How to Compare Different Types of Design Services

Alex Kinsella
Contributing Writer
Published24 Oct, 2023

Freelancers, agencies and Creative-as-a-Service (CaaS) are the three main types of design services. While there are a number of variables that affect a marketing or creative team’s choice, learning the pros and cons can make the process a lot more straightforward. Get familiar with your options and find the best design service for your needs.

How many times has this happened to you? Your team has been working round the clock to plan a game-changing campaign for your business.

You’ve done the market research. You know your customers better than they know themselves. You know your brand inside and out.

Your campaign has been viewed, vetted and approved. You’ve done the impossible. You’ve made “fetch” happen.

But, now it’s time to bring that campaign to life. You need landing pages, email templates, social graphics, digital ads and all the other assorted creative assets to deliver on your campaign goals. The problem is, your designers are already overloaded.

Who do you turn to in this time of need? The good news is—there are a lot of different types of design services. The bad news is—you have A LOT of options.

Don’t panic. We’re going to break it down for you—focusing on freelancers, agencies and Creative-as-a-Service (CaaS)—including what they offer and their unique pros and cons.

What Do Design Freelancers Offer?

Freelancers are usually specialists in their fields who you can bring on to help with everything from design to video production to motion graphics. Working with freelancers can be great, especially when you find those who can quickly understand your brand and achieve the standards you set.

Why work with a freelance designer?

  • Speed. Due to the 1:1 relationship and no middlemen, freelancers are ideal for quick turnarounds.
  • Flexibility. Projects can change in scope and direction. Freelancers typically give you more flexibility to respond to those changes.
  • Cost-effectiveness. Unlike agencies, freelancers have lower overhead and provide you with similar quality work at a lower cost.

Why working with a freelancer isn’t always the right choice

  • Availability. Freelancers typically have multiple projects on the go. As teams of one, there’s no guarantee you can get a meeting booked when needed.
  • Limited skill sets. If you require many different types of assets, you’ll probably need a network of freelancers to meet every speciality. This means you’ll manage more people than you might have time for.
  • Brand knowledge and consistency. For every freelancer you hire, you’ll need to start from scratch and train them on your brand guidelines, processes, etc.

What about crowdsourced freelance sites like Fiverr or Upwork?

If you don’t have a great network of freelancers, these sites can be an awesome way to browse portfolios and read reviews from other companies.

The biggest challenge with these sites is that it’s often a race to the bottom when it comes to price vs. quality. Sometimes, it’s better (and more effective) to ask people in your network who they’d recommend for the job.

Fun fact: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “freelance” first showed up in the early 1800s as a way to describe a mercenary who would fight for whoever paid them. In other words, freelancers were literally “swords for hire.” 🤺

Read the Entire Series
Read the Entire Series

Read the Entire Series

This article is part of a series on choosing the right design company or partner. Click below to go to the start.

What Do Design Agencies Offer?

Traditional brand and design agencies are typically full-service providers of a specific creative or marketing capability—taking on specialized projects like branding, video or integrated campaigns.

The agency model laid the groundwork for the caliber of design we see throughout the industry and many in-house creative team members have agency backgrounds.

Why choose an agency?

  • Dedicated team. Agencies offer the opportunity to work closely with a dedicated project manager and team. However, unless their team is geographically dispersed, there will still be skill and capacity limitations.
  • Reputation. Agencies live and die by their reputations. Great agencies share references and examples of previous work so you know what you’ll be getting.
  • Specialization. Whether you’re planning your first augmented reality (AR) campaign or trying something new with video, agencies will often have specialized experts on staff to help make your vision happen.

Why you should think twice about an agency

  • Control. Since your interactions with an agency often go through one person, like an account manager, you’ll have less control of the creative team and design operations. This can be an issue when you need the flexibility to adapt to changing creative needs or scope.
  • Speed. Working with an agency can be great, but often, they may be dealing with the same resource challenges you came to them to solve in the first place.
  • Rigid pricing. Signing up for a retainer means you’re locked into a long-term relationship with an agency. If your needs or business situation changes, you might be out of luck. Even when you agree to project work, agencies often have rigid pricing models that don’t allow for quick changes or pivots.
👉Check out this article for a detailed comparison of freelancers, agencies and CaaS.

What Does Creative-as-a-Service (CaaS) Offer?

Design isn’t frozen in time. It evolves and adapts as new channels (hello, metaverse!) and market demands emerge. While agencies have struggled to adapt to the demands of digital marketing, CaaS companies, like Superside, have answered the call—bringing you the best of both agencies and freelancers in a unique, subscription-based model.

Why work with a CaaS company?

  • Top-quality creative. CaaS companies are usually remote-first, with design talent working across the globe for a range of perspectives, creative services and round-the-clock coverage.
  • Speed and Support. Another way CaaS gives you the best of all worlds—you get dedicated project management along with a collaborative online platform for briefing and providing feedback. CaaS also lets you request quick-turn projects, as well as long-term projects, depending on your needs.
  • Flexibility, availability and cost-effectiveness. Instead of a retainer, CaaS is a subscription service that lets you purchase the number of hours and services you need—scaling up, down and even rolling over unused hours to make the most of your investment.

Beware of the phrase “unlimited graphic design”

While some online agencies and CaaS providers advertise unlimited graphic design, be sure to read the fine print and check those disclaimers. Find out how many projects you can submit in a set amount of time, what kind of support you’ll get, how many revisions you’ll get and what happens with overages or unused hours.

👉Compare CaaS solutions here.

Your 4-Step Checklist for Choosing the Right Design Service

Three choices might not seem like a lot, but as you read above, there are many factors to consider. Here’s our four-step quality checklist when you’re considering the options:

  1. Speed. How quickly can you get started and get your design assets—as well as how quickly can you make changes?
  2. Scale. Think of it like enablement—can a a design service partner bring you the speed, flexibility and reliability you need to seize growth opportunities, regardless of whether your design requirements are simple or complex?
  3. Reliability. Will they be there whenever you need them?
  4. Flexibility. Can they work the way you need to work?

Add bonus points for cost-effectiveness

Now, more than ever, you have to squeeze the most out of every dollar you spend. When you consider different types of design services, think about how pricing models in addition to speed, scale, reliability and flexibility will help you get the greatest value.

As you weigh the cost-effectiveness of different design services, it's crucial to have a clear understanding of your potential design expenses. Our design cost calculator can provide you with a tailored estimate, helping you make a financially informed decision in your search for the right design service.

Your Team, Your Brand, Your Choice

There’s a lot to consider when choosing the right design company or agency. There’s also no one-size-fits-all solution. Part of being creative is thinking on your feet and making the right choice at the right time.

Many high-growth in-house teams take a hybrid approach. They build a core internal team empowered by freelancers, agencies and CaaS.

Check All the Right Boxes
Check All the Right Boxes

Check All the Right Boxes

Is Superside the right CaaS partner for you? Book a 100% informative, commitment-free call to find out.

Check All the Right Boxes
Alex Kinsella
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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