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Things You Should Know Before Commissioning A Graphic Design Studio

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Author: Marcel Nortje - ArticleCity.com


So what exactly am I blabbering on about and what does it have to do with your business?

Well, the question I get asked most in a conversation, when it becomes evident that I manage a small design studio is:

"how do I know I'm getting value?"

Imagine trying to define that in creative terms! Well… I got tired of trying to "sell" my rationale to people and that's when I decided to write it down and quantify it.

What follows is my view of what you should look for and what you can expect from a design agency. Obviously, this is not cast in stone, however there is a considerable amount of common sense set forth in these pages. Just in case you're wondering about my credibility - I've been in the design business for 17 years, the most recent 4 of which I have been managing my own studio. I hope that works for you?

So how do I start?

You need to find a graphic design agency that you can trust.

That means a design agency that:

* puts you first … always.
* Believes that you are not just a number on their order book.
* Always keeps you in the communication loop, even if it means having to admit they've made a mistake.
* Knows who you are when you call.
* Places value on what you know about your business, and never undermines the fact that you are closer to it than they are.
* Is prepared to take the time to gain the some knowledge, so that they are aware of the challenges that you face.
* Is transparent about their business practices.
* loves what they do - and you pick up on it.
* Is consistent in their dealings with you.
* Is completely loyal to you.
* Leaves you with the conviction that they can be trusted.

NOTICE: This article is for free distribution to friends and colleagues. However, that does not mean that you may copy it, modify it, sell it for profit, offer it for sale or add it to your website/blogg etc. It remains the intellectual property of Marcel Nortjé and that means you can't do any of the things that it says above or any other thing that I haven't thought of that may compromise my mission!

Where do I go?

The first and best point of departure is a referral - ask around and get feedback from other companies/friends/associates. Alternatively, walk into the reception of a business that you admire and ask them who their design agency is. Failing that get onto the internet and do a search. Failing that, let you fingers do the walking.

What do I need to know about them?

Ask them if they can e-mail their Modus Operandi to you. It will tell you a significant amount about how and why they operate the way that they do, such as:

* Job assignment
* Creative commissions
* Charges
* Estimations
* Terms

What next?

Ask for the agency's website address. Any design agency worth its salt will have a website that you can take a look at. Their portfolio section is where you want to be as well as any client testimonials that they may have.

If you're happy with what you see there get them to bring some of the pieces that you found particularly interesting when they come to see you. Seeing something in the flesh will give you a good idea of the quality of their work and attention to detail. If the piece is one of a series, ask for a few of the other pieces as well. This will give them an opportunity to explain the continuity of their thought throughout the work.

Once you're confident that you can start a relationship with the design agency you will need to give them a brief of what you'd like from them. Their response should be in the form of a proposal with a cost estimate, but before this is forthcoming, they should be gaining as much understanding about your business before responding, as ideally they need to ascertain the scope of your needs in the context of the market in which you operate.

Some of the issues that should be covered in your brief are:

* What is the objective that you want to achieve or what change are you trying to effect with this project?
* Who/what is your target market?
* What design elements do you require?
* Who are your direct competitors?

BE SPECIFIC!

NOTICE: This article is for free distribution to friends and colleagues. However, that does not mean that you may copy it, modify it, sell it for profit, offer it for sale or add it to your website/blogg etc. It remains the intellectual property of Marcel Nortjé and that means you can't do any of the things that it says above or any other thing that I haven't thought of that may compromise my mission!
So where's my proposal?

The design agency that you have chosen should be able to supply you with a proposal and a cost estimate of the project at hand. The proposal should cover the entire scope of the process from concept to delivery. It should give you an understanding of the objectives as well as the production and scheduling requirements.

The cost estimate should give you every aspect of the costing of the brief, and where client's responses/actions have a financial implication. It should also clearly indicate how the agency charges, which are usually in two ways:

a) hourly rate

This rate is usually charged for the time which the creative team spends on your work, and ranges from one agency to the next. You can expect to pay anything from R300 to R1000 an hour.

b) supplier mark-ups

Many agencies offer the service of managing other aspects of your work on your behalf, and charging a handling fee for this. The standard rate in the industry for this is 20% onto the supplier's fee.

Hidden costs come about when you as a client make excessive changes. Bear in mind that the agency also has a business to run, where the revenue is time-based. Make sure that your brief is final and complete, and that you are sure of its content before giving it to the agency. Also ensure that you give them as much supporting documentation and reading matter as possible, so that there is no room for misunderstanding. The accurateness and comprehensiveness of your brief will have a direct impact upon the time that it will take the agency to present their proposal to you, and avoid unnecessary backing-and-forthing.

The proposal should include the following, which may be a repeat of what you have provided, but will give a good indication of whether they have understood your requirements.

* assignment background
* assignment objectives
* production & scheduling requirements
* presentation phases and timing
* estimation of all phases and requirements
* the use of outside suppliers and implications thereof

The next step

In most cases, an agency will not proceed with presenting their first concepts without a deposit. This is particularly the case if there is no existing relationship. The reason for this is that most of an agency's time is spent researching, conceptualising and brainstorming ideas about your business.

