To choose the right design agency, you first need to understand your design requirements. Follow these steps to know your target audience, communicate your goals, determine your projects and specify your preferred work processes. Then, you'll be all set to find the perfect design agency and foster successful collaborations.
If you were building your dream home, would you pick an architect and let them run wild?
Of course not—you'd start by carefully considering what style and features you want, then pick the right professional for the job from there.
Choosing the right design agency works the same way. Before you even start narrowing down your list of prospective matches, you need to know your own creative needs inside and out.
This will help you find the best creative partner—one that’s aligned with you on every level—so that you start with a fundamental blueprint for success.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a 12-step process. In fact, you can identify the who, what, when, why and how of your design requirements in just four easy steps.
Design Requirement Step 1—Know Your Target Audience
You know your target audience—and any agency you partner with should know your audience just as well, or want you to provide as much information as you can.
Knowledge sharing should focus on:
Who are your current customers?
What problems do you solve?
Who are your competitors and what are they doing?
There are different ways to go about answering these questions—some are low effort and others require more focus and budget—but all of them pinpoint who your audience is and what they expect.
Market Research. This is the most essential tool for understanding your target audience. You can use first-hand data gathered through surveys, interviews and focus groups or use existing research reports for insights. Market research provides invaluable insights into customer behavior, preferences, and trends in your industry.
Customer Personas. These are detailed profiles of your ideal customers. They typically include demographic information (age, gender, location, income), psychographic data (interests, hobbies, values) and behavioral tendencies. By creating distinct personas, you can better understand and cater to the needs of different segments within your target audience.
Social Media Analytics. Even with the changes happening across social media platforms (we miss the old Twitter), they can still provide a wealth of data about your followers and their interactions with your content. You can analyze factors like the demographics of your followers, the content they engage with most, and the times they are most active. These insights can help you understand what design elements connect and build a relationship with your audience.
Website Analytics. Google Analytics or other website analytic tools can provide demographic and behavioral information about your website's users. This data can help you identify who your online visitors are, what interests them, and what design elements keep them looking at your website.
Customer Feedback. Don't underestimate the value of directly asking your customers for their opinions on your design. Ask Coke how things went when they changed their original formula and had to hire extra staff to handle all the complaints.
Competitive Analysis. Look at who your competitors are targeting and how they do it. Understanding your competition can offer insights into what in their design is connecting with audiences.
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Design Requirement Step 2—Set and Communicate Your Design Goals
Spoiler alert: If you don’t know what you want to do at the highest level, your agency or design partner won’t either.
Linking your business objectives to your creative execution, your design strategy is how your business strategy is articulated and actioned through your creative. Strategic objectives can include some or all of the following:
Increasing Brand Awareness. Consistent design goes a long way to building brand awareness. Brands with higher awareness are often cited as more trustworthy and can be seen as a premium product or service compared to the competition.
Launching a New Product or Service. If you’re launching a new product or service, your brand goals could include adding new secondary colors or typography that build upon your core brand identity.
Expanding Into New Markets. If you're aiming to attract a new demographic or break into a new geographical market, you might need to adjust your design elements to appeal to this new audience. This could involve changes in language, color palettes, cultural references, or design aesthetics.
Boosting acquisition. Gains in paid digital campaigns are made through rapid iteration and testing, often across multiple channels. Easier said than done is an understatement.
Design Requirement Step 3—Determine the Creative Projects You Need
Ok, truthfully, this one’s a two-parter. First, you want to list out your main creative needs, then you’ll want to prioritize them.
Making your list of design needs
To meet the objectives of your design strategy, outline the types of creative projects and assets you’ll need. Here are just a few examples to get you started:
Performance and growth marketing. Which types of banner and display ads do you need? How many do you need? How quickly do you need them? How will you iterate and test or prevent a leaky funnel with consistent landing pages and emails?
Social media. Will you need paid, organic campaigns or both? Across which channels? Will the assets be static or interactive? Do you need video content?
Brand marketing. Do you need guidelines and templates or want help executing an entire campaign? Are you launching a new brand or refreshing an existing one?
Content marketing. Do you need blog headers and graphics, infographics, downloads or e-books? When do you need them and at what scale?
Experimenting. You can’t learn and grow if you don’t try anything new. Is it a new campaign, a new channel or new creative approach? How will you leverage things like 3D, AR and AI?
Extra capacity. Blocked by workloads or skill gaps? Are there peak times when you always need extra bandwidth for certain projects? Do you need strategy, conceptual or production expertise?
Prioritizing your creative requests
Productivity experts agree that the best way to get things done is to break things into steps.
For creative needs, ask yourself:
How does each project tie back to the strategy? The higher the priority of the goal, the higher the priority for the design work.
What are your must-haves and nice-to-haves? Must-haves come first. In the end, it’s all about moving that needle!
How simple or complex is each project? Ideally, you want to have a balance.
Design Requirement Step 4—Specify How You Want To Work
When you’re choosing a design agency or outsourced creative partner, you’ll want someone who acts and feels like an extension of your team. Ultimately, you’re building a relationship built on trust and communication. Before you commit, discuss these key ways in which you work:
Tech stack. You already have a go-to list of design, productivity and collaboration software. Ideally, your design partner will use the same tools. Too many different tools and things can get lost in translation.
Project management. Often an unsung role, project management is a huge time investment. If a partner is willing to share the load or even offer project management, it can make a world of difference.
Onboarding and time-to-hire. Consider this the getting-to-know-you process. In addition to aligning on projects and processes, you’ll also want to ensure the consistent use of your brand guidelines, how quickly projects can be briefed and more. Plus, how long will it take before you can get started?
Flexibility and availability. How many hours will you need? What creative services will you require? Do you need quick turnarounds and the ability to pivot as needed? Can this partner manage both production work and complex, large-scale projects? How many revisions can you make?
Cost-effectiveness. Many design agencies work on either a retainer or a predetermined contract for a specific project. Freelancers work in a similar manner. However, Creative-as-a-Service (CaaS) lets you subscribe to a plan that gives you a combination of the hours and services you need.
In this video, you'll hear how leaders from Mitto, Shopify and Articulate approach defining their design requirements and agency relationships.
The More You Know Your Design Requirements—The Better Your Creative Partnerships and Collaboration
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Alex KinsellaContributing Writer
Alex is a freelance writer and newsletter aficionado based in Waterloo, Ontario. When he’s not writing for clients, he’s putting together TL;WR, a weekly culture and events newsletter his mom says is excellent. Alex has worked with some of Canada’s largest tech companies in PR, marketing and communication roles. Connect with him on LinkedIn to chat or get ideas on what to do this weekend in Waterloo.
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