How to choose a design agency

In the first of a series of blogs, written for the Sport and Recreation Alliance and their membership, we provide guidance on selecting the right design agency to work with.

Finding the right Design Agency for your business is extremely important, you need to ensure that the creatives working on your brief are the right fit for the project and indeed your brand values. When looking for an agency there are some things to be mindful of and some questions that you should ask to get an understanding of the way they work.

Below are some pointers and questions that will help you determine the agency that’s right for you.

Referrals
It’s always good to get good reviews from trustworthy sources when selecting a design studio to suit your needs, however, try to establish if the reviews are from like for like work – if you require a logo, an agency that only designs websites might not be the right people for the job.

Research agencies by service or sector
There are agencies that specialize in sectors and industries as well as by the service you require, if you are part of a sector group there are most likely design agencies that have more experience in your industry.

What is their approach?
What is their process when undertaking a design brief, what design stages do they account for, how often can you expect to be involved and at what point do designs get exposed for feedback and approvals? It’s important to understand how the agency will keep you informed, updated and involved so that you feel comfortable with how much control or flexibility you would like. It’s also worth considering the added benefits of choosing an agency that you could develop a relationship with, helping to maintain brand consistency on future projects.

Arrange a meeting
Ask the agencies to visit your offices first to ensure the chemistry feels right, you are trusting this company with visually representing your brand so it’s important to feel that they meet your criteria for things like, passion, enthusiasm, understanding of your brand values, creativity.

Ask for a portfolio presentation
Agencies often have more relevant work as part of their larger portfolio inclusive of the latest projects shown on their website, they may also have client work with sensitivity around publishing permission which can only be viewed as part of a presentation.

Don’t encourage free pitching
Free pitching is discouraged by the Design Business Association (Official design authority) on the basis that it undermines the value of design services and affects the professional standing of designers. Free pitching also maintains elevating design rates as recuperation of lost fees is required. The best way to tell if the agency is right for you is on experience, expertise and portfolio presentation, the pitch won’t necessarily offer the best and most thought out solutions for your project because they have not been done on ‘paid’ hours.

Cheaper doesn’t mean better
When faced with a tight budget it’s often tempting to go with the cheapest quote. Rates can be variable depending on the agency location and specialism so its important to fully understand what you will get for your £ and have reviewed the quality of deliverable through an agency’s website and portfolio. Often if you look outside of the obvious high-ended locations you can find good quality, willing and fairly priced agencies.

Agency verses Freelance Designer
It can be tempting to use freelance designers due to them appearing a cheaper alternative to an agency, however, it is important to understand the differences between a design studio and a freelancer. A freelancer is an asset when experiencing an ‘overflow’ of work but it is imperative that your freelancer be well versed in your brand identity and guidelines before any work commences to ensure the branding is not watered down. When employing a design agency there will be more heads working on interpreting your brief and understanding your brand before work commences, so you can be guaranteed a more successful and thoughtful solution to your brief.