Overwhelmed By All The Design Agencies?

There are so many design agencies out there that it can be difficult to know where to start. From smaller to larger, all-service to web specialists, design agencies come in many shapes and sizes. Given how important a website is to a business, choosing the right one is critical. But how should organisations choose?

There are ten key questions to consider. Any business that treats these criteria as their checklist will be well on its way to picking the right agency. As with any other business decision, the selection of a web agency comes down to understanding the key factors: identify the core needs, and everything else will follow.

1. Does the agency style fit the business?

Inspect an agency’s portfolio. It should feature examples of past work, and given you a sense both of the agency’s capabilities – and also it’s “house style”. Most agencies will be able to turn their hands to a variety of site-types – creative, corporate, clean – but they will often also have a natural character. That style should align with their clients’.

2. How does the agency approach web design?

Process matters. Of course, it’s important to understand an agency’s creative approach – but how they go about building a site and managing a project is crucial. Most importantly, that an agency has a process is a good sign that they’re worth working with: if a designer can’t offer a step-by-step tour through a build, they may not be an efficient partner.

3. Who else has the agency worked with?

If an agency has worked with big names, that can be a good sign. Equally, however, if they are experienced in the sector in which a business operates, even through having worked with smaller players, that can be a huge boon. If possible, ask for testimonials: good ones can reveal a lot, and the absence of any is often telling, too.

4. What’s their lead-time?

An agency should be able to set a realistic timescale for a project, and should be willing to provide it right from the get-go. Most businesses are looking to expedite a design project, of course, but beware of agencies who promise too much: if they can start work right now, why aren’t they busier? Look for honesty and ambition.

5. Do they deliver everything in-house?

Some agencies out-source some of their functions. This can make sense: specialist services like illustration or copywriting are often better undertaken by experts. Be sure, though, that your agency doesn’t out-source as a matter of course, or to get work out the door more quickly. Transparency in out-sourcing is an important trust-building exercise.

6. Do they offer ongoing support services?

A site is rarely finished once it’s built. Iterative design means that sites should never be considered “done” – they should be routinely and organically updated and developed over their lifetime. Discuss content management systems – will staff be able to effect simple changes, leaving them to call on the agency only for complex ones?

7. And do they include edits and amendments in the price?

When building the first iteration of a site, it is rare not to require any amendments. Make sure from day one that, when the time comes, those last-minute tweaks won’t cost extra. There are always a couple of rounds edits to make: a new button here, a change to some copy there; it’s OK to expect this routine work to be part of the build cost.

8. What’s the agency’s track record?

An agency should be able to offer some project metrics: completion rates, percentage of sites completed on-time and on-budget, downtime figures. Understanding how agencies operate in real life – their successes, and how often they experience failures – is important, and a good agency shouldn’t have anything to hide.

9. Will you have access to the site files?

A website is too important for a business to sign it away. The design work that has gone into a website may well be usable across a business’s materials: an agency should be happy to sign over Illustrator files and the like. Owning these files – regardless of a business’s in-house capacity – protects against all future eventualities.

10. What does the contract say?

This might seem an obvious one – any service provision should be governed by a contract. But some designers take an informal approach, and it’s wise to ensure a given designer offers a standard contract – and what it says – from the off. If they don’t or can’t offer a contract, move on.

Having applied these ten tests, a shortlist of agencies should have been effectively reduced to one outstanding candidate. Congratulations: you’ve found your designer, and you’re no longer overwhelmed by all those design agencies!