NOTICE: This article is for free distribution to friends and colleagues. However, that does not mean that you may copy it, modify it, sell it for profit, offer it for sale or add it to your website/blogg etc. It remains the intellectual property of Marcel Nortjé and that means you can't do any of the things that it says above or any other thing that I haven't thought of that may compromise my mission!

The agency will also limit what they present to you, as they will have worked through a number of ideas that may not be as strong as their final pieces. They will usually present no more than three concepts to you.

When giving feedback, ensure that you are clear what it is about the idea that does/does not work for you. If necessary, take the work away with you and reserve comment until you have had time to think about it. Be cautioned though, that getting opinions from too many people (from your mother to your great aunt) is not advisable, as few of them would have been privy to the process before the presentation, or the thinking behind the design.

The agency will limit the number of revises to the work presented, as it would not make sense to make endless permutations of the work without remuneration. That's just simply not fair. They should indicate this in their proposal, so that when another revision has a cost implication, you are aware of it. Nothing quite like having to pay for being undecided!

Presentation formats/terminology

The way in which the agency will present their work to you will usually be mounted in full colour onto boards, so that you have the best possible idea of what your work will look like. These are called "layouts".

Once you have approved one of the ideas (and you will be expected to commit to this decision by physically signing the layouts) the agency will take it to the next step. Depending on the nature of the project, there may be a number of confirmation processes to make sure that what they are going to deliver is accurate. Once you have signed these off, the agency will proceed with the next costing phase, which will be costs of outside suppliers required to complete the work, such as imaging bureaus or printers.

Outside suppliers/third parties

Design agencies usually have a group of suppliers with whom they have established a good relationship, and who usually have a standard which the agency upholds. You may have your own relationships in place, but bear in mind that should you choose to manage the production of your project yourself, you carry the risk and responsibility of ensuring that the suppliers you have know exactly what you're looking for. Don't throw bad money after good by trying to get the printing or production done cheaply, as all the effort that you and the agency have can be destroyed by one bad print job.

Although agencies will charge a handling/management fee on the third party costs, this cost is for the time that they will take to ensure that your work is produced to the standard that it should. The burden of responsibility of the quality is then passed onto the professionals, and be assured that when it comes to putting something onto paper or something such as signage, you want to be sure that there are no errors. It's costly to have to redo.

In the stage between your approving the final layouts and producing the elements of your project, there is usually one more proofing stage, which will be forthcoming from the third party. Once again you will be required to sign this off before the final work is commissioned. Bear in mind that when signing off, the burden of approval rests with you, and changes after that will be for your account.

Author's corrections (perish the thought)

In the (hopefully rare) eventuality that you need to make changes once a third party has become involved, these will always have cost implications. Which is why it is so important to use the proofing stage to check every detail such as spelling of names, and accuracy of telephone numbers, email addresses and other pertinent information.

What not to expect/do.

Agencies are very wary of people taking advantage of them. Don't expect to get any creative concept from agencies for nothing. Most good design agencies do not entertain any discounts in the light of "future business as we grow". Just like you, they have a business to run. If they are a credible agency and have fulfilled most of the points described in this document, the chances of you receiving a mound of rubbish are slim. Small agencies cannot afford to deliver sub-standard goods to their client, especially if it's referral business from an existing client.

Do not expect to get deferred payment terms. The majority of small design agencies will not move without a deposit of some kind. Usually at least a third of the total overall cost of the project is the norm. If you've been through the process described in this document, you should have a very good idea of what you're going to get in terms of service and commitment to your project.

Do not say that you like something under obligation or pressure. Creatives can be very passionate about their work. If you don't like it - YOU DON'T LIKE IT. Please do give constructive reasons for you dislike of anything set before you. It is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to address nebulous criticism.

Don't hold out on payment if a design agency has met your deadlines under pressure. It's unethical, it creates resentment and loss of respect. If they can meet yours, be decent enough to meet theirs.

And there you have the basics for a relatively stress free creative engagement.

If you found this article helpful, please let me know and if there are questions that you feel have been left unanswered you can contact me via design@mn8.co.za.

Have fun, otherwise it's not worth it!

Marcel Nortjé
http://www.mn8.co.za

NOTICE: This article is for free distribution to friends and colleagues. However, that does not mean that you may copy it, modify it, sell it for profit, offer it for sale or add it to your website/blogg etc. It remains the intellectual property of Marcel Nortjé and that means you can't do any of the things that it says above or any other thing that I haven't thought of that may compromise my mission!

About the author: Marcel Nortje

Hi, I'm Marcel. I have been involved in design for my entire career thus far. My experience covers the field of fashion design, graphic design and website design. I spent 12 years in the clothing industry working both locally (Cape Town, South Africa) and abroad. I moved into a graphic design agency as a creative director and then started my own studio. My current client list includes local as well as overseas companies. These range from Award Winning winemakers to serious players in the Health Foods industry and large Corporates. The studio is in it's 4th year of business and going strong.

NOTICE: This article is for free distribution to friends and colleagues. However, that does not mean that you may copy it, modify it, sell it for profit, offer it for sale or add it to your website/blogg etc. It remains the intellectual property of Marcel Nortjé and that means you can't do any of the things that it says above or any other thing that I haven't thought of that may compromise my mission!




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