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So you are looking for a design agency, but you don’t know how to select the best one for your project.
Let’s face it: there are more design agencies than stars in the universe (OK, that’s an exaggeration, but there really are tons of agencies or pseudo-agencies).
First of all: are there as many design agencies as it seems?
Yes and no. In a broad sense, we could say yes, as long as we are a bit lax in the definitions.
But if we are a little more strict, the amount decreases considerably. And most likely the initial amount, already very large, will fall to 3 or 4% of the initial number.
Still, that 3-4% is still a very large number, in the tens of thousands.
Why this difference in numbers?
Well, today anyone with a computer and a copy of some Adobe program calls themselves a “designer.”
But to make things more complex, many of these novice designers, as well as professional designers working individually, claim to be an agency.
You may have seen sites that clearly represent an independent designer or freelancer speaking in the third person plural (“We” this or “we” that).
This is not exclusive to the design area, in fact it can be seen in many online services.
But because there are as many designers as there are stars in the universe (OK, I promise not to use this hyperbole anymore! 😉 ), this situation is much more visible.
For the purposes of this article, we will call this case as design “pseudo-agencies”. Without pejorative intention, just to identify them.
There is another case of pseudo design agencies: 2 or 3 friends or colleagues who meet occasionally with the great idea of creating an IT services agency (design, development, SEO, etc). However, this kind of project don’t last long. The most common reason for failure is that work is very different on each area. For example, coders think they deserve more money than designers, SEO consultants believe they deserve more money than the previous two, and sales people thinks they deserve more than all of them. Thus: failure.
The fake agency
Then we have the “fake design agencies”. You will probably know the type. Someone with marketing skills, or a good relationship circle, claims to own a design studio, or web development company, or SEO consultancy, or whatever.
The problem is that this person simply hires people to do the work for him, without your knowing it.
Of course, this is an ethical and moral problem, since this person simply does what you could do on your own. Only that he gets a really good slice of the cake.
In addition to ethical and moral issues, the fake agency usually ignores most of what is related to the subject of work, which leads to truncated projects, or very poorly done work.
Besides, to be competitive, they need to hire cheap IT developers or designers. Which does not necessarily mean that the work is bad “per se” (there are excellent workers who can compete at the same level of quality for a much lower price than others). But in statistical terms, the result is very likely to be below average.
A detail that is even funny: most of the fake agencies hire pseudo-agencies, creating a double deception: there is no real agency in the whole process!
Real design agencies
Finally, real design agencies are characterized by having work teams, a solid and verifiable history, a technical infrastructure, and a verifiable physical location and presence.
Attention: the fact of being a real design company does not guarantee the final result. As in everything, there are good agencies and there are bad design agencies.
But the fact of being an agency with a structure generates more chances of success. We will see the reasons for this below.
How to identify a great design agency: the ultimate guide
So here comes the part of separating the chaff from the wheat: it is not enough to be a design agency. The problem is how to identify when a design agency is good in general, and when it is not suitable for our needs. We are not going to talk about “bad design agencies”, because the quality of work is subjective, and can depend on external factors.
What follows is a list of positive signs or identifiers that are common to most design agencies. If a design agency does not meet at least 50% of these requirements (in your perspective), it is very likely that this agency is not the right one, no matter the price.
On the contrary, if you find that the agency you want to hire meets most (or all) of the conditions, then it is very likely that this is the company you need to develop your project.
Important note: when reading this article, you will notice that “coincidentally” our company meets all the conditions. This does not mean that this article simply describes our company (which would obviously make our company look “perfect”). Rather, these guiding principles are what we took to shape our company. We did not always have all of them, like every company we had a growth process.
Bottom line: this article is not to toot our own horn (well, maybe a little bit, but who could blame us?). These are objective signs of a good IT company in general, and a good design agency in particular.
Having said that, let’s move on to the list of qualities that a good design agency must have!
Is it a real company?
First thing first: is it real? Does it have a physical location? Does it have a website?
Every real agency has a physical location, and a website with its portfolio of work. And all of them will have their site listed on different media, as well as their physical location. The simplest way to determine if it is a real agency is to ask our interlocutor what the URL of their website is. If it says any URL from Behance or Dribble or WIX or the like, it is most likely not a real agency. As for the physical address, a simple Google search should show us where the agency is located.
Remember that the Google My Business Snippet provides all kind of information: website URL, physical address, office photos, outside view, client reviews and more.
Keep in mind that no real agency would miss this opportunity to promote their services for free. Therefore, if you cannot find a Google My Business snippet for the company, it is most likely that the company does not exist.
Does the agency have a solid structure?
A good design agency is ready to take any kind of projects, without any tipe of limitation because of space, technical devices, available human resources, or, more important, knowledge.
Example: let’s say you want a responsive design and you want that design to look perfect on desktop, iPad and different mobile brands. The minimum you should ask for is for the company to have those devices.
Same happens if the project requires a lot of work and time. Does the company have enough human resources to cover those needs? Does the company have the required space to host that amount of people?
Remember: time is money. The fastest you get your work, the better. Granted, you’ll probably have to pay more for high quality fast work, because it means more resources were used. And you’ll be able to start making money faster instead of waiting for months to launch your project.
This is possible only with agencies that have a solid structure. More structure usually equals more efficiency and therefore more quality.
Is the company reliable?
Of course, one of the main points to consider is if the company is reliable.
This can be verified by client testimonials on your site, reviews on other sites, contact with other clients, etc.
It is very important that these testimonials or reviews are true. For example, there are online job platforms in which each job requires a review or feedback from the client. In this case we will know that the review is real.
Another way is to see if the testimonial corresponds to a job in the design agency’s portfolio. If we can see the work for “Acme Company” and on the main page or testimonials we can read a testimonial from “John Doe, from Acme Company”, we will know that the testimonial or review is probably real.
Does it have a portfolio of work?
Although a design studio may have many projects under NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreements), it is highly unlikely that it will not have a few projects to show.
As an example, most of our projects are regulated by full or partial NDA. And still, after more than 20 years we have hundreds of projects to show in our portfolio (we only have a couple of dozen so that we don’t overwhelm clients), from website design to development, from UX research to usability testing, from accessibility to marketing, from SEO to growth hacking.
Of course, we have been at this for a long time and it is logical that there are many projects to show. But the point is: what are the chances that an agency does not have at least 5 or 6 relevant projects to show?
Personally, I think the answer is: very few or none at all.
Separate note for external portfolios on sites like Dribble or Behance: it is valid for a design agency to have projects on these types of platforms since they are specific for designers. But as we could see above, it is practically impossible for an agency not to have its own website.
We could say more: if an agency has its own website but sends clients to an external portfolio, we would be dealing with an agency that does not know basic things about marketing, SEO and conversions.
This is not over!
This article continues has a second part, don’t miss the rest of the design agency choice tips!
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