How to choose the best design service, part 2


How to choose the best design service, part 2


In our previous post we covered how to unearth all of the design you really need to be successful. Read about that here.

The next step is weighing your options and choosing the right ones for the right project. Most companies do better with a mix of the different design options out there, rather than relying on only one. Now that you have a better idea of the full scope of most design work, you can pick which options work best for your specific needs.

Design landscape matrix

Traditional agency

Partnering with a traditional design or marketing agency—or multiple agencies—is an option that many of the world's largest enterprises prefer. You'll get top-notch design work from talented creatives that will keep you looking sleek and competitive with any other firm. The self-managed nature of agencies means you spend less time tending to design details and project management. This comes in handy on the large-scale projects

The trade-off is that you’ll pay a premium for agency-created design work, and can expect long lead times. If you're not one of their larger clients, you can also expect some delays and interruptions from time to time. Agencies have limited resources too, and you won't always be at the top of the list. These big-time players are best suited to large, resource-intensive projects that can take months to roll out: full brand builds or rebranding efforts, ground-up website design, nationwide multimedia advertising campaigns, etc.


Hiring a freelancer solves for many of the problems associated with a traditional agency. You get flexible and affordable design work from an individual with unique skills and insights that haven't been bound by layers of corporate management and executive approval. You get fresh ideas and unfiltered work delivered to your desk, and you get to direct the flow and style of your design work one-on-one with your designer.

The downside is that freelancers often end up being unreliable. Established companies rarely go silent without warning, yet it happens frequently in the freelance world. Also, there's still the issue of priority: freelancers have multiple clients. You might not always be Number One. There's only so much a single designer can accomplish with a single skillset in a given timeframe. Since they’re lacking much of the oversight built into agencies, they can require a lot of management. This makes them most suitable for specific, low-demand projects: internal reports delivered below the C-suite, smaller social media campaigns, one-off PPC ad design, etc.


The major benefits of an in-house design team should be obvious. For starters, you're always the top priority, and you'll have a crew that specializes in the specifics of your business and your brand on call 24/7 (or at least 9-5, Monday through Friday). Your designers will also be more personally invested in your business and its growth than any outside contract worker ever would.

The downsides of in-house design teams are also readily apparent. You can expect to spend at least as much on an in-house design team as you would spend with a top-notch traditional agency. In-house shares the downsides of freelancers in that they have a fixed work capacity and lack of flexibility. There will be times when they're overworked and quality suffers, and times when they're idle due to a temporary lack of demand. You also don't truly have an in-house team at your beck and call—there are pesky things like employment laws, work-life balance, and effective culture that limit the hours you can demand your designers put in.

An in-house design team also requires full management and HR supervision, adding to their expense and strain on company resources. They're most effective for ongoing projects that provide steady work and can be easily managed: regularly occurring presentations, reports and brochures that need regular informational/layout updates without major redesign, established and consistent single-channel campaigns, etc.

Cloud agency

Making use of design and communication software, cloud agencies offer a high quality-to-cost ratio. A true cloud design agency has flexible availability and cost, like an individual freelancer, and flexibility in scope like a traditional agency or an in-house team. Because a cloud agency works with its own team of in-house and/or freelance designers, they are fully scalable and can instantly build a team for a large-scale undertaking or assign a single designer to a smaller project.

The trade-off with cloud agencies is the low-touch nature of their services. You won't be getting the personal sit-downs provided by traditional agencies or the dedicated involvement of an in-house designer. The nature of a cloud agency and the variety of clients they work with also means they tend to have more varied portfolios than traditional agencies, which makes supervision of the work quality on the first few projects essential. Such agencies are of the most benefit working on design projects with variable and/or unpredictable deliverables, sudden projects with tight timeframes and—once communication, workflow, and quality have been established—larger ongoing projects such as cross-media marketing campaigns.

The number of design solutions available and each of their individual strengths and weaknesses can seem overwhelming, but keep the design matrix in mind and it's all pretty simple. Your design options map directly onto the frequency/budget matrix, making it easy to choose the right solution for each of your design needs.

For low frequency, high budget projects like full rebranding efforts or complete website builds, traditional design agencies are usually your best bet. For low frequency, low budget work like analytical decks and other internal reports, look for a freelancer. Keep your in-house design team working on your high frequency, high budget brand development work, and take care of all the high frequency, low budget work like web banners, emails, whitepapers, and more with a cloud agency.

When you know what you really want and what each design project really entails, your relationships with your designers—all of them—will be far more effective.

Download our free, comprehensive Design Landscape ebook for more on discovering the best way to get design for your company.

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