There are literally thousands of firms for graphic design. And since many different marketing aspects fall under the term graphic design, your goal should not be to simply find a designer to create ‘some visuals’.
Whether you are trying to scout for a logo designer or a pro to shape your branded website, what matters is the creative journey or the process the graphic design agency adheres to in producing a creation that embodies values and evokes feelings. Below are some aspects to consider before starting the query about the best graphic design firms.
A Rich Portfolio
The portfolio of a graphic design firm is a roadmap to a team’s skills and artwork. It is also a convenient way of seeing what magic the team has conjured for a particular client, the types of services a specific project demanded, the industries they’ve worked with, and naturally, to what extent the artwork satisfied the client’s needs.
Your focus should be on assessing the skills, experience, and level of professionalism presented in the portfolio but also on evaluating whether the visual work has that attention-grabbing spark of magic to bewitch your customers. Is the artwork of your chosen top graphic design studio homogenous or is it versatile? Does every project have a distinctly unique but equally detailed approach? Was there any measurable outcome from the design process? And last but not least, when you look at the overall work, think about whether it aligns with the style you have ideated for your brand.
Experience in Different Graphics
There are many factors that build a good graphic design. Partnering up with one of the many graphic design studios that operate as a kind of an all-in-one solution and offer an abundance of services might be a good idea if your project is really big and involves multiple types of graphics. But if you require a specific type of graphic design, going for a jack-of-all-trades might not be a good idea; instead, a company that specializes in exactly what you need is the wiser choice. So, before discussing the design process, let’s first look at the possibilities every different type of graphic design offers.
Visual Identity Graphic Design
This is the most common type of graphic design used by graphic design agencies. The purpose of visual identity graphic design is to create that special relationship between the company and its audience, or to be a builder of the brand. Agencies specializing in visual identity work closely with stakeholders and create the logos, typography, color palettes, and images that shape the brand’s personality. Outstanding design companies usually develop a set of brand-related guidelines to ensure the brand is used consistently across various media.
Marketing & Advertising Graphic Design
The very best graphic design agencies are not only masters of creating marketing and advertising graphic designs but of artwork that engages people. This type of graphic design is all about accessing the audience’s decision-making processes. The graphics engage audiences because they are based on what they want and need but also create a sort of brand awareness — a form of satisfaction about the product/brand. While it is true that designs like these are print centered, they also include other digital assets like content marketing and digital advertising (flyers, brochures, menus, vehicle wraps, signage, and trade show displays).
User Interface Graphic Design
In keeping pace with the latest digital trends, many graphic design firms have opted to specialize in user-friendly interfaces for desktop apps, mobile and web apps, and games. And for this part of their skills, they work shoulder-to-shoulder with UX designers and UI developers to create looks and styles adored by users. The very purpose of UI is to create a friendly interaction between the user and the screen, or the mouse and keyboard on the one and the visual experience on the other side with the trick being to do it as seamlessly and intuitively as possible. Of course, a UI graphic designer’s job is to also add aesthetics to the technical.
Publication Graphic Design
These are the graphic design services involved in the publishing of books, newspapers, catalogs, directories, etc. The graphic designs for publications aspire to communicate messages to a targeted audience via public distribution. And with the rise of digital publishing, companies with proficiency in this type of graphics work with editors and publishers to produce the appropriate artwork, select the typography, illustrations, and photos for the layouts. Publication graphic design demands excellent communication, layout and organizational skills, and a deep understanding of colors and printing techniques.
Packaging Graphic Design
Graphic design companies working on designing graphics for packaging focus on turning every bottle, can or box into a storytelling object. Packaging as a way to directly communicate a narrative to consumers has proven over the years to be an extremely powerful marketing tool. Packaging design involves the creation of concepts, mockups, and ready-for-print files for a certain product. A graphic design company that works with packaging must also possess knowledge of industrial design and manufacturing, and market-governing trends.
Motion Graphic Design
By putting graphics in motion, big graphic design companies produce animated logos, advertisements, promotional videos, title sequences and credits, tutorial videos, and even video games. This type of graphic design uses a combination of animation, audio, imagery, typography, and other effects to deliver popular video content. Motion graphic design is a relatively new specialty in the graphic design business and requires expertise in marketing, 3D, and coding.
Environmental Graphic Design
Ever thought of how impressively influential wall murals, exhibitions, signage, office branding are in bonding people to spaces. Environmental graphic design is widely practiced by top graphic design agencies through making spaces such as museums or offices more interesting, vigorous, informative, and easy to navigate. Think of the IKEA store arrows, for example, serving as a wayfinder getting customers from one department to the next making sure they don’t get lost while enjoying their shopping. That’s environmental graphic design. What is interesting about these graphics is that they are a fascinating mix of architecture, interior, industrial design, and landscape making it a multidisciplinary practice.
