Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them. — 14th Dalai Lama

Before I run my design business, I was fortunate to have a first-hand experience working in Freelancer, Design Studio and Agency for over a decade (combine). Which I mainly do the same thing for each industry (Design) but each industry gets very much different values from what I do.

In this blog, I will do my best to reveal a secret of Freelancer, Design Studio and Agency from a perspective of the designer. So you can have a piece of mind to perform your decision when it comes to choosing the right design service for your business.

Which design service is right for your business?

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" and not talk much. They contribute a good work that beat the agency price tag. Freelancer is flexible, fast turnaround, straightforward to the design result, less paperwork or even charge per hour.

As a client, you MUST KNOW WHAT YOU NEED and be very precise. Eventually, a design knowledge will 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 need (due to the constraint of their service). You’re looking around A$500 - A$5,000 to say hello to the Freelancer.

Case Study.
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 (design) 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. Typically, the studio owner will meticulous in developing his/her own design principles, design process or design core-values. The studio owner will serve as the primary contact for their business and work with the client on a milestone touch base.

As a client, you MUST HAVE THE RIGHT PURPOSE for what you do and be nice. 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$5,000 - A$50,000 to check hand with the studio owner and get started with the Design Studio.

Case Study.
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, i.e. illustration, copywriter or developer for the mobile app.

Usually, Design Studio will not overhead some skill set in-house. The studio instead manages to outsource the best available option once it’s necessary. So both Design Studio and the client can stay agile while getting the best solutions.

Due to the Design Studio is a solution-focused. Usually, Design Studio will Designing—Testing—Iterating, and repeat until the project succeeds with the client.

3. Agency—(The Avengers)

The group of Avengers that work on some mission. Usually, 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, Design Agency also came from a success Design Studio who starts pitching for a big client and rapidly grow their business-operation. Normally, Design Agency having around 10-100+ of peoples of who believe, live and breathe in the company mission and visions. Internally or Internationally.

In general, the Design Agency is around 80% Thinking and 20% Making. However, you can not compare this 20% with the 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 better read all contract(s) carefully because you might not be able to cancel the contract for a specified period (this can be up to 5 years). You probably looking for A$50,000 - A$500,000 to check hand with someone who works in the Agency. Usually, it will be the Account Manager (AM) or Account Executive (AE).

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 a solid idea and a rough concept. 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. Most of the time, you will be in touch with the dedicate AM/AE. The AM/AE will be 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 that wow people 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. You better be careful about the idea that they proposed, the media buying can quickly go up to a million dollar in just a few weeks.

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.

Final Thought.

Don’t believe me. I’m just a designer. There is no way I can have a perfect sense of the design services. Perhaps, the perfect sense does not exist.

Sometimes, the prominent Agency like Pentagram also picks up some project to work for Free. Alternatively, some Freelancer may charge up to $100,000 for an identity design project. It’s an infinite combination of the possibilities.

Start from inside by knowing your true self instead of knowing all the available design services outside. Once the client is ready, the designer will appear. If you can improve some little thing every day or elevate your mind from works, it’s a great sign that you have the right design partner.

Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value. —Albert Einstein