How to choose a graphic design agency that is right for your needs.

Finding the right design agency can be guaranteed by asking just five questions. Answer these before you even start looking at design agencies.

Hard Questions

So much of the design process and industry revolves around asking difficult questions and then finding the perfect solution to the challenge. Honestly answering questions is key, but when looking for the right design agency, the first questions you should ask yourself before you even contact any design agency.

The top 5 of these are:

Be Open and Honest

Answering difficult questions internally can be a tricky endeavour, but it is well worth the effort as it is far better to answer these questions in your own time than over an initial meet and greet.

Establishing a clear idea of what all of your stakeholders require from a new agency before you start looking for design agencies will save you considerable time and effort. However you approach it, the key questions you should ask are:

What are your current needs?

If you have only ever created printed materials such as leaflets, brochures, magazines, posters etc, then it would make sense to have any particularly skilled and experienced agency in that area.

If you have a mix of needs that includes branding, advertising creative, print and digital, then an agency that offers a full service is key.

If you have moved over to purely digital communications, then engaging an agency that doesn’t do anything other than digital would not make sense.

As well as qualifying what services you require, it makes sense to assess the frequency and volume of projects you need.

Historical data on marketing spending or budgets are a reasonable indicator of future spending (unless a significant change is planned), but knowing if you have regular monthly demands or follow a seasonal pattern is essential information. This is covered in greater detail in How do you want to pay?

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What are your future needs?

If there are plans for significant change or growth in the short or medium term, this needs to be accounted for by any agency to ensure they can scale their resources to match. Alternatively, if you have had a high-intensity period and are moving to a more regular pace, an agency needs to know the details to provide the very best service. If you are unsure, it is just as important for the agency to know so they can help clarify potential growth areas.

The key is to establish if you need an agency that can match your requirements now and in the future and they can support you at every step.


What would you like?

It is essential to have an outline of what your expectations are; having a clear list of priorities will make the whole process easier.

A clear understanding of what you like and need at the beginning will allow you to compare agencies’ ability to deliver those core services.

If an agency has a service or skill that you have not considered, then great, but do not compromise on your core requirements for nice-to haves.

It is up to you if you share this information with the agencies, but most agencies would prefer to know and provide you with the information you need rather than guess your wish list.

What would you NOT like?

Use your experience of dealing with previous agencies and delivering projects to clearly articulate what you do NOT like or need. Knowing what you want to avoid will make it much easier to identify any warning flags or concerns.

There is nothing wrong with establishing a clear understanding with your agency of what you don’t want, as this can only improve communications and expectations.

Similar to what you do want, it is up to you if you share your‘ red lines’ with the agencies you contact, but they should appreciate the clarity and want to avoid crossing any boundaries you may have. As always, the better the communication, the better the outcomes.

How do you want to pay?

One of the reasons for establishing what services you need, the frequency and volume is to establish how best to pay.

Design agencies are open to various structures, from retainers, pay-by projects or some form of design subscription service. Look for an agency that allows you to pay based on your needs and preferences, not theirs.

If you know what your expected spend will be, then you might consider a relationship that allows you to pay a regular amount each month on the basis that they will receive at least 12 or 24 months of that amount.

You might prefer to work from project to project, but note that treating each and every project like it could be the last doesn’t allow for the greatest of working relationships. Subscription models are very common these days as they offer the best of both worlds of a prearranged monthly bill to cover all works rather than multiple invoices and usually a discount on standard agency rates.

Simon Browne

Simon Browne

Simon works on strategy, planning, content and SEO at Toast. An experienced copywriter and website content planner, he helps our clients get the best out of their copy and websites.