Choosing a creative design agency for your design project can be a tricky task. There are so many options that you could spend the days looking through different websites and portfolios, trying to make your mind up. There are agencies near you and agencies a million miles away, not to mention freelancer designers. They all promise that they can get the job done. So, how do you make up your mind when it comes to picking one for your design project?

1. Outline Your Design Project Scope

The first thing to do when it comes to any sort of design project is to jot down a basic outline.

What exactly does the project entails?

Maybe you’re a start-up company and you have no idea where to start when it comes to the design side of the business. You know you need to get a logo designed. However, the chances are that your start-up company will need more than just a logo design.

Or, you may have had a logo and brand identity designed few years ago. However, business picked up and you never got the time to redesign your business cards or letterheads and you’ve decided now is the time to rebrand. Having at least some idea of what the project entails will help both you and your chosen design agency.

What are the goals of the project?

Some people might say, the goal of the above project outline is “to make my start up look good.” However, this is a problem. The goal of “looking good” is subjective, and therefore, cannot be measured.

Remember when setting goals for your project, that they should be S.M.A.R.T goals.

Sustainable
Measurable
Attainable
Relevant
Time-bound.

Example; “We will acquire 1000 new Facebook followers to promote our competition to win a new bag to by July. This will help raise the brand awareness of our ecommerce store.” Having 3 or 4 goals noted down for the project will help your design agency understand the problems you’re facing and how they can help you.

Do you have a budget in mind?

At this early stage in the project, you might be unaware of the costs related to your project. Thankfully, there are plenty of articles online that can help give you initial figures and ideas. This will give you at least a ball park figure to get you thinking about your budget.

It’s important to have a sensible budget in mind for your project, as later in the process, it will help make clear which graphic design agency do and don’t fit your requirements. Having a flexible budget is also a good idea because agencies can normally offer a variety of solutions, and your budget will allow them to offer you the right solution. It will also stop you worrying about budget creep and panicking that the final product might come in way over budget.

What is the deadline of the project?

Do you have a specific deadline that you need to meet? If you’re reading this now and wanting a rebrand finished tomorrow, you best be prepared for the budget that we discussed above, to be more than a little flexible. Being realistic with both your own and the design agencies time will help the project along and show respect and understanding on your part.

If you’re looking to launch your new brand of Christmas promotion, don’t wait until December. Start the ball rolling on the project as early as June! Often a close stone solid deadline can have repercussions on the budget, therefore, it is always better to plan ahead. If there’s a little more leeway, the budget might swing more favourably in your direction. Think hard and work with your chosen design agency, rather than against them.

2. Find Some Examples of Work That Reflects Your Business

Deciding on a style of design that reflects your business can be a tricky task. Before going to a design agency, it’s a good idea to form some sort of starting point. However, it’s important to remember that the best design for the job may not be to your personal taste. While you have to be comfortable with the work produced, think about the ultimate goals you set out in stage one. You have to try and put your personal feelings aside and accept the fact that both yourself and your chosen design agency are going to be looking at what’s best for business and your customers.

That said, having some thoughts and ideas about the sort of styles you like and don’t can be a great catalyst that gets the creative juices flowing. There are a number of great resources around the internet that are goldmines for great design and ideas. Have a look at;

  • Pinterest – The newest social media giant, full of boards collated by designers and design enthusiasts.
  • Awwwards – The Website Awards that recognise and promote the talent and effort of the best developers, designers and web agencies in the world.
  • Designspiration – a tool for discovering great art, design, architecture, photography and web inspiration.

Don’t forget to think outside of the box. If you see anything inspiring when you’re on your way to work, take a photo. Create a mood board and share it with your chosen agency. At DaPlan, we will find out about the client’s brand foundation, fundamental business nature and branding positioning and marketing in order to provide tailored design solutions in response to the different needs of clients.

Are there any companies or brands that you admire?