Art & Illustration Graphic Design
Many of the top graphic design firms hire graphic artists and illustrators because their original artwork draws on fine art to produce an original and captivating masterpiece. Although the popular belief is that art and illustration graphic design are one and the same with graphic design, in reality, they are not. Consider products such as comic books, book covers, graphic patterns for textiles, t-shirt design, etc. All of these not only demand originality but would not sell if they were based on déjà vu-evoking images and concepts. Art and illustration-based graphics, therefore, must evolve around unique forms and shapes.
Optimized Design Process
Relying on a consistent graphic design process does not only help graphic design companies create better designs but also removes all distractions and sets a clear goal on what is important — the awesomeness of the finished product. Ideally, the existence of an optimized design process means the graphic design studio pays attention to all the different phases of the project but still makes sure the client is aware of the steps involved, so as to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding. These are the four building blocks followed by top graphic designers.
Definition (Creative Brief, Research & Brainstorming)
Top graphic design firms always start with the creative brief as the most basic step for collecting client information to establish their needs and expectations regarding the project. Usually, it is done via email or phone which could possibly lead to bad information exchange which is why meeting the team in person is the best and often the least risky option. There are also tools through which the client receives forms to fill in, allowing for data to be accessed and changed at a later stage if needed. For a top graphic design firm, the creative brief opens the door to the client’s business, their customers, and goals but above all, their expectations, and how the firm will strive to exceed them.
If done right, the creative brief will produce valuable information that can be used to start the research of the client’s industry and the graphics user by their competitors. The aim of the research, however, is not to just copy their designs but to see what works for audiences and what doesn’t.
As soon as the research is done, the pens of the top graphic design studio you’ve hired will start dancing through the paper, brainstorming and synthesizing the many ideas flowing, paving their way, and shaping them into graphics.
Creation (Sketching, Design-Building & Refinements)
Brainstorming triggers the sketching process which starts when the team believes they have all the data they need. To minimize distractions, designers prefer working offline and usually use a large sketchpad. Some designers like to use apps such as Adobe Scan to digitize their sketches before sending them to the client for approval.
Once the client has okayed the sketches, graphic design agencies initiate the design building process. At this point, of course, it would be wise to produce several variations of the design and then send them for feedback. Refinements and changes are done in coordination with the client. And to be honest, no matter how good the agency is, there will always be a need for minor changes but this should not concern you as graphic design like all art takes time and iteration.
Presentation & Revisions
When it comes to graphic design services, it is not all about the technical skills and artwork but about creating a good narrative to the story behind the design building. Usually, the presentation dictates the number of revisions. So, the client needs to know why the particular shapes and colors were selected and how they will appeal to audiences but also the reasons behind the chosen style or typography. To avoid numerous revisions, the client must be completely and utterly convinced by the presentation of the contracted top graphic design company that the graphics they’ve built follow the latest trends and fit in the narrative of the brand they’ve worked so hard to build.
The flow of the delivery stage will depend on whether the graphic designs are intended for printing, app, or website development. If the designs are meant to be printed, there are two possible options — either the graphic design company has an in-house printer or to get the job done, they outsource to a printing house. If multiple post-print effects are added to the design (foiling, embossing or die-cutting), graphic design companies should ensure the printing house receives the necessary instructions.
On the other hand, for graphic designs created for digital products, it is essential to conduct the necessary tests in coordination with the developer before the website is launched. Working closely with the developer to fix any issues is essential as the designs must work well across all platforms, browsers, and devices. Finally, no matter whether the final product is a box full of printed posters or a successfully published website design, graphic design studios should hand over all relevant files to the client.
A Varied Skill Set
From Adobe’s creative apps to typography and branding to excellent communication skills. The skillset is what makes or breaks a team. But except for graphic design companies websites and testimonials how else can you learn if the team’s skills fit your idea? Here’s where we can help. Below you will find the most important technical and non-technical skills top graphic designers should possess:
Regardless of whether you’ve chosen a big or small graphic design firm, the team must display absolute proficiency in Adobe’s Creative Apps. Adobe InDesign is the basic tool for designing posters, brochures, magazines, and books while Adobe’s Photoshop is the ultimate tool used for cropping, correcting color, adjusting image sizes, and editing. Mastery of Adobe’s Illustrator is vital for digital and printed graphics such as logos, illustrations, diagrams, etc. The vector graphics editor Sketch is used for UI and UX or the visual vs its usability, respectively. Typography is another important aspect graphic design firms should excel at as many projects are built on the right font selection.
