Which type of design firm is right for you?

1. Freelancer — (The Iron Man)

The man in the iron mask. Who’s multi-functions and provide a specific design service. A Freelancer is “walk the walk” that not talk much. They can contribute good work that beat the agency price tag. Freelancer is flexible, fast turnaround, straightforward, less paperwork or even charge per hour.

As a client, you MUST KNOW WHAT YOU NEED and be very precise. Perhaps, some design knowledge may be required to get the most out of your Freelancer. If you are “I don’t know what I mean/need until I see it” type of person, Freelancer might not be the right option for you.

There is a high chance that the Freelancer will align the services with their skill sets rather than the results that you are actually looking for \(due to the constraint of their service). You’re looking around A$5,000 - A$10,000 for the Freelancer.

Let’s say, if you need a mobile app, Freelancer will design the mobile app for you as you say so.

2. Design Studio — (The Fantastic Four)

The independent group of fantastic creators. Usually, Design Studio run by a team of 1 to 4+ creators who specialise in some particular area. They might work collaboratively (or independently) with their creative partners (or Freelancer) to meet specific needs and drive the project toward to success the business goals.

In general, Design Studio is around 50% Thinking and 50% Making. As a client, you MUST HAVE THE RIGHT PURPOSE for what you do. It will require a lot of your effort. You may be required to participate in the design workshop, touch-based, ideation, or a shorten feedback loop and so on. You probably looking around A$10,000 - A$50,000 to get started with the Design Studio.

Let’s say, if you need a mobile app, Design Studio will dedicate the designer to develop an idea, strategy (and so on) with you in the early state. Once clear goals and priority have been established, the designer then will conduct a major design part of the app. Which in the meantime, Design Studio will also manage to assemble a team to tackle some specific need of the project e.g., illustration, a copywriter for the app.

3. Agency — (The Avengers)

The group of Avengers that work on some mission. Usually, the Agency will be established by the founder(s) who define the visions for a whole company, but the founders not necessary be a creator themselves.

Sometimes, the Design Agency also came from a success Design Studio who starts pitching for a big client and rapidly grow their business. Normally, the Design Agency will have around 10-100+ of peoples.

In general, the Design Agency is around 80% Thinking and 20% Making. However, you can not compare the 20% of Design Agency and Design Studio above; the scale is too much different.

The big idea is a real currency for the Agency. The Agency has a number of talents in-house and actively hunting for an award-winning designer to empower their empire. Frequently, the Agency will sub-contract with Design Studio, Freelancer or even acquire them once necessary.

As a client, you MUST HAVE THE RIGHT PURPOSE AND THE RIGHT WALLET. Agency provides a full-service with a full-price. Design Agency takes some time for the preparation state, such as paperwork, long-term plan, creative strategy and so on. You probably looking for A$50,000 - A$500,000 to get started with the Agency.

Case Study.
Let’s say, if you need a mobile app, The Agency will develop a concept, research, long-term strategy, mood board, style guide and so on for you. They literally do the thinking part for you and pitch you with solid ideation. Once you are happy with what they are presenting, the Agency will move the project into the design production phase. They might use their in-house resource or outsource to the Design Studio or Freelancer. Usually, it will be the Account Manager (AM) or Account Executive (AE) who will be the point of contact and who developing the creative brief for the Designer on your behalf.

Beyond the design production, the Agency will also work on a bottom line stuffs such as, manage to launch the app at the right time of a year (which is why you have to sign a lock-in contract for a year+), media buyer, influence the influencer to talk about your app and a lot more.

However, the Agency may not necessarily iterate the design once you learn more from your launch. Because a whole year activity has been defined upfront already include media buying plan.

A short recap.

  • Freelancer — If you have some design knowledge and only need some specific design to be done.
  • Design Studio — If you have some in-house design team or a clear purpose of what you do and need some new perspective/production to make the idea happen.
  • Agency — If you have a multi-office in a different country and need to drive a social culture.

Don’t believe me. I’m just a designer. There is no way I can have a perfect sense of a whole design industry. Sometimes, the prominent Agency like Pentagram also picks up some project to work for Free. Alternatively, some designer may charge up to $100,000 for an identity design project. It’s an infinite combination of the possibilities.