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How to choose the best design firm for our project? Let’s see some tips to hire the best possible company to develop your brand or project.
Note: This is the second part of our article How to identify a good design agency? 10 unmistakable signs. The original article became so long and interesting we decided to split it in 2 parts.
Either way, do not miss the starting 5 points!
Is the company up with the new trends in design and web development?
This point can be complex, since many times customers do not know (nor do they have to know) what the latest trends are.
A good way to find out, is to see if the design firm produces article content on its own website or on a design blog. If so, you will almost certainly talk about trends in the area (or areas) in which this agency specializes.
The other way is to look at external sites for the latest trends and see if the agency uses those trends on its own site or in work done for other clients.
Important note: being “trendy” is not important at all, unless the project specifically requires it. A more classic and conservative but well done website is much more important than a “trendy” website or app, as trends come and go. What we are referring to at this point is the design company’s ability to keep up with new trends. Or in other words: does the agency care to keep up to date?
Does the agency have clients equal or above your level?
Let’s face it: we need our project to grow. Which means that the company that develops our project must be good and reliable enough to do it.
And for that, neither the will nor the attitude of “yes, I can do it” is enough. We need to be sure that the money we are going to invest returns with profit. This is what we call ROI (Return of Investment). And the ROI cannot take infinitely. On the contrary: we need to recover the investment as soon as possible.
How can we make sure of that? In addition to other points in this article, it is very important that the design company with which we are discussing our project shows us that they have worked on similar projects for companies that are at our level (real or aspirational) or higher.
Each company knows its true level, which is given by revenue, competitors, traffic and other KPIs. And we also have an aspirational level: the company is objectively at level X but has the aspirations and resources to reach level X + N.
An example: if I want to launch a social network like Facebook, with all the same characteristics, I will need an agency (or group of agencies) that has already worked with companies like Facebook or similar. If my cousin who made a site in WordPress comes and says “I can build a social network like Facebook”, I really should not listen to him. I need expert people and a large investment, which I will have to recover in a very short time.
On the other hand, if I want to launch a small ecommerce website, the range of companies capable of doing this type of project will be much larger.
Does the design firm offer only web design?
There is nothing wrong with specialization. In fact, a specialist is often better than a “jack of all trades”.
But in this case, we are talking about digital firms, which have a staff of personnel. Each one of the members of the staff may be specialized in some area (in fact it will be like that in most cases).
In our opinion, the problem is that super specialized web design firms have too many weaknesses in other areas, such as marketing, UX, SEO, branding, development, etc.
This means that, as a customer, you are going to have to look elsewhere for each of the things mentioned above. If your company is large and resourceful, it may not be a problem. And it can even be beneficial: you hire the best design specialist, you hire the best UX designer (attention: this is the first specialist you should hire!)…
And so on, you can hire a digital marketing specialist, an SEO analyst, a branding specialist (sorry, this one goes after the UX one!).
A great investment, a great deal of time, but the result will be incredible.
Now: if your company is like the vast majority, you won’t want to deal with 10 different project managers who are fighting each other to mark territory.
You will want a comprehensive solution where the processes are carried out in the corresponding order, in a rational amount of time, with the lowest cost for the best possible quality (in the paragraphs above I mentioned them out of order. Most people do not know what the order is, nor do they have to know it).
In summary: if you need solutions in several areas, a UX development company is a logical and economical solution for important problems, since it will be able to give you all (or almost all) the services necessary for the vast majority of brand strategies. And this includes both the digital plane and the physical environments. Websites, mobile applications, posters, stationery, product design, brand identity, SEO, marketing, etc.
Does it have a sound theoretical background? Do they members have some kind of authority in their fields?
It’s something that always happens: you visit the website or portfolio of a design company and they say they can do everything: web and mobile design, app development, site programming, SEO, marketing, branding, UX research, and whatever you can think of.
But is this really so?