Looking at companies you admire is a good idea and can help create a mental picture of what your brand is all about. For example, if you’re in the Food and Beverage industry, there is a huge variety of competitors, companies and brands. Are you trying to position yourself as a fast food restaurant, a café or bistro, or is your eatery a fine dining experience?

This sort of thing is really helpful to a creative agency and will really give them an idea of how to approach your project. Chances are, if you’re selling takeaway fried finger food, you’re not going to be wanting top of the line luxury business stationery. And on the flip side, if you’re all about the best quality Italian ingredients served to perfection, you won’t be wanting 5000 glossy A5 leaflets printed.

3. The Search For Design Agency

Choosing the right creative provider for your business can be a daunting task, especially with the variety of companies. The main question companies have is, “What’s the difference between a big agency, small agency and freelancer?” All these businesses offer pretty much the same work: Logo Design, Branding, Websites, brochures… However, depending on the branding or marketing objectives, the different structures and staff create a huge impact on the budget, the process and the outcomes.

What are the Differences?

A small creative design agency is your flexible friend; they are likely to offer a tailored, bespoke service, and are more likely to able to move swiftly and effectively. They work alongside you to deliver the very best for your brand. Design agencies are usually characterised as niche companies focusing on specific services: branding, graphic design, web design, SEO, etc. That’s usually where they are good at. A small design agency is ideal for startups or SME companies without an in-house creative team and are often hired on a project basis, as well as on retainer.

When you think of a big agency, the term One-Stop-Shop comes to mind because these businesses provide a wide range of services. Big agencies tend to have a larger team of 50 or more employees, allowing most of the work to be handled in-house rather than outsourcing it to a third party, as a smaller agency would do. With a full-service agency, your brand and messaging is kept consistent throughout all mediums, even on a global scale. A typical budget for an agency starts at $100K — $500K and can easily go up to $10 million or more.

Freelancer is the One-Man Army. With a freelancer or consultant, you have immediate access to his or her time and services because you communicate directly with the person in charge of the work. A freelancer may be good at one or two things but will have a difficult time fulfilling all your needs, especially in the critical “brand building” phase. A good web developer may be good at building your website, but rarely understands your business goals and creates a brand identity that reflects this.

Each of these solutions can be a good fit for a company looking for a creative services provider, and every relationship has its benefits and shortcomings. Of course, budgets also plays a part. In general, the agency with its overhead and full-time staff has to ask for higher compensation than the one-man shop. That’s why a freelancer usually works with a start-up (on seed level), or a small company with only a limited budget. Read more about Large Design Agency vs Small Design Agency.

The small design agency however is a good candidate for a small business that already has established itself in the market but needs creative services to launch a new product or to freshen up existing offerings.

Now that you have a basic idea and some inspiration, it’s time to start searching for the perfect graphic design agency.

Google Search

The simplest way is to do a Google search. Some of the results will be relevant, and that’s great, most of the others will be results for companies that are working for big brands and require budgets of tens of thousands or even millions. So unless you have that much to spend, I think it’s fairly safe to scratch those off the list.

Ask Your “Inner Circle” and Acquaintances

Sometimes, the best way to find great designers to work on your project is by asking friends and family if they have recommendations. Throw up a status on Facebook and ask if anybody knows anyone. Check out the leads, it’s always good to help out friends and friends of friends (provided they fit the bill of course.)

Failing that, look into business acquaintances’ brand identities and websites, and if you admire them, get in touch and asked who was responsible for the design work.

4. Check Out Their Websites and Portfolios

So you’ve 10-20 agencies that you like the look of. As you click through to their website, have a look over the following things:

Are they updating their site regularly?

Having a regularly updated portfolio in the design industry is a rarity. Sometimes projects are expansive and last 6 months, or even years. That said, a design agency website should still show some signs of life. Whether that be blog posts or an active Facebook feed, as long as you know the agency isn’t dead in the water, keep them on your shortlist.

Who have they worked for in the past?

