Designers are like chameleons
Designers are like chameleons; they have the opportunity to blend in to a variety of different work environments and find their place in the perfect atmosphere in which they thrive. For some, that means working solo and being your own boss. For others, collaborating with other creatives and taking direction from an Art Director is the process they enjoy.

Because designers work in a multitude of ways, companies have options when it comes to choosing a design company to work with. Depending on the experience you want, the work you need completed and the budget you have to spend, you’ll likely choose one of the four types of design companies listed below to get the job done.

4 Types of Design Companies

1. Freelancers

Some designers choose to work as freelancers which is a fancy way of saying they’re a design company of one. As a one man team they likely work from home to complete projects and don’t earn a set salary. They typically charge an hourly rate for their services and may depend on a constant influx of work to make a living. The number of hours these types of designers work for can vastly range from just a couple hours here and there to a full time work week. It all depends on how much work they seek out. Some designers may even work freelance as a side job while working full time somewhere else.

Depending on the skill set of the freelance designer, they may advertise their services on a personal website or share their portfolio on a job site where clients can go to hire a designer, such as Thumbtack, AIGA, Behance or Dribble.

Freelance designerIf you’re considering hiring a freelancer for your design needs you may need to be flexible with deadlines for your project. Because they are working solo, freelancers manage their own time and can only commit to so many projects at once. If they are already working on an assignment from another client that may mean your project won’t get any attention for a couple of weeks. On the other hand, some freelancers might not have any work currently lined up and would be able to finish up the designs earlier than you even expected.

2. Advertising Agencies

When you hear “advertising agency” your mind might run straight to Don Draper and Mad Men style client pitches. While that’s not really how all advertising agencies work, the show might help you understand the difference between this type of design company and others.

An advertising agency is going to offer you a different experience when it comes to your design needs than a freelancer, mainly in the sense that you’ll have an entire creative team working on your project as opposed to a single person.

Corporate branding is a huge aspect of the design work undertaken by ad agencies. While they can work on a single project like a logo or business cards, they’re structured to take on bigger projects like developing entire campaigns that can run on multiple mediums (print, TV, radio, etc.). They’re also likely to have leverage and credibility in the industry with big, brand name clients in their portfolio.

This type of design company has a very specific structure. An account director or account manager interacts with the client to decipher the requirements for a campaign or other design elements. They make a creative brief which is then shared with the copywriters and designers who collaborate to develop the concepts into deliverables.

As a general rule it’s going to cost more to work with an ad agency than a freelancer. Because of the bigger fees it’s more common to see larger business or corporations who have bigger marketing budgets working with ad agencies.

3. Small Companies with In-House Designers (That’s us!)

Companies with full design staff

While ad agencies have multiple creative teams, each with its own account manager, their accounts are usually big budget clients who need continual campaigns and require multiple mediums of advertising. For medium size businesses whose needs range from printwork or web design, smaller, more personal design companies are a perfect fit.

This type of design company often has a smaller staff but still packs a mean punch. The environment is very team-oriented, with everyone usually in-the-know with each project. A typical small design company has project managers acting as the go-between from designers to client. Why is this a plus? It’s more personal. You have one project manager, one person you talk to who knows all the ins and outs of your project.

All your designs are in the office. What does that mean? If you call for an update, whether it be for print work or website updates, turnaround is quickly done and the person usually making the changes is fully invested in your project and probably has been from start to finish!

4. Companies That Outsource with Freelance Designers

Banks offer in-house loans and some sell loans to external investors. Think of design company design teams in the same way. Some design companies have in-house designers and some outsource their design work to designers with other companies or who freelance. Companies that contract out their design tasks may not be what you’re looking for if you prefer to work closely with whomever’s managing and creating your project.

Companies that freelance out their design work still have account service people that you’ll work with to ensure your project is completed according to plan. However, they act more as mediators between you and the designers as opposed to being one team.

You may be thinking: Why would I choose this type of design company when I could just hire a freelancer myself? For one thing, finding the perfect freelancer for your project might be a hassle depending on the talent in your area.

The idea here is for the design company to find the designer that is most adequate to create the work you’re looking for as opposed to simply assigning the project to a designer based on availability. Some designers have specialized skills that will make them more suitable for a project than another person.

End Goal: Design

All of these different types of design companies share an ultimate goal: to provide the client with great work to successfully achieve their marketing goals. Figuring out which design process and structure satisfies you is one of the first steps of choosing the company to work with.

For more guidance, download our free Design Company Interview Guide e-book.

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