Perfect alignment, contrast, balance, and hierarchy are the quintessence of a stellar graphic design which is why the team must be knowledgeable of the graphic design principles. And of course, this goes hand in hand with the creative process of developing and communicating the concepts agreed at the brief or ideation. Finally, branding i.e. getting the concepts of what the client’s company stands for into people’s minds and transferring them to print are also skills the best graphic design companies ought to excel at.
From the very first moment, the ideas are shared and discussed at the brief, the responsibility for delivering an original concept falls on the creative mind i.e. the graphic designer. Being a creative skill, graphic design demands a spark of genius and imagination for all the stages of the design process. In addition to its creative nature, the purpose of graphic design is to establish visual communication between the idea and the graphics which is why it is only natural for graphic design companies to demonstrate effective communication skills at all levels.
From discussing client feedback to solving challenging points during the iterative process — problem-solving skills are at the core of graphic design and many aspects depend on them. Without solid communication and analytical skills, the project does not stand a chance. And finally, stellar project management skills are the key to guaranteeing that the concept, graphic design process and timelines agreed will be seen through.
Going through the testimonials of the smallest and biggest graphic design firms out there will tell you a great deal about the power of graphic design and what a simple logo, label refresh or new brand identity can do for a company. In general, any graphic design firm would be happy to provide you with contacts from past clients so you can get immediate answers on how satisfied they were with the services provided.
Past clients’ experiences, the challenges or issues that had to be worked out, the decisions that big and small graphic design firms are pushed to make, especially in regards to keeping or dismissing ideas, is valuable information you need to make sure you have before signing the contract. At the end of the day, professionalism and compliance with ethical standards are what constitutes a company’s reputation.
Good Value For Money
Some companies charge by the hour, others per project. A good idea though would be to first do some research on the market rates for the type of project you have in mind. Our ranking of the best graphic design studios includes entities that offer both pricey and low-budget services. If the studio charges by the hour you can always negotiate. Be informed about how much you would have to pay upfront and how much after the project is finalized. Don’t forget to tackle the matter of the payment mode. And lastly, to ensure you get your money’s worth, see that you receive original graphics and not copycats.
How to Choose One of the Top Graphic Design Companies
So you have decided to transform your business with some delightful graphics and you are looking for the perfect partner to do it. Whether it is just the logo, or an entire branding campaign, a new design for the company website, or freshening up your office space, it is an investment that needs to be carefully planned. So, we would like to point out a few issues individuals and companies that need graphic designers should take into account.
Outline the Goals of Your Project
Graphic design as a term is generally associated with good looking things like art, stunning billboards, eye-catching posters, etc. but it is not all there is to it. Top graphic design companies know that if the graphics are conceptualized thoughtfully, planned effectively, and carried out flawlessly, they will not only look good and increase sales and profits but can also contribute to engaging more users.
Sales or profit-related goals must be clearly set and discussed with the chosen graphic design company. For example, if you are looking to create a branded website for a small company with big appeal, a top graphic design company needs to perfectly design and replicate the brick-and-mortar experience for online users. Their mission should be to translate the physical brand into the digital realm. Website gifs and games and personality-packed packaging design will surely lead to higher sales and might even double the number of staff. But again, it all depends on setting sustainable, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals.
Define Your Target Audience
At this point, it is crucial you revise both internal and external factors that influence and draw your audiences. Think of the personality of your customers or clients, their age, location, and hobbies. Of course, part of the graphic design agency services provided will be to conduct relevant market research and investigate the likes and dislikes of your target group as a delight for some might be a red light for others.
As with most marketing campaigns, the target audience dictates the final outcome. For example, their age will determine whether the designs will be youthful or mature, classic, or modern. Masculine or feminine, neutral, or sophisticated and playful-all these are aspects that will signal which aesthetics should be adopted and which must be eliminated. By defining your target group, graphic design firms will know what colors and lines should be used and how to combine them with the textures, shapes, and typography.
Choose an Agency that Offers Additional Services
If you are a startup looking to find a graphic design studio to build the logo along with your brand new business cards, your requirements are fairly simple meaning the only additional service you might need is printing. As your company develops, your business will most probably need some aggressive marketing to get ahead of the competition. With many of the top graphic design companies offering a wide range of professional services such as branding, website or app design, packaging, illustrations, etc., it might be more convenient to team up with a more versatile partner. In the long run, this will save you both money and resources as the market research will be done. Plus as a loyal customer, you might have some extra benefits or services such as lower prices for packaging, flyers, or poster printing.
Consider the Working Style of the Companies
Although the graphic design process is fairly standardized, worldwide graphic design companies have their own working styles and established policies. Take another look at portfolios and see whether the problem and goal of the project are thoughtfully described, or if you can discern what their creative method is and to what extent their approach is user-centric. Check whether the designers are involved in every part of the project and most importantly whether their approach is systematic and iterative. This will show you their management skills and working style so you know how to narrow down the top graphic design firms and select a suitable partner.
Hire a Culture
Compatibility is the key to mutual understanding. Having a partner that fits into your work culture and shares the same values and work ethics as you do, is the secret ingredient to a successful partnership. As first impressions matter and often are the right ones, when you attend that first meeting with the graphic design firm you want to hire, consider it as a job interview and do not focus on just learning the graphic design agency services, expertise and experience they promote but also their workplace culture. Notice their employees — are they happy? An enthusiastic and happiness-driven team makes it more enjoyable to work with and delivers much better results.
Share Your Ideas
If you know the type of graphic designs you want or if you have an idea, a favorite color or particular typography you like, do not hesitate to present this to the graphic design agency you hired. As the founder of your brand, you and you alone fully understand the great vision about your product that exists in your mind. Regardless of whether it is a big or small graphic design firm, it is only by sharing your vision with your partner that you can see it come to life.
However, do not be disappointed if research shows that what you have in mind is not entirely relevant to the brand. Even if the colors or typography you like are not your customers’ cup of tea, trust your team of top designers to find a way to make it work.
Define Your Budget
Before you even sign off on any deals, check your budget and make sure you can afford the services you have envisioned. If you are going for an hourly rate, bear in mind that the best graphic design companies charge up to $300, depending on what’s included and of course the size of the project. A relatively new company trying to make a breakthrough on the market might charge as little as $50 but this does not necessarily mean the quality will be bad. Some of these companies might hide top graphic designers waiting for a chance to unleash their creativity to the world which at the end of the day, might be a win-win situation for both parties.
If you are going for a price set in accordance with the size of the project again the rates of graphic design companies differ. For example, when it comes to packaging, depending on the complexity of the design and the ‘package’, the graphics might cost between $8,000 and $18,000. In any case, whatever deal you make, make sure it fits your budget and includes the services you will be needing.
Questions to Ask Graphic Design Firms
What is your pricing model?
In the graphic design business, there are two types of pricing models: hourly and flat-fee. Hourly rates can be tricky, with potential hidden fees. The flat-fee option is much more straightforward and is less likely to deliver unpleasant surprises when the time for payment comes.
Can you offer multiple concepts?
Multiple concepts are preferred and even recommended for logo design or branding but not when it comes to digital products such as websites or apps. With logos, it is good for the client to be presented with varying concepts so that they can get a sense of what ‘feels’ right but also to see that their top graphic design firm is really invested in exploring multiple options for their business. With digital products showing multiple concepts can backfire as it is a special kind of problem-solving design and at the end of the day, it is the designer’s job to explain the choices made and approaches taken.
Do you charge for revisions and how many are included in the price?
Typically several revisions should be included in flat-fee pricing. More often than not, however, clients require a lot of revisions which is why designers end up billing them the extra hours. Also, many graphic design firms offer a great deal up-front but later on charge crazy premiums for revisions and others work by limiting the number of revisions. In any case, as revisions change up to one-fourth of the design, you need many, perhaps it’s better to change firm.
Is your work original or do you rely on templates?
Since you are paying for the graphic design service it would be a shame to get a design based on a template which by the way can be purchased online by anyone, putting you at risk of having the same graphic design as your competitor. Top graphic design companies should provide customized designs, created by a team of artists who understand the client’s vision for the brand, follow an established design process, and produce wow-evoking graphics.
What is the established timeframe for graphic design projects?
As an iterative process, graphic design takes time, and depending on the number of revisions, even the initial time frame could be subjected to change. As a general idea though, as soon as the creative brief is completed, the average timeframe would be around 15 days.
Will I own the copyright to my design?
Copyright can be a major hassle for clients and graphic design companies and wreak havoc on the whole project which is why it is absolutely necessary to establish who owns what at the very first meeting. Usually, in the graphic design business, all rights to the copy are given to the client to use them freely.
Is it possible to edit the files after the graphic design project is finished?
Companies change and grow over the years and minor tweaks to their logos or packaging are perfectly normal. This is why most graphic design companies provide vector files that are easily editable in Adobe for things like a change of the color scheme, company name, etc. Keep in mind though that if the need for change arises, the person manipulating the files should know what they are doing.