The agencies you have found will have a vast array of work. It is worth considering if they have done any work for businesses similar to yours in the past. Do they work with reputable and respectable companies? Don’t make the mistake of seeing the big name brands and automatically thinking that they are the best design agencies on the list. Think about the best results for your business.

5. Make Initial Contact to Discuss Your Project

Email the design agency that you decided on. If you’ve typed up your notes and collated your visual ideas, you could try and email like this.

Dear Charles,

I’ve been looking through your blog and portfolio and it’s time to break the ice.

I run a F&B outlet over in Singapore and we would love to work with DaPlan on rebranding the place and revamped my website.

Is this something you’re interested in? Do you have the capacity to take on a project like this currently?

We have collated our thoughts in a Word document and have some inspiration as attached.

If you would like to have a look over it, please advise me what to do next.

Best regards,
Mr Tan
tan@tanfood.com
9876 5432

 

I would always recommend leaving both your phone number and email address. Whatever happens, it makes the lines of communication quicker and easier in the future. Sending a breaking the ice email will yield one of several responses.

  • No response at all – Scratch them off the list. If they can be bothered to reply, you don’t want to work with them.
  • A polite decline – Sometimes an agency will be either too busy, or, not interested in the project. No harm done.
  • An email back – If their interest is piqued, they might want to read through the document and will email you back as requested.
  • A phone call – When the phone goes, you know they’re interested. If the phone goes the same day you send the email, they’re really interested.

Don’t just give the work to the first agency to get back to you. Assuming you contact them on a Monday, they will be busy with their current clients and other things they have to do. Give each agency the full working week to reply. I think any longer than 5 working days is too long to reply to a mail, and it’s fairly safe to assume they are not interested in your project.

The key to making the decision, is seeing which agency you connect with best. If you get a standard admin email back “Yes, we’re interested, send the documents” then, yes, they may be interested, but it’s not the same as a Creative Director picking up the phone and having a good conversation and chat through the project with you.

Remember to ask things like “What can you do with my budget?” and “How have you helped other businesses like mine grow in the past?” These are the key questions to unlocking doors and it will help make your decision a lot easier. At DaPlan, we will also find out about the client’s brand foundation, fundamental business nature and branding positioning and marketing in order to provide tailored design solutions in response to the different needs of clients. We believe in meaningful collaborations with businesses who are also passionate and driven about what they do as well.

Another important thing to ask is; “Can I have a look over your Terms and Conditions document?” Make sure that at the end of the project, you’ll have the rights to use the artwork in whichever way you see fit, and that you don’t have to license it from the agency. Ask a legal professional or another business associate to look over this with you.

Once you’re 100% confident in your decision, let your chosen graphic design agency know, and they will advise you what to do next. At this point, it’s polite to let the other agencies or freelancers you have been in contact with that you have decided to place the work elsewhere. You might get asked why. At DaPlan, we make a point of trying to find out why we lost out on clients so we can improve our process for the next time!

6. Build a Relationship

We firmly believe that the best design comes from the best relationships. Over the last year or two, we have built great relationships with our clients and they come back to us on a regular basis with more work or recommend our services to their friends.

Down the line, if you need a new poster designed, or you’re redesigning your restaurant menu and you were pleased with the quality of work you received, go back to them. Great relationships yield great results . Eventually, you should find yourself using your design agency as a business partner, rather than “something that needs doing.”

Can your chosen agency help market your business? Will they feature your project on their website and use you as a case study? All of this adds to the exposure of your brand and it’s well worth asking if they plan on using you as a portfolio example in the future. If they are, be prepared to offer up a testimonial about the project. It’s also worth asking your design agency if they can source or provide your print work for you. If they’ve designed the artwork, chances are, they’re going to be able to get a better result than a random low-cost print supplier.

Accomplish Your Branding Or Design Objectives With Someone You Can Trust

And that’s all there is to it! Follow the steps above and you should be running home and free with a great graphic design agency onboard of your project.

 

DaPlan is a Singapore-based creative design agency specialising in brand building with a visual focused approach. We build awesome brands and help them get off the ground.


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