Choose the Right Design Partner


There should be more to choosing a branding partner than simply looking over a number of portfolios to see which design style you like best. If you make a mistake based on a “love-at-first-sight” approach, the negative impact on your resources, customers and other stakeholders has the potential to be enormous.

Branding can be rough ride if you don’t choose the right guide to take you down the trail.

Typically in the branding world there are “design firms” and “ad agencies”. Design firms – generally lean and agile because of their smaller size – deal primarily with the strategic positioning, design and production of brands and visual identity programs, and a broad scope of brand expressions from print marketing to web design. Exceptional design firms are concerned with the strategy behind the design concepts they create and work with their clients in understanding the corporate and strategic objectives before embarking on a project. They are well suited to the needs and budgets of small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as larger corporations.

Ad agencies, with their deeper pockets and breadth of services, tend to focus their branding efforts on multi-faceted media campaigns (e.g. billboards, TV and radio commercials). As “keepers of your brand”, they will probably charge a monthly retainer to keep an eye on things and be at your beck and call. They tend to be larger organizations because the services they offer are labour and resource intensive. They also tend to have strong media buying power.



With the exception of a handful of very large (100-plus people) agencies and design firms, the smaller firm is actually the norm. Even so, size should not be a determining factor when selecting a company to create and manage the brand that will represent your company.

The impression your company makes to its current and potential customers is based almost entirely on the concept and design created. The determining factor should be what the firm can do for you.



“It’s important to have a good relationship with your designer. This is why the decisions you make up front when choosing one are critical,” says Shirley Riordon, a partner in The Riordon Design Group. “You want to make sure that the right fit is there before you take it further. The client has to feel comfortable with us and confident that we’ll do a good job for them. In turn we have to feel comfortable with the client so that together we can achieve an outstanding result.”




So before you start down the branding trail with a design partner, here are seven ways to anticipate where you’re headed.


A good design firm brings more to the table than great aesthetics. They should be able to incorporate marketing and develop effective communications solutions for any project they work on. When looking for a design firm, the chemistry between you and the firm is very important. Look for those you would feel comfortable working with on an ongoing basis. As a firm works with you over time, they can develop an even deeper understanding of your needs and goals.

We always ask, “What is the end goal?” In this case we were attempting to help the client deliver on the declaration of their tagline, “We make clothes that fit into your lifestyle”, be it business or casual. The product shots needed to reflect a lifestyle vibe that was clean, simple and uncluttered. The copywriting supported that approach by being engaging yet to the point.

Beyond looking at a portfolio, ask for client references. In addition, a firm that explains their past work in terms of their clients’ problems and how those problems were solved will be more apt to know how to find the answers to your issues, and develop compelling solutions for you.

Find out about their design process and project management skills. An experienced firm will have processes, systems, and people in place to ensure that the project is moving forward within scope and budget against established deadlines. Get them to name names. They should be able to tell you who you’ll be dealing with on a day-to-day basis, and you should meet that person before making your decision.

Look for enthusiasm and interest. Do they take initiative in wanting to come to your office and learn about you? Do they ask value-added questions, ones that get you thinking in ways you hadn’t previously thought?

Make sure to visit their office as well. This will give you a better look into how they work, and their operating environment. Who will you be working with at their firm? Meet the team. Also go to the design firm’s website. Does it show a strong customer care attitude? How do they present themselves? Their website will give you some insight into the professionalism of their design and communication skills.

Lastly, make sure you like their creative approaches. Some designers stress big impact, while others offer a minimalist look. Well-rounded firms can run the gamut between these extremes. Take into consideration what you and your target audience feel comfortable with.





Once you have chosen a design firm, the best results occur when there is trust in the relationship. Solutions tend to be most effective when trust develops in the early stages of the process. By choosing a firm using the above criteria, a certain amount of trust from the start will be warranted. Then you can feel confident that your decisions will be based on much more than love at first sight. Instead, you can look forward to establishing a long-term relationship that can only enhance the achievement of your business objectives over time.


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