Getting the best from your design agency

February 21, 2019
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As the world changes so do the people in it, but good design remains a constant for top-performing businesses. People often confuse design with style and making things look good. Design is about more than ‘surface’ appeal – it’s about the structure of communication and underlying messages. All businesses need to convey information and capture and hold the attention of their customers over the din of their competitors.

Design is not a commodity but rather the result of designers working closely with their clients in an individualised way, to produce something bespoke and specific to a particular need or context. A business may need to upgrade to a website, launch a new product or refresh a brand. This short guide is written to help you on your journey to buying design. Getting it wrong can be painful and expensive. Getting it right can be rewarding at many levels.

Setting clear objectives

It is important to establish precisely what the design needs to achieve, beyond just ensuring that you are presenting your brand, products or services appropriately. If your have a new product that needs to be branded, what do you want sales to be in the first year? Why will people buy it? What’s the key thing you need to be telling your target audience about it? Design agencies need to know the numbers – ‘last year I had 12 leads from my newsletters. This year I want to double that’. The clearer your objectives, the easier it is to create the right design and then to measure its effectiveness. Assessing the performance of a brand isn't not easy, but as with websites, if you define your metrics it can be done.

Having realistic expectations

Some design work can provide instant payoff and some design can take longer. For example, designing a web page with a clear call to action can double your leads whereas designing a brand can take longer to deliver a return – you need consistent, positive customer experiences over time to build that brand equity. So it helps to be realistic about time frames.

Design takes time and time is money so it also helps to balance your expectations against your budget. The best projects tend to come out of good collaboration between the client and the design agency and this involves trust. If you are up-front about the level of investment you are prepared to make then your design agency can advise you on what you can expect to achieve and where to concentrate your spend.

Often the easiest way to set a budget is to think of the end result you want to achieve: if you are considering a refresh of your brand, how many sales/new clients do you need in the first year to make a return on your investment? Say the refresh is going to last for 5 years. When does the design investment pay for itself? What’s a sensible amount to invest in the process to achieve the right results?

Keeping an open mind

If you are clear on your business issues, keep an open mind on how the design agency can provide a solution. Often clients tell us they need a new website because it looks out of date when the real issue is that their brand is out of date – and that’s what people are seeing on their website. A good agency will challenge you (when required) to ensure you get what your business needs. It will have a wealth of experience in dealing with these issues and will be able to work out what you need to make a positive impact on your business and target audience.

Remember that the “subjective” is the agency’s area of expertise – it’s what you pay your designer to know about. Listen to them and trust them.

Trying to understand the process

Being clear about the stages (and some of the jargon) makes it easier to understand the process and manage the project. Design work broadly falls into 5 stages.

• The brief or strategy – the better the brief, the better the outcomes
• The initial design concepts and presentation visuals
• The presentation, including feedback and refinement (as necessary)
• Implementation – rolling out the design across the various brand applications
• Printing/production – this speaks for itself. You need to agree with the designer whether they will manage suppliers on your behalf. It’s usually better that they do a they understand the issues involved, but they will usually charge their time for this or add a mark-up. Make sure you agree this in advance.

Finding the right design agency

When you invest in design services you need to be satisfied your design agency will be able to execute your project efficiently, cost-effectively and impact fully. Here are some criteria which should help you in your selection:

• experience and knowledge
• strategic processes
• project and cost management
• standards of practice and integrity


Quick Tips for working with your design agency

Know what type of design buyer you are – some see design tasks as a necessary evil, others as an opportunity to take a business to a higher level. Although processes remain broadly the same, projects can vary depending on the level of involvement clients want. If you think a higher degree of involvement would better suit your organization then let us know and we can discuss this.

Set up your team: right from the start, involve everyone who needs to be part of the process (business advisors, marketing people etc.) and agree their inputs from the beginning.

Decision-making: decide how you are going to decide and stick to it! Agree on your approvals processes and timeframes. Guard yourself from the opinions of those who are neither your target audience nor members of your branding team (ie those who don’t understand the strategy). Everyone has an opinion but not all are relevant. Any feedback should to be positive and meaningful.

Keep up the momentum: projects that maintain their momentum and involve timely decision-making tend to be the most successful.

Time: give yourself sufficient time to consider the work, the process and to make decisions. Also, be prepared to be available when needed and to provide content when requested.

Communication: let us know what you’re thinking and if you have any qualms or queries tell us as soon as possible. It helps us give you the best service if we know what you are thinking.

Staying within budget: if we know what we have to work with, then we can advise you how best to plan and prioritise.

Print and production: we can help you ensure this is handled most cost-effectively whilst maintaining quality and timely delivery. You can either handle this yourselves or we can advise you and project-manage (and charge on a time-spent basis).

Client amendments: there are key milestones within projects beyond which amendments can be costly. Plan for these ‘cutoff’ points to ensure any changes you need are done before it gets too expensive.

Please get in touch with Richard to organise an appointment for a telephone/video conference on 021 0311 294.