One way to be sure is to review the portfolio. But it can still be misleading, because in the portfolio you will usually see a design (that is, an image of a design). But you won’t see it working. Or maybe you can see a prototype, but you don’t know who did the website development.
And … what if you need something that moves slightly from the agency’s “comfort zone”? Will the agency be able to respond assertively and effectively?
That is the jackpot question
A better way to find out if the design firm has professionals who know their subject is to find out if the firm’s professionals (or at least those who run it) have real knowledge and authority.
For example: do they have published books? Do they have academic research? Do they participate in conferences in their area of expertise?
If the answer is yes, then you can be sure that you are choosing very well!
If the answer is no … not necessarily a bad thing. But you are left to chance.
An example: Paula Scher is a wonderful designer for the New York design firm Pentagram. There is no designer who does not know her, or who does not recognize her as an authority on design.
In our case, none of us reaches the level of those big names in design. But from a more modest place, you can see the publications of Mariana Arismendi, PhD at Research Gate, or the lectures of Fabio Devin, or the presentations of Sami Fraser. Or much simpler: this same blog that you are reading, with articles that cover a wide range of topics on UX, branding, marketing, and design in general.
Do they help with web development or research?
As we mentioned before, there are design firms that are specialized and do not have the capacity or intention to develop their designs. Whether it is web design development, physical product development, packaging, etc.
There is nothing wrong with it (with a big caveat, as we already mentioned).
But the question is: can they help once they finish their design task?
For example, if they don’t code, can they recommend who does it and be held accountable for that recommendation? Can they proceed with aspects of the code that require the assistance of the design agency?
This is a very important point, because if we have the body of a Ferrari and the engine of a Ford Pinto, we are not going to go very far.
Bottom line: a good marketing or design company should be able to code the designs or at least recommend another reliable company.
Are they available on your time zone?
In our globalized times, this is an increasingly important point. The need to trust an agency that is in our time zone, or at least with an overlap of 3 or 4 hours.
And this we learned from experience. At a certain point in our company, around 5 or 6 years ago, for some reason we had a lot of design clients from Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand.
For us, those places are at the opposite end of the globe, so we are about 12 hours apart. Which made it very difficult for us to coincide with the schedules.
Or even worse: being who we are, and in an effort to provide a good service, we ended up working in the office until 9 or 10PM just to have an exchange about the projects.
Today, we no longer do that. If the project requires a constant exchange in real time, we simply recommend to the client a design agency that we know will be able to fulfill that requirement.
It might not sound like a big deal. But: are you willing to wait 12, 14 or even 24 hours to change a font or make a small modification, and then as long to get a response? And then the same to ask for another change and so on?
In summary: find an agency that is within your time slot, +/- 4 hours apart.
Bonus: The “Design Agency in My Town” myth.
This is something we can see in Google search results. Keywords like “design company in my city” or “design firm in my area” or “local web development company” or similar.
This is useful only for small businesses. If you need a banner or poster for your business, or a set of business cards, it is probably best to find a design agency in your city.
But if your project is moderately important, this is not necessary at all.
Unless you are thinking of going to have coffee at the company that should develop your project.
Imagine if Coca Cola hired people only in Atlanta, or Google in California, or Skype in the USA. Would they have the best option for their projects?
The answer is obvious: NO.
In any case, they would have a nearby company, just that.
On the contrary, these companies, which are very intelligent, look for the agency that provides the best service, no matter if the design agency is in their city, state or country. What matters is the results, just that.
Conclusion: A design firm deserves some careful thought
Don’t be too quick to choose a design firm before doing a little due diligence.
The design of your projects is what will consolidate your brand, your product or service. It will give you tools to improve your income, provide a better user experience to your customers, or simply present your brand in the best possible way.
This guide is just a sample of how important it is to choose the right company, as one mistake can mean a lot of lost money.
If you want to discuss your project with us, we will be happy to help you. Even if it is to guide you in choosing another design company!
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