What to ask a design studio before working with them on branding

Deciding who to work with on creative work, branding or design can be a challenge. If you are not experienced in working with a creative or in the industry, it’s often hard to tell apart who has the right skills and who doesn’t. Skills and experience vary so much, prices can vary from 500 quid to 100k+.

I wanted to share some tips on the best approach for those that may not have purchased design before. Before gathering quotes, have a read…

One problem is that the industry isn’t ‘formally’ regulated, however, there are things you can keep an eye out for. There are national design bodies that exist to evidence professional and quality standards. If a studio is a member it’s likely that they are committed to the best service and the best work, in line with price benchmarking in line with the industry.

Think about what you actually need before you start to look for a studio
The more information you have, the easier it is for us to help you, and to design a brand that accurately represents your business. A good brand will stand the test of time for years ahead; so it’s important the studio knows you and your values inside and out.

What are your objectives?
A one page A4 business plan will help you highlight the change you are aiming to create. This is your purpose, and should drive every decision on the branding. Your purpose is crucial to the brief.

How big are your ambitions?
The bigger the ambition, the more time and consideration has to be spent on a brand. Creating a brand for a local business is more straight forward than creating a brand for a business that wants to start local but then grow into 57 cities across the world. The designer will need to know these ambitions to be able to commit the right time to it, and price the project accordingly.

What is your budget: what are you willing to spend?
Think carefully about how much you are willing to invest before speaking to a designer. We ask clients their budget to see if we are the right fit for you and how much time and effort we can give the project. If your budget is too low for your ambitions, then the designer should tell you, as the outcome will not do your ambitions justice. In a dream world, as designers, we would spend 4 months solid on a project; however, we know this isn’t realistic so we ask what is realistic per client; so we know what is achievable within that. Again, if a studio is registered with a national body they will be committed to benchmarking charge out rates within the standards of the rest of the industry.

Investment also isn’t something that is instantly only transactional, a considered brand will last you for the years ahead, support growth, attract team members and so on; it’s not only a short term investment to get a logo.

How much should you spend?
For a business-consumer business, brand is everything. You should look to spend around 15-20% of your start up budget. The process will take time and emotional energy, so it is important to invest the right amount, with a studio you trust, that can get right the first time. If you use an off the shelf brand for an organisation that has big ambitions, I can guarantee it will have to be done again, costing more money and more time. For a business-business brand, we recommend 10-15% of your budget.

What are your timescales?
Your actual timescales, non of this asap business…a sense of urgency will not help the project develop into the best it can be.Think ahead and plan. The more time you are able to let the designer dedicate to developing concepts and ideas, the better it will be.

Who are your competitors?
A list of 3-4 organisation you admire, or that are doing similar things will be valuable to the process. It helps us find opportunities and ideas that haven’t been represented, that will make you stand out.

What 3-4 words or short phrases do you want the brand to represent?
This will help build up an accurate tone for the project, we can then piece them together and start to think about how this can be visually represented in an impactful yet appropriate way for your sector.

Who is your audience?
Speak to them, build up a picture. What keeps them awake at night? What are you offering that is going to improve their life? What other brand do they like?

Look for a partnership, not just a supplier
A good design studio will look for and represent a long-term partnership, not just a short term transaction, that then leaves you in the dark once the brand has been delivered. A brand is an ongoing project, it needs to be carefully implemented and put out there. The studio should support you with this.

Things to ask the design studio
The first step is to review case studies and the effectiveness of their work. Look at their website, and speak to them about what they are currently working on. Do they have a brochure, do they have testimonials?

Chemistry meeting
Don’t just send a blind email asking for a price. Meet the studio for coffee, have an informal chat, get to know them and make sure the chemistry fit is right. If you get on, it will be much easier to get the best results and an enjoyable process. Build a relationship based on trust and shared values.

A good goal would be to identify three designers you feel would be able to help you.

The ‘interview’
Have structure but create conversation. Conversation builds more of a human relationship which paints a more realistic picture of the organisation. This is also two way conversation, it has to be the right fit for both sides. They should also be asking you insightful questions. If you are struggling, I have gathered some questions to ask the studio that from experience give insights to both parties:

  • Whats the most similar project you have delivered?
  • Can you speak to any of their previous clients?
  • Do they measure what they do?
  • Ask them what a ‘good client’ looks like
  • Ask them what a ‘bad client’ looks like
  • Ask them what they feel are the best conditions to allow them to thrive.

To make a decision, you should use an element of instinct (we know from experience this doesn’t lie), and if you need a helping hand though, score them on the following:

  • Do they seem genuine, do they seem like they care about your organisation? Did the conversation flow? This is a two way relationship.
  • Do you like what this studio stand for, do you have things in common?
  • Will you enjoy working with this team?
  • Do they demonstrate good experience?
  • Are the people you spoke to the designers you will be working with?
  • Do they show effectiveness and testimonials within their case studies?
  • Did they discuss their process?
  • Did you feel confident in their abilities?
  • Could you go for a drink with this team? Do you enjoy their company and insight? Can you learn from them?

Do’s and DON’T

  • Ask for free ideas – this is detrimental to the relationship and is exploiting the designer and the industry. If you want to see creative insight before commissioning a designer, their time, ideas and strategic thinking should be compensated.
  • Ask someone to do the brand just because they have a Mac, this does not mean they have the right experience, skill or insight.
  • Make sure you take some time to give feedback to the designers that weren’t successful, it’s the right thing to do and is respectful, let them know the positives, negatives and any further comments.
  • Make sure you have a work agreement outlining the work that will be delivered for the price you are paying, how many amends and who will own the IP.
  • Expect the unexpected. Clients often fear this, but being open to this allows powerful ideas to happen. The process is the part us designers love, as it uncovers many insights and potential ideas.
  • Enjoy the process-working with the right team will not only deliver an impactful brand, it will uncover many other opportunities along the way.

If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch mandy@sailcreative.co.uk

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