Should you hire a design agency or a design freelancer?
Tight budgets, originality, and the disappearing freelancer.
First of all, I want to be clear about what I am highlighting in this article. This is not a right or wrong argument, but my case is to identify two main points:
1- When should you go for a design freelancer.
2- When is it to hire a design agency.
I have highlighted the main points in Bold so you can skim through it quickly, or you could go through each to understand the reasoning behind each point.
I have freelanced for as far as I can remember, years before and after the 2008 bubble and I even continued to do so until right before naming my freelance brand strategy and design business as Dynamics. Being on both sides of the aisle got me gripped on the goods & bads and the dos & donts of the industry so here they are:
When should you go for a design freelancer?
1- Average is good enough
A new brand, you are not too fussy, you like all colors, no brand guidelines, and you do actually sympathies with Comic Sans. So it appears that the majority fits in this criteria and commonly with the thought of (We will change it later) so lets not give it too much.
2- Tight on cash
New startup, SME or no more budget for this year, no problem. Hiring a freelancer might be a good idea as long as they come up with something nice and good. Many talented freelancers can produce extraordinary and really tasteful work but also that percentage is slim. And if you eventually end up on freelancer.com or fiverr.com, good luck with that!
3- You want it yesterday
That’s another good point to hire a freelancer. Freelancers can work 24/7 and I personally didn’t mind to do that at all. Working overnight, lots of coffee, and some Bob Dylan in the background, why not!
4- Leapfrogging the CRM
Because time is money, the more people get involved in a job, the more time you need to spend waiting for revisions, chain emails and the painstaking of ‘why there are extra 50 hours billed on Typography’. You prefer talking face to face, checking things in flesh, and maybe draw some sketches and seeing it happening right before your eyes at Starbucks, go for a design freelancer.
But on the other side, hiring a brand strategy and a design agency comes strongly advisable for many reasons.
So when should you hire a design agency?
1- Due diligence
‘The freelancer is not responding’
I have heard this line at least a dozen times.
Less than 0.01% of the businesses exists today could possibly disappear tomorrow so the chance that the design agency you hired closing down in the next week or so is very slim. Contrary the sad truth of freelancer. When you deal with a freelancer, you are dealing with them on a personal level, every criticism you make is pointing right to them personally, you are criticizing their work, their taste in design, and perhaps they will pack their stuff and officially be on a holiday for the rest of the day ‘True story’.
On the other hand, dealing with an agency comes handy, you are dealing with an entire body of people, nothing personal here, there are cases where the agency has a sh*** work but that all can be seen through their portfolio so choose wisely.
Having a physical address bring legitimacy to the business. A written contract that binds parties with an agreement that governs the outcome and the time-frame is very essential, and you could have that in place with freelancers, however, that contract doesn’t hold much, the chances of commissioning unlicensed freelancer is probably the last thing you need.
2- Collective work
Design is a form of art and art is very subjective.
There is this process in script writing which is called ‘Character Assignment’ where the screen writer has to assign some characteristics to each character. This job is very tough even for veteran screen writers as they need to give each character different values and attributes. The issue with this process is that most of these attributes come from one single person ‘The Screen Writer himself’. Most of these attributes are just reflection of one single person only.
Same thing when you hire a freelancer, it is a one man show, it doesn’t matter how many options and variations they come up with, they will all look and feel the same. And no one really wants to end up with monotone results.The process in design agency is different, it involve brainstorming and collaboration where each and every team member must have their input into the work. You get to see many perspectives and different ideas from every angle, and certainly the work will definitely be more cohesive and distinguished and covering a vast array of points.
3- Your brand strategy
Whether you agree or not, every brand ‘Must’ have a strategy. Period.
Sadly, too many are undermining this part.
Whether you are launching the next Uber or you are starting a soap business, a brand strategy is crucial to its success. Knowing your audience, how to talk to them, telling them your brand story and how your product stacks on the shelf. It is all necessary and must be done strategically. If your brand has a strategy, then that’s a great thing, if not, then we need to talk.
4- Originality and Validation
They say ‘Ideas repeat every 100 years’ but I guess this quote was valid before the internet.
Back in 2010, I freelanced for a global agency that was commissioned to design a corporate identity for one of the semi-government entities, something to do with music. But due the staggering amount of work, they passed the job to a design freelancer. The work came back with three options, client presentation done, logo selected, and the rest of the application put into development and moved on.
A month later, the client sent an email with a screen shot from vectorstock.com ‘A website offers royalty free graphics’ for a 1:1 logo matching the approved logo which was created by the freelancer.
The agency made their case that so many logos are coincidentally matches, but this one was identical with similar shapes and color tones.
No one can really argue here that it was the agency fault, not by hiring the freelancer, but not following the correct procedure by validating the work and do extensive research making sure the work is original.
Back to point number 2, it is given that all design agencies come up with original work as it is a natural outcome of collaboration of all team members, so before hiring the right design agency, make sure you do a proper due diligence, see their work, understand their work methodology, and make sure they have what it takes and if they are a cut above the rest.