Selecting a graphic design firm can be a difficult process at best. Initially, size and cost may be your top criteria, and they certainly do factor in to some degree, but several other aspects are just as important and worth noting. Understanding exactly who and how design services are offered will help you in making the selection process easier.
First and foremost, we are a small firm of graphic designers. Admittedly, we’re interested in gaining your business. That being said, we believe we can still be objective in shedding some light on the process of choosing design services. This article is based on six years of observation and experience in the graphic design industry.
Large Firms (Size Matters … Sometimes)
A large design firm will give you a sense of stability just by the sheer size of their portfolio, number of staff, and resources available. They offer a wide variety of services across several media such as radio, TV, print, etc.. If that’s your situation a large firm should be your focus. On the other hand, if your project is within a specific area or two such as web, print, or multimedia, a small firm or independent designer may be an excellent choice.
Another consideration is teamwork. As the saying goes, “two heads are better than one.” Depending on the scope of the project different perspectives during the concept phase can be a distinct advantage. While multi-person firms assign a design team, many independent designers overcome this by having their work critiqued by fellow designers or submitting their work to online design forums for review.
Small firms and independents may not have a sample of your specific need, so it’s important to look at the solutions they’ve provided other clients. They tend to be more motivated in getting your business, so you’ll often get a more personal level of service, and work directly with the person responsible for your project. Furthermore, you’ll generally pay less due to reduced overhead costs. In many cases independent designers will have more design experience than the combined years of a design team at an agency. Many talented designers tend to either move up the ladder or start their own firm due to pay ceilings at a firm.
Variety of talent is another consideration. Large firms may have one or two copywriters or illustrators on staff to choose from. Small firms and independents have the flexibility of offering several established outside vendors to specifically fit your individual tastes, style and preferences.
Also, consider that the designer or designers working at a large firm may not be particularly interested or excited about your project, or even proficient in that area of design; they don’t have control of what’s assigned to them. While this may or may not be the case at a small firm, an independent designer will typically have a high level of interest and motivation, because they want to expand their portfolio and client list…especially if your project type or industry is new to them. If they contacted you it’s likely they’ve already done some background research on your company.
Finally, with advances in computer technology and declining prices, independents and small firms use the same or higher levels of hardware and software as large firms. They also don’t have to go through the approval process and internal IT departments, so their upgrades happen in days rather than months.
When you are looking for design services remember that you don’t have to know exactly what you need; that’s what a design professional is for. They will offer specific solutions according to your needs. If price is a concern, be upfront about it and ask for a range of two or three estimates. Be aware that the lower figures mean that less time will be devoted to research and concept development; it doesn’t mean that the designer is reducing their hourly rate. Less time translates into a less creative and unique piece.
Start by interviewing several design firms before making a decision. Ask them what their hourly rate for creative work is, and view their portfolios. If you’re happy with the solutions they’ve provided other clients, comfortable with the way they present themselves, and think you’d enjoy working with them…hire them. Clients who understand the value of good design realize that a talented designer has the ability to influence their existing and potential market; create a positive perception of their business, and ultimately increase their revenue.