within an agency work for many different sectors and business types. This constant variety leads to many fresh ideas and the honing of cutting edge creative talent.
This variety benefits the client as the designer in the agency is far less likely to become stale over the longer term. Experiences with new design challenges and constant use of the imagination for new products and services, means that when the designer comes around to working back on a certain client's project, he has all the experiences from other client's work to bring to the table.
Although the trend for in-house design will continue due to pressure on budgets, working with a good design agency may still be the better option, as long as your agency can deliver cost-effective services, and offer you a measurable return on investment.