As the world changes so do the people in it, but good design remains a constant for top-performing businesses. People often confuse design with style and making things look good. Design is about more than ‘surface’ appeal – it’s about the structure of communication and underlying messages. All businesses need to convey information and capture and hold the attention of their customers over the din of their competitors.

Design is not a commodity but rather the result of designers working closely with their clients in an individualised way, to produce something bespoke and specific to a particular need or context. A business may need to upgrade to a website, launch a new product or refresh a brand. This short guide is written to help you on your journey to buying design. Getting it wrong can be painful and expensive. Getting it right can be rewarding at many levels.

Setting clear objectives

It is important to establish precisely what the design needs to achieve, beyond just ensuring that you are presenting your brand, products or services appropriately. If your have a new product that needs to be branded, what do you want sales to be in the first year? Why will people buy it? What’s the key thing you need to be telling your target audience about it? Design agencies need to know the numbers – ‘last year I had 12 leads from my newsletters. This year I want to double that’. The clearer your objectives, the easier it is to create the right design and then to measure its effectiveness. Assessing the performance of a brand isn't not easy, but as with websites, if you define your metrics it can be done.

Having realistic expectations

Some design work can provide instant payoff and some design can take longer. For example, designing a web page with a clear call to action can double your leads whereas designing a brand can take longer to deliver a return – you need consistent, positive customer experiences over time to build that brand equity. So it helps to be realistic about time frames.

Design takes time and time is money so it also helps to balance your expectations against your budget. The best projects tend to come out of good collaboration between the client and the design agency and this involves trust. If you are up-front about the level of investment you are prepared to make then your design agency can advise you on what you can expect to achieve and where to concentrate your spend.

Often the easiest way to set a budget is to think of the end result you want to achieve: if you are considering a refresh of your brand, how many sales/new clients do you need in the first year to make a return on your investment? Say the refresh is going to last for 5 years. When does the design investment pay for itself? What’s a sensible amount to invest in the process to achieve the right results?

Keeping an open mind

If you are clear on your business issues, keep an open mind on how the design agency can provide a solution. Often clients tell us they need a new website because it looks out of date when the real issue is that their brand is out of date – and that’s what people are seeing on their website. A good agency will challenge you (when required) to ensure you get what your business needs. It will have a wealth of experience in dealing with these issues and will be able to work out what you need to make a positive impact on your business and target audience.

Remember that the “subjective” is the agency’s area of expertise – it’s what you pay your designer to know about. Listen to them and trust them.

Trying to understand the process

Being clear about the stages (and some of the jargon) makes it easier to understand the process and manage the project. Design work broadly falls into 5 stages.

• The brief or strategy – the better the brief, the better the outcomes
• The initial design concepts and presentation visuals
• The presentation, including feedback and refinement (as necessary)
• Implementation – rolling out the design across the various brand applications
• Printing/production – this speaks for itself. You need to agree with the designer whether they will manage suppliers on your behalf. It’s usually better that they do a they understand the issues involved, but they will usually charge their time for this or add a mark-up. Make sure you agree this in advance.

Finding the right design agency

When you invest in design services you need to be satisfied your design agency will be able to execute your project efficiently, cost-effectively and impact fully. Here are some criteria which should help you in your selection:

• experience and knowledge
• strategic processes
• project and cost management
• standards of practice and integrity


Quick Tips for working with your design agency

Know what type of design buyer you are – some see design tasks as a necessary evil, others as an opportunity to take a business to a higher level. Although processes remain broadly the same, projects can vary depending on the level of involvement clients want. If you think a higher degree of involvement would better suit your organization then let us know and we can discuss this.

Set up your team: right from the start, involve everyone who needs to be part of the process (business advisors, marketing people etc.) and agree their inputs from the beginning.

Decision-making: decide how you are going to decide and stick to it! Agree on your approvals processes and timeframes. Guard yourself from the opinions of those who are neither your target audience nor members of your branding team (ie those who don’t understand the strategy). Everyone has an opinion but not all are relevant. Any feedback should to be positive and meaningful.

Keep up the momentum: projects that maintain their momentum and involve timely decision-making tend to be the most successful.

Time: give yourself sufficient time to consider the work, the process and to make decisions. Also, be prepared to be available when needed and to provide content when requested.

Communication: let us know what you’re thinking and if you have any qualms or queries tell us as soon as possible. It helps us give you the best service if we know what you are thinking.

Staying within budget: if we know what we have to work with, then we can advise you how best to plan and prioritise.

Print and production: we can help you ensure this is handled most cost-effectively whilst maintaining quality and timely delivery. You can either handle this yourselves or we can advise you and project-manage (and charge on a time-spent basis).

Client amendments: there are key milestones within projects beyond which amendments can be costly. Plan for these ‘cutoff’ points to ensure any changes you need are done before it gets too expensive.

Please get in touch with Richard to organise an appointment for a telephone/video conference on 021 0311 294.