Choosing the Right Design Solution: In-House, Agency, or Partner?

Apr 5, 2024 | CSD Artcles

It’s impossible to ignore the value of graphic design in a business’s success. From posters, advertising, social media, and websites the to-do lists are endless. But as a business owner, it can be hard to take those first steps in handing off those tasks to someone else. You have limited time in a day and a business to run, that’s why you need to hand off the busy work, so you can focus on the bigger things (or reclaim some of your personal time!). 

Traditionally, the options for getting design projects off your plate are either hiring in-house or working with a design agency for bigger projects. But there is a third option: hiring a Design Partner.

Let’s explore the Pros and Cons of each:

In-House Designer

Having an in-house designer means hiring someone to work for you full-time. They work exclusively for your company and can gain a huge amount of familiarity with your brand. 

This arrangement has several benefits and drawbacks:

Pros

Exclusivity

When you hire someone in-house, they are working for you Monday to Friday 9-5 every week. So they’ll develop a deep understanding of your brand, values, and goals. 

Responsiveness

You’ll have direct access to your in-house designer and can direct them as needs arise. Have a last-minute ad opportunity and need the creative ASAP? You’re in-house designer should be able to take care of that for you.

Seamless Collaboration

Whenever you have an idea, you can walk over to their desk and talk to them. Bouncing ideas off each other in person is a great asset to the brainstorming process. 

Consistent Branding

An in-house designer can be in charge of making sure everything across marketing channels is in line with your brand identity. 

Cons

Cost

Having an in-house employee has significant costs including salary, benefits, equipment, and other overhead costs. These can add up significantly for a small or medium-sized business.

Experience Trade-Offs

An experienced designer naturally will require a higher salary than a recent student due to their experience. While a student will cost less in salary, but will take longer to complete projects and will need more direction/guidance from you. An experienced designer can come into your company and put systems into place that smooth out processes. 

Design Agency

A design agency is a huge step up in the quality of design and project execution that you can expect. In fact, most large companies with in-house designers still opt to work with agencies for special projects. Either to not overload their in-house team or to shake up the companies brand image. 

With comprehensive solutions, they have a lot of benefits and a couple drawbacks:

Pros

Full Service

An Agency is a large team of people with expertise in many fields. That multidisciplinary aspect of them means they are equipped and ready to take on various aspects of a design project from print to web and marketing campaigns. 

Experience

As a large team, an agency will have people with decades of experience who can lend that expertise to your project tailoring the solution to your business goals. Additionally, they work on the types of projects you need often, so they can foresee issues you may not think of. 

Resources

An agency has its own in-house resources and partnerships that you wouldn’t have access to. They may work on projects regularly that require a 3D scanner, but you only need it this one time. They’ll be able to use their considerable resources to your benefit so you don’t need to invest in them yourself.

Talent

Award-winning agencies attract a lot of top-tier talent. Working with them allows you to working with some of the best, without having the cover their yearly salary. 

Cons

Cost

Agencies charge large amounts for projects. The bigger the agency, the higher the starting price. 

Timelines

Agencies, although large, can only work on so many projects at once. Some of their designer may be working on multiple projects at a time which means you’ll have to wait longer for your concepts and final designs. 

Responsiveness

You’ll have a contact person at the agency that you’ll work with, but you won’t have a direct line of communication with the designer. So last-second deadlines for ad opportunities are often impossible as they might have a delay in answering your email or call. 

Design Partner

A design partner, also known as a fractional designer or contract designer, is a flexible alternative to hiring someone full-time or working with agencies. Freelance designers are also similar to a design partner but operate more similarly to an agency in terms of working based on projects.

Like all options, they have their own benefits and drawbacks:

Pros

Cost Effective

A design partner typically works for you on a part-time basis. This allows them to scale based on your available budget and workload without the long term commitment of a salaried employee. 

Expertise

Design partners have developed their skills over years and have diverse experiences that will let them bring fresh perspectives to your projects. 

Responsive

Depending on the contract, a design partner will have the flexibility to meet tight deadlines as they will have time dedicated to you every week. You don’t work with a middle man, so there won’t be a large delay hearing back from them or getting files. 

Consistent Branding

A design partner can function as an in-house designer to make sure everything across marketing channels is in line with your brand identity. 

Long term vision

A design partner can help you plan multiple long-term design goals and large-scale projects and help roll them out over time as well as help you build systems in your company for long-term success. This isn’t as feasible with an agency that you work with for a single project. 

Cons

Availability

Although they may limit the number of businesses they are working with, they may not have the availability for larger projects on short notice. 

Choosing what’s right for your business

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer. It all depends on your specific needs. Consider factors like the consistency of projects, the complexity/size of those projects, your budget, and long-term business goals and timelines. By thinking of each of them, you can make an informed choice that aligns with your business goals.

If you aren’t sure what’s right for you, send me an email or DM me on Instagram and I’ll help you make the right choice for you, even if that isn